My appointment with the specialist doctor is at 9 a.m.
It’s currently 4 a.m.
I know that to get better, I need to see this doctor.
But I’m afraid.
I’ve never had surgery before. I don’t even know if I need surgery. But I’m scared of it.
I think about all the Drake women’s basketball players I wrote about who had knee injuries or other issues who had surgery.
To me, their condition was news — facts people should know about their favorite team.
I didn’t think about the pain.
I didn’t consider they might be afraid.
Maybe they weren’t.
Those Drake women’s basketball players I covered back in the mid- to late-1990s were tougher than I’ll ever be.
I remember one player, she got cut. She declined a pain killer because that meant shouldn’t go back into the game.
Me? I would have asked for maximum pain relief, my blankie, and my stuffed Pink Panther.
Someone I love was trying to help me yesterday.
This is her way. She takes charge. She leads.
She started to list all the changes I needed to make to get better.
Listen to my doctors.
She hit an especially tender spot. She asked if I thought I could walk to my classes at Drake even without my present knee problems.
Her question was legitimate. All my grad school work so far has been online because of the pandemic.
This fall, we’re back to buildings and classrooms.
Can I walk a few blocks to my classes even without a knee injury?
The answer is no.
But I would have found a way. I would have paid for a parking sticker for the lots closest to the building I took my classes in.
If I couldn’t make it, I would use an assistive device — a crutch, a walker, whatever.
I was going to make it.
But her question comes with an unintentional punch.
It reminds me how much I hate myself — my physical body, how repulsed I am by the sight of me.
I know I am disgustingly fat by both medical and aesthetic standards. I know every extra pound shortens my lifespan.
I worry about it all the time.
The latest knee injury terrifies me on a scale I struggle to describe.
I worry that it can’t be fixed or will be easily reinjured. Thus, getting to class will become impossible and I won’t finish graduate school, won’t become a teacher and end up with a pile of student loans and no job to pay them with. I’ll be living down at the YMCA housing or in a hospice.
How’s that for maudlin thinking?
This is what goes on in a brain stricken with depression and anxiety.
That’s why I abruptly ended the call with my loved one.
I was rude.
But I had therapy soon. And I was hurting, both physically and emotionally.
I didn’t want to fight.
I just wanted someone to tell me everything was going to be OK.
Let me make myself clear: I’m not suicidal. I am clinically depressed. I also live with generalized anxiety disorder. Prescription pills work most of the time, but this is an exceptionally stressful period.
I’m out of work. I’m trying to learn a new career at middle age. Arthritis squeezes my knees and tendonitis stings my Achilles.
My temper is short. My days vacillate between a general melancholy with a dash of sudden rage to a disengaged desire to interrupt sleep just long enough to turn over and take a nap.
I reached for a facial tissue in the bathroom and realized the box was empty. I went to the closet and it was bare. I realized I couldn’t afford Kleenex until my tax return arrives.
Forgive me if I’m skeptical of the federal government’s promise of May 5. I’m supposed to be getting paid unemployment benefits by the state of Iowa. But some rogue algorithm stole my identity and tied my account up at Iowa Workforce Development, where the bureaucrats can’t tell me when my benefits will resume.
I apologize to regular readers who’ve seen nothing but stacks of paragraphs about these problems for a month. But believe me when I say I am more tired of living this successive series of disconcerting events.
When the melancholy becomes malignant, I phone friends. I text random compliments to people I love.
JANE BURNS: You’re one of the best people I ever met, and I learned so damn much from you. I miss sitting beside you at Drake women’s basketball games. Seldom have I known a keener observer who could also translate those observations into readable copy. Thank you for being my friend.
TRACEY DOYLE GORRELL: Thank you for being my friend. You are one of the wisest peers I know. You made my life immensely better with your broad mind and big heart. You are one of my true Super Friends.
MEGAN GOGERTY: To be serious for a moment, I love you. I mean that in the friendliest way. Like everyone, I’m going through a lot of shit right now. Your skating videos, your writing and the light you project in the world helps me hang on. I know you’ve got your own woes, but it takes a special person to take a few minutes every day to write a joke or make a funny video. Thank you for sharing.
SARA SLEYSTER: Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for sharing your faith and hope with me. And especially thanks for editing the foul-ups out of my blog posts.
KEN QUINN: I remain honored and humbled to count a man of your astounding accomplishment, unmatched intelligence, insight and kindness as my friend.
Naturally, these messages disconcerted some of my friends. They were worried the expression of love was an indication I was suicidal.
That’s good insight on their part because that sort of thing can be an indicator. It just isn’t for me.
I feel better when I say nice things about people I love.
This is one of my depression repression techniques. Most of the time, there’s nothing I can do in the moment I’m feeling depressed or anxious to address the cause of my depression or anxiety.
What I try to do is solve what can be handled in the moment. I wish I could tell you I think positive thoughts about myself, but that’s rare.
But I do think all the time about the people I love and who’ve loved me.
You always hear people at funerals say that they wish they had told the dead person something deeply personal while they were alive.
So, I’m doing it. I’m texting. I’m sending letters.
I may not be able to fix my problems, but I can put a little positive energy out there.
From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney.
A chemical imbalance that manifests as depression and anxiety. They tag team on my thoughts. They sap the joy from my favorite things. They turn fun into fear. They sap my energy, snuff my humor and turn anger and hate inward. Depression wipes out all positive thought.
It feels like a weighted blanket on my chest, but instead of warmth and comfort it holds me down so heavily that I can barely breathe. Sometimes it almost feels safe under the blanket. I can’t feel anything. My emotions go blank. My concentration falters. My brain slows so much that it becomes hard to find basic words. All I want to do is sleep, because when you’re asleep at least you don’t feel the sadness and fear.
I overeat and spend money when I’m depressed. I work on the problems with my behavioral therapist, but over the years I’ve spent myself into bankruptcy and eaten myself into morbid obesity.
The depression and anxiety resurged earlier this month. There are lots of reasons, but I choose.
The anxiety condition means I suffer from panic attacks. When it acts up, I feel fear. Sometimes the fear is response to stimulus: a mistake made at work, a social faux pas or an overindulgence.
Sometimes there is no reason for the panic. It just settles in like a thunderstorm inside my skull. My doctor gives me little yellow pills. They usually work within about 15 or 30 minutes.
Once in a while, though, the panic gets past the pills. That happened earlier this month. The panic set in about 8:30 a.m. and just sat on my chest until around 3:30 p.m.
I tried to nap. The panic usually subsides when I sleep. It didn’t work. I dozed, but I could feel the tightness in my chest, the restlessness and uneasiness. It was still there when I woke up.
The worst panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside out. This was not one of those. This was a lesser variety, but still exhausting.
I struggled to concentrate on the TV show I had recorded. I tried to mindlessly watch sports highlights. But everything seemed irritating and unsettled.
I dimmed the lights and turned on the fans. I tried to imagine myself pitching a baseball. I thought about dragging my cleat along the rubber atop the mound. I thought about the feel of the baseball on my fingertips. I could almost smell the dirt on my hands.
I imagined the fan blowing the hair on my arms was actually a gentle breeze on a calm, cool day at the park. I could hear the gentle rustling of the crowd chatting.
I never got around to throwing the ball. I never do. It’s just a technique I use to try and calm myself down. It was only partially successful.
The worst part of panic attacks are the thoughts. Every thought is carried out to its most gruesome conclusion.
For example: I ate pasta for dinner. That’s bad for my blood sugar. I’m diabetic. I’m going to have to have my feet amputated. I will die broke and alone in a wheelchair at a county hospital.
Sometimes I think about killing myself. I think about jumping off a parking garage. This is all in my head, mind you. No actions are taken.
Usually, I am able to brush those thoughts off without much trouble. I want to feel relief, I remind myself. A dead man cannot feel relief.
If the thoughts get too noisy, I call my therapist. He’s an excellent therapist. He is a former U.S. Army Ranger. He is direct, thoughtful and quick. A few minutes with him on the phone are enough to get me back into acceptable condition.
I have a few friends I can call in this situation, but I make those contacts sparse. My friends, the closest of them, understand the reality of depression and anxiety. But even some I’ve known for years still believe these mood disorders can be adjusted like car stereo dials.
One of the worst parts of living with these disorders is fear that people don’t believe they’re real or that they’ll hit me with the old cliches. Think positive thoughts. Cheer up. Other people have things a lot worse than you do.
Society treats mental health differently from other health conditions. We probably wouldn’t advise someone having a heart attack to say, “Just think you’re not having a heart attack.” We likely would call 911 if we knew a diabetic was going into insulin shock. But with depression we ask them to pretend, because we don’t believe them.
Things have changed in recent years. More public discussion improved understanding and attitudes, but not so much that even people I am close to wonder if the medication I take is the problem and not the treatment for the problem.
Once I had a panic attack where I got a song stuck in my head. It was summer 1999. I kept hearing the song over and over again, each replay getting louder and shriller. I thought I was going to have to stick an ice pick in my brain just to end the torment.
That was a bad night. I didn’t know what panic attacks were then. I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another two years.
I write about this not to terrify my friends and family who might read it. Sometimes that happens. They get sad because I am not always happy. But most people are not always happy. They might pretend to be, but they’re not.
To them, I say that I am OK. I manage this problem. I’m not going to die from it. Nothing bad is going to happen. I take pretty good care of myself in this regard.
It’s no different than high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Mental health problems are just like other medical problems. They can all be fatal if not treated, but most days, for most people, they don’t amount to much more than taking your medication on time.
I don’t write about my mental health problems as a plea for sympathy, either. I am who I am. These problems are a part of me, but they are not all of me. Yes, I struggle. But most people do with some kind of problem or another.
But I write about this because most of the dialog about mental health is about very extreme cases: people who are severely disabled and unable to function or people who have committed crimes.
That’s understandable. The dire end of the spectrum needs our help the most. But most of us live in the great, wide middle. I am able to work most of the time, but sometimes I have sleepless nights like this one. Sometimes I’m edgy and rude. But, generally, I live a full life with family, friends and adventures that interest me.
I write about this because I know there are other people like me out there, who have bad days in their brain. I write this as a message to my fellow mental health travelers: It’s OK. You are not alone.
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