I ignored the signs for months, convinced the anxiety, crying jags, insomnia, and moments of rage were hormonal potholes on Perimenopause Lane.
In my defense, life has thrown a few curveballs since December. Before I could send out queries on my newly completed manuscript, I came down with the flu. On Christmas Eve. This illness transitioned into a violent asthmatic/allergic cough that remained until mid-March. I lost fifteen pounds (good) but only because I could barely eat or sleep (bad). During this time one of my daughters was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. A few weeks later her best friend received a lymphoma diagnosis. An elderly aunt and special needs cousin moved to Dallas and their new home required a major face-lift. I threw myself into helping them, trying to ignore the lack of response to my initial queries. I later discovered those same queries, unwisely proofread and sent between coughing bouts, contained a glaring typo in the second paragraph.
The ‘I am a complete failure’ refrain began and spread its venom into all aspects of my life until I questioned every decision I’ve ever made. After decades of writing and little published work to show for it, I must be a talentless hack. My daughter would not struggle so much if I’d recognized earlier how crippling her condition had become. My marriage of twenty years would be richer if I’d encouraged my husband’s full involvement and support with the children rather than letting him play computer games while I juggled everything on my own. (To be fair, he involves himself when asked.)
The only glimmer of happiness came when my other daughter discovered that her crush not only liked her back, but that he embodied the word “gentleman” and came from a family who welcomed her into their fold with open arms. Being a romantic, empathic by nature, and teetering on the brink of depression, the temptation to vicariously experience her joy proved irresistible. This high doubled when I saw the adoring expression he perpetually wore in her presence, though over time this feeling was accompanied by a sharp pang of motherly protectiveness. (For him!)
Perhaps I sensed that it was only a matter of time before she’d bristle when teachers referred to her not by name but as the girlfriend of a popular kid, before she’d decide she was too young to be with a boy who claimed (quite earnestly) that he hoped she’d be both his first and last girlfriend. When that day came and she let him go, I struggled to praise her self-awareness and maturity.
It was at that moment I realized I was not okay.
I’m in a place where many creative types find themselves at some point. According to a large-scale Swedish study at the Karolinska Instituet, families with histories of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety syndrome, drug and alcohol abuse, ADHD, anorexia and suicide are more likely to include people in creative or scientific professions. The study concluded that writers in particular were common among sufferers of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance abuse, and were almost fifty percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. [Read more…]