I felt excitement. Genuine excitement. I didn’t need drugs or alcohol for a high. I wasn’t recovering from the titillating heart palpitations after a passionate entanglement under the sheets. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas Eve.
For the past year, and perhaps even longer than that, I have been mostly quietly drowning in depression. I get the winter blues, but I felt it in the summer and spring, too. I had always been able to bounce back from the lows, but something shifted in the last year. I just… couldn’t anymore. For possibly the first time ever, I believed that my happiness wasn’t completely under my control. Sometimes it is hormones, sometimes it is chemicals.
I, honestly, realized this a little sooner. Maybe three years ago, or so, when after two years of hysterical fits, suicidal thoughts, and crying jags that lasted hours at a time, I learned that I have PMDD (a hormonal imbalance condition that can be treated with birth control). After attempting to hurt myself, I finally took steps to take care of it. My hormones could change how I behaved.
Once again, here I am, realizing I am in desperate need of help.
A few weeks ago, I started seeing a therapist. She’s not the kind who prescribes medicine, but we are starting to form a relationship as I unravel details about my past.
She has been encouraging me to take small steps to reach attainable goals. She suggested I get a physical. I haven’t had one in probably eight or ten years. I get terrible night sweats, which might be related to the hormonal imbalance, but it could also be something else. I have an appointment in a week.
Last week, she gave me homework to write a letter (I will never send) to my ex-boyfriend about everything that hurt me and made me angry about him and the relationship. I’ve been living the last several months in a pained sadness, missing all the wonderful things, like a wonder-starved child seeking pleasure in dreams. And although I know that won’t go away, because there truly were remarkable things about our relationship, I am still recovering from the arguments, mistrust, and just the broken-heartedness of someone who lost a man with whom she saw a future. I’m allowed to dispense my anger in a way that won’t hurt anyone and can only help me. She is helping me to see this so I can gain back some of my self-esteem. So I can enliven some of the courage that has been hibernating deep within me.
She also mentioned that tanning during the wintertime often helps people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have been stubborn against considering this an option, because of the obvious risks, and I don’t advise that it’s for everyone, but I was running out of hope and ready to try anything that could possibly help.
The past week has been pretty hellish, with the New Year starting with some intense anxiety attacks and insomnia. I dealt with most of it surreptitiously on my own, only telling a couple of people, because I was so ashamed at my inability to pull myself together as an adult. I felt terrified, swaddled in heaps of blankets, sweating and moaning for days in between the random moments of unconsciousness and the blank hours of feeling absolutely nothing inside except a tightness in my chest. I can liken it to the book I’m reading, “The Last Unicorn”, where once caged, the iron bars hissed at her mockingly because the unicorn had no power of her own to escape. It was a place I wish not to return to.
Last Saturday, I overheard a couple, who live beneath me (and whom I have never met), have a very intense fight that lasted hours. It occurred directly below me in their bedroom. I was already in bed. She screamed and sobbed for an unending amount of time, and his dampened murmurs indicated that either he was trying to rationalize with her or had already given up. She screamed with desperation that she was sorry over and over. Finally, it stopped, and I was able to sleep. I worried about the two of them for days. Prayed for them. Welled up with tears in my own eyes as I imagined her grief over something I didn’t know. But I could feel it. Deeply. And it has stuck with me.
I’m pretty sure that none of this has been very helpful with my mood.
So today, one of my closest friends and I went to a tanning salon she’s been to in the past. We decided to dedicate Sundays to “girl time”. I told the lady at the front desk I would start with 12 minutes since the full 15 made me nervous; even though I am olive complexioned, I haven’t been out in the sun for a while. I shed my clothing and climbed into the inviting glow of the tube.
I imaged ocean waves and the sounds of plucked ukulele strings, as a warm breeze swept over my face and the heat of the lights made my body feel as though for a short period of time I was lying on the beach in Maine at my parents’ condo, or in San Diego, visiting my sister. I felt summertime penetrate my skin.
When it was over, I put my clothes back on and we got in my friend’s car. I told her I still felt warm and toasty, and she agreed that she did, too. When we got back to my apartment, we laughed, listened to music, tinkered with the piano, and played childhood board and card games. I taught her the strategy to one of my favorite logic puzzle games, and even after she left around dinner time, I was still filled with happiness and energy that I haven’t felt in months.
I don’t know if it was the placebo effect of going tanning or it was the actual UV rays, but today has been different. I have not wanted to move off my couch for over six months, and today I ran around my apartment in excitement, needing to show her games I had, and I actually wanted to play them.
Before I sat to write this, I started reading a new book. I have not willingly participated in activities like that for most of the past years with a few rare days of clarity and energy that perforated through.
I hope this isn’t a fluke, and I know it takes more than one day of tanning to become the whole person I used to be. However, I am dually frustrated I waited so long and so relieved I’ve finally taken the steps.
Living your life as if you’re waiting to die is no way to live, but I had become comfortable with that. I miss the woman who enjoys her own thoughts and loves being creative. I am hoping that I find her again through all this searching and recovery. I am seeking happiness with a side-effect of a nice tan for the winter.