Exactly a year ago tomorrow, on my twenty-eighth birthday, I was on my bus to work when big, fat, hot tears started rolling down my cheeks for no apparent reason.
Well, yes, there was a reason: I had never been so depressed in my life, but I hadn’t yet admitted that to myself. But that day, as I was on the bus, was the first time I knew that something was essentially, totally, horribly wrong. It was as if a neon marque board had gone on in my head and all it read was, simply, “I can’t go to work. I can’t. I just can’t do it.”
So I got off the bus.
Thankfully, there was a community garden on the bus route and I just sat in the garden and cried – hard – for a good twenty minutes. What made it even harder was that I was feeling this way on my birthday – a day you are supposed to be ridiculously happy – and I was not, suffice it to say, ridiculously happy. I was, in fact, not happy at all.
I hadn’t had a good night’s rest in a couple of months. I’m a person who needs at least a good eight hours’ sleep in order to function at a satisfactory level, and I wasn’t functioning near that at all. My brain felt like it was constantly filled with cotton balls; I had to remember simple steps to accomplish tasks I had been doing for the past two years at work. It felt like I was a shell of a person. When someone would come into my office to talk, even if it was to say a friendly hello, I’d physically flinch, scared at what they might want from me – even if it was just small chitchat.
I could not deal with being around people, and knowing this about myself made me feel even worse. (I’m not a social butterfly at the best of times, but there are only so many times you can hide in your office at lunch to avoid entering the lunchroom.)
I got on another bus to my parents’ house, trying to calm myself down enough so people wouldn’t feel the need to ask me what was wrong.
The day started out questionable, to say the least, but ended rather lovely. During the day I slept (or tried to) on my parents’ couch, sun streaming in through the bay windows, while my mom went out to get me a new pair of shoes because my old pair kept falling off my feet, causing me inordinate amounts of stress at a time when the smallest circumstance could send my self-esteem through the floor. We went out for my birthday supper to a patio, and then came home to eat ice cream Drumsticks and drink red wine in the gazebo.
It turned out being a lovely day, really, but I wasn’t feeling it. I knew I was supposed to feel happy, but it was as if I couldn’t even muster up enough energy to make myself feel anything even remotely resembling joy.
And that made me sadder than anything else has since.
I told the wonderful HR person at my work that I needed a break. I was officially leaving the position at the end of August, but she told me to take as much time as I needed and they would pick up the slack until my replacement started. I went in once to tie up a few loose ends, and then for about six hours spread over two days to train my replacement.
I was eternally grateful that I was so supported in that decision, by both my employer and my parents. I still am.
But the hardest part wasn’t over yet. My doctor doubled my anti-anxiety medication (which I had been on for a couple of years already), but that backfired and I still wasn’t sleeping. The dosage was lowered again – but still higher than what it had been originally – and, with the help of a sizable amount of sleeping aids, I was beginning to get some much-needed rest. I read a lot. Which was wonderful.
I also went to Folk Fest for all five days in mid-July, taking a bus to and from Birds Hill Park (about an hour ride each way) every day of the festival. I soaked up the sun, listened to amazing music, bought way too many overpriced iced chais, and slowly began to feel like myself again amidst a crowd of people who effused love and joy in their unabashed hippiedom. I was emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of those five days, but I was happier than I had been in the past four months.
And I hung out with my mom at the cabin. We read a lot. We drank wine. We laughed. We ate good food.
And then my niece was born. My younger brother’s wife – a couple I admire to no end and who I look up to in many ways even though I’m older and “wiser” (apparently) – gave birth to their first baby, a six-pound long-legged bundle that kicked her mother’s womb virtually non-stop in my sister-in-law’s third trimester. I visited her in the hospital when she was barely eight hours old, and I was the first family member to hold her other than her parents. I could barely contain myself; I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
I was and would forever remain Auntie Kate, and no one could take that away from me.
I was alive again.
And now, a year later, life is still hard – it will always be hard – but within the past year I have tried my best to trust people with my vulnerability, and also to trust that the people I know best and who know me the best will not let me down.
I have tried to increase my faith in others.
And that also extends to you, dear readers. You are my birthday gift.
So thank you.
Though chocolate will not be turned away.