Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Darkest Time in My Life--Or, How My Cats Helped Me Through a Tough Time

The lowest time in my life was when I was about 25. I went through the most debilitating depression I ever thought anyone could have. It lasted for about a year, and the memories I have of this time are very fuzzy. Today, if I hear that someone I know is depressed, I tend to be more sympathetic than before I went through it.

There were about four or five different points of crisis that I believe contributed to this state. I had broken off a friendship with a friend I had had for 10 years, it was almost like going through a divorce. This friend had been very manipulative and domineering, so by the end of the 10 years I sort of no longer had a personality of my own, I was more like an extension of this person's life. Psychologists will tell you that these kind of relationships can be very damaging to the ego, and breaking it off like I had to do can then be quite traumatic.

Another factor was the fact that I had fallen in love with someone, the first man I had ever been interested in. In my younger days at school and so forth I had never been interested in guys, preferring to spend my time with aforementioned friend or alone. When I became attracted to this guy it hit me like a ton of bricks, like all that repressed stuff just came out all at once. He was very cute, funny, and smart, and he knew it. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.

Another factor was my five-year experiment with Christianity. It caused an even bigger rift between me and the rest of my family than I had already had, coming off my rebellious teen years. They just did not understand what was going on with me. I had always been weird to them, and this was just confirmation. Christianity was sort of like a drug to me, at the end of the five years it just got harder & harder to get "high". It wasn't helping me with the problems I had turned to it with in the first place. In the end I was going to church & bawling my eyes out through the whole service, every time I went. I would kneel in my dark little room in prayer every morning, at the end of an hour I was shouting at the ceiling. One weekend I was tired of not being able to communicate with god the way I used to, so I asked for a sign from him about what he wanted me to do, how I could get back in touch with his will, etc. My family & I were spending the weekend out in the country. Nothing happened until my mom and I were driving home. We were the only ones in the car. Then she drops the bomb: My brother has informed the family that he is gay. I have since come to appreciate & celebrate gay people, but at the time I was a fundamentalist Christian, so this certainly knocked me for a loop. Oddly enough, when we were teens, I was the rebellious one & he was the straight laced young republican (I used to call him the Reagan Youth, because he voted for him both times.)

Also, I had quit my job at Sears, the workplace I had stayed the longest at, in order to go to school. Because of my ADD, I wound up really fouling up at school, and had some trouble finding my next job.

When I went through my depression, I did not have the benefit of a therapist or drugs, I just went through it all by myself. I stayed in my room sleeping all day. I would go without bathing for weeks. The only thing keeping me from killing myself was the fact that I had to get up in the morning to feed my two cats, then I would go right back to bed. The fact that my cats were there was really what kept me alive because they gave me a lot of love.

The feelings I were having were very frightening, I did not realize people could really have feelings like this, I really felt like I was going insane. I made things worse by sort of becoming addicted to sugar. I would literally eat granulated sugar from the bowl, several tablespoonfuls, and go into a hyperactive crying jag in my room.

My mother hears me talk about little snippets of these experiences and says "Where was I when all this was going on?" She was just unhappy with me at the time because I didn't do the dishes or whatever. I remember during this time she got irritated with me because the dishes weren't done and I went nuts. If it hadn't been for my parents allowing me to live rent-free though, I don't know what would have happened.

Anyway, it was a very scary time. I had never been self-destructive or suicidal, but during this time I felt like the unhappiness I felt would eventually drown out everything else, and I would attempt suicide, even though I didn't WANT to kill myself. Strangely, this is a part of the experience that redeemed me, beyond everything else. It was like once everything had been stripped away from me, my beliefs, my friends, even having more than extremely minimal contact with other people, I found a rock hard core of self preservation, way down deep, and I had to journey long to find it.

I began finding little things to enjoy. I started watching All My Children, and it became as though the characters were my friends. I started calling a morning dj on the radio, and I was able to make him & his comedian cronies laugh as they had made me laugh (to this day I credit Alex Bennet as one of the people that saved my life.) Humor really is a strong medicine. I started going to the library again. I found a self-help author that really helped me a lot. Another thing that really helped me out was I would sit in the sun by the side of the house with the cats. We would sit in the sun together and I used to get into this meditative state that I called "Waiting for the Mother Ship" This is going to sound weird but I believe that I developed an empathic connection with my cats by doing this. They sort of knew that something was going on in my brain, and they helped out somehow.

When I finally came out of it, it was like a season changing. Even though it was the lowest time in my life, I feel it made me stronger. I came out of it around 1991, and I sometimes like to say I spent the nineties recovering from the mistakes I made in the eighties.

If this makes any of the Christians out there feel like proselytizing me, please don't. I have since read things that have convinced me that Christianity is just a bastardization of all the different myths and religions that were going on in the Middle East at the time that the Bible was being written. I like to think of myself as a "born again pagan."

This was very cathartic to write about, I hope it helps others.

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