What I Did This Summer

It's 7:30 in the morning and it's raining. A lot. The remnants of some tropical storm or another is rolling across Ohio, and after a week of sticky hot weather, it's cooled 40 degrees and turned very autumnal. It's put me in a contemplative mood.

I'm kind of amazed that I haven't written a post since I got out of the hospital in May, but this is what happens when I get into a depression cycle: time just passes.

About a week after I was discharged from the hospital for my asthma/lung infection scare, I was sitting on the couch putting on my shoes when I coughed a deep lung-clearing cough. A searing pain ripped around the right side of my rib cage from sternum to spine. The only time I've felt that intensity of pain was my first kidney stones; it robbed me of my next breath and made the room spin with nausea. I went back to the doctor and it turns out I did some kind of soft-tissue damage. For the next month it hurt to breathe, sleep, move, turn, carry things, reach... I never realized how many movements required the use of my rib muscles until then.

This pushed my already obsessive mind into a slump. I felt fragile and sickly. I had imagined all the things my husband and I would accomplish with our first summer off together, and right from the beginning it was all in jeopardy. It brought up all my fears about illness, aging, and death that had been building since my colon perforation in 2016. I sank like a stone in a stagnant pond.

June and July passed quickly, in my mind. Joel put in the garden, and I hauled myself out of the house to help occasionally, and to mow the lawn, and attend to the minutiae of being a member of society. But in my head, it was a constant barrage of negativity and darkness. I worried constantly. I scolded myself for all the things I wasn't getting done. It took so much effort to peel myself off the couch that often all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I never felt rested. I felt like a failure for not working. I was convinced I was letting my husband down.

My mother harbors a lot of guilt because I was a depressed teenager. In the early 1990s in rural Ohio, it wasn't widely known that teenagers could be seriously depressed and that it wasn't just hormones or a phase. Besides, I functioned so well. I was active in band and choir and theater. I got terrific grades and I had really good friends with whom I socialized regularly. Sure, there is the now-infamous "ugly gray sweater" that I wore a couple times a week for three years, but I'm naturally given to eccentricities, so that was easy to overlook. My problem has always been that I'm able to continue to function on the outside while my mind is crumbling on the inside. It often makes it hard for me and the people who love me, to know what's going on and to help.

The upside is that I haven't been suicidal since my teens, and by this point in my life I'm better at recognizing when I need to ask for help. I got a therapist who encouraged me to put my cognitive behavioral skills into action again and let me vent. My friends and family just kept keeping on, and towed me along in their wake. And most importantly, I had the presence of mind to look to books and journaling to untangle the knots in my mind. I identified some goals and started taking steps toward them, despite my persistent fears and worries.

So here I am, on a rainy morning in September. One of our local turkey flocks just crossed the road and headed down the hedgerow to their daytime feeding grounds. All four cats and two dogs have full bellies and empty bladders, which has put them in a very nap-ish mood so they're draped across the furniture, snoring. And I'm thinking about the papers I need to grade next, because I've landed a fabulous job as an adjunct professor at the local branch of one of our state universities, and about the networking I need to do as I get panelled by insurance companies so I can join the private practice of a dear friend.

I take some comfort today in the fact that everything changes. Remembering this during times of abundance keeps me humble, and clinging to this in times of suffering gives me hope. And hope is a very powerful thing.


Photo by Vincent Camacho on Unsplash