I Still Feel

This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?

I’m having anxiety dreams about our upcoming Disney trip. I always have these dreams when I’m about to travel – missing flights, delays, lost luggage, forgotten important items, getting lost, getting separated, ending up in the wrong place… These dreams have plague me for most of my life, a result of a childhood spent flying on stand-by, followed up with some bad travel luck trying to get home to my family.

The medication hasn’t helped with these dreams, but in the long-run, these dreams are so deep seeded, I don’t think there’s anything that can be done, not really. I’ll probably (hopefully) be less of a mess on travel day, but the dreams will plague me whenever a trip is coming up.

I got low in early December. The combination of less daylight, finals anxiety in the air at work, and the stress that inevitably comes with the upcoming holidays made me feel…low. Was the medication not working? Was I slipping into a(nother) depressive episode? I had a medication management appointment already scheduled so I waited it out. I was fine. Just needed more sunlight, less stress, the Christmas break. “The pills don’t make you stop feeling things; they just help you manage.”

Christmas Eve, I had trouble sleeping. I was overtired, excited, anxious, and a little hung-over. I hear a noise outside, and my mind went to gunfire, and I was overwhelmed by the image of my son, alone in the living room, early in the morning, playing on his new 2DS he was getting from Santa, wrapped in his blanket, being killed by a stray bullet. My heart raced, and I felt sick. I gripped the sheets and couldn’t close my eyes because the image was too strong. I took control of my breath, slowing it down, willing my heart to stop racing. I knew it was irrational. I managed to acknowledge the image and brush it away.

I used to be plague by images like this at night or in quiet moments of silence and solitude. My anxiety knew no bounds. But now, they don’t appear as much, and when they do – when I’m overtired especially – I have better control over how I react and move past them. And I still feel low sometimes, but I’m starting to trust that the mood will pass, and that it won’t dip into the same depths that I would fall into before.

I still cry at the part of the Disney movie that nakedly manipulates you into doing so – I hear the music swell, and my eyes overflow with tears. I still get frustrated with my kids, going so far sometimes as yelling a little bit. But I don’t beat myself up over those outbursts endlessly anymore, like I used to. I can go back, apologize, and talk about what we need to be doing. I still laugh. In fact, I probably laugh more. The medication didn’t stop making me feel, it just muted those deep deep lows and the anxiety to the point where I can feel other feelings at the appropriate level.

I realize, now, for just how long I have been living with depression and anxiety. I don’t know what “normal” feels like. I know I like how I feel now, a lot, and I know I’m a much better person to be around, especially those who love me the most. I’m trying to untangle what parts of me behaved or reacted the way I did because of the depression and anxiety and what parts are the me without them. I’m even able to forgive myself for not seeking help sooner, which is something I would have endlessly beat myself about if not for the medication.

I chased “highs” in order to keep the depression at bay, kept busy and loud and distracted to quiet the anxious thoughts. I always recognized in others if they had a quiet self-destructive streak driven by a feeling of self-loathing because I knew it so well in myself. I have never trusted my instincts because when people would say, listen to that little voice inside you, it would be the most irrational and terrible of voices. And it would almost never warn me about the things I should have actually been wary of. Searching my feelings would lead me down very dark paths.

But I am also an extrovert, deeply empathetic, and, admittedly, impulsive. How much of that is because of the depression and anxiety and how much of that is just a part of my personality? Does it matter? I want to trust my feelings, but they have been so unreliable for so much of my life, I don’t know how or where to begin.

I still feel. The medication hasn’t numbed me to reality or turned me into an unfeeling zombie. If anything, the opposite is true. I’m more aware, more attuned, more able to feel a wider variety of feelings and emotions. There is good in me. I can finally feel it.

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