Going off the Rails

Well, although my last blog already discussed how roller-coasters have their ups and downs as well as their slow climbs and their fast downward rushes, I’ve only now realized that I failed to mention one very important aspect about them: the fact that sometimes they break down altogether, during which time the “Out of Order” placards go up on the main sign, the red cord goes across the queue entrance and the entire thing shuts down for days until the required maintenance is performed, the broken parts replaced, the faults repaired and the machinery put back into commission once again. You see, roller-coasters are very complicated pieces of equipment and breakdowns are not uncommon. The mechanic is used to breakdowns. They usually know what to expect when one happens: a worn wheel pad, a rusted bolt, a loose belt… you know, things that regularly need to be replaced after several loops around the track. There are always supplies kept on hand at the ready for these kinds of breakdowns so that the time it will require to fix the roller-coaster is minimal and the mechanic can easily repair what needs repairing and get things back to normal in a jiffy. But it’s the unexpected, the ‘accidents’, the kinds of breakdowns that no mechanic ever thinks will happen ‘on my shift’, that really throws the wrench into the works and puts everything on standby for days. Those are the breakdowns that quite literally put the roller-coaster ‘off the rails’. When this sort of breakdown happens, it requires a lot more time, effort and energy to get things back to the way they need to be. Sometimes it takes more than one mechanic. Sometimes it takes special parts that have to be ordered in. And sometimes it takes a complete overhaul of the working system to fix the problem.

Since my last blog post, I’ve had some very down ‘downs’ and I wasn’t sure at all if I would ever find the words to put in another post again. If you were to ask me why exactly I felt that way, what had happened to bring me down, I honestly wouldn’t be able to say. There’s no one particular event that I can pinpoint, no singular issue or situation that specifically caused my lapse into the drop zone. I just fell into the black pit somehow. Now, certainly, there are a few things that have happened that were unpleasant and disappointing but not overly so that I couldn’t deal with the emotional fallout, since I was braced for them and expecting them. I suppose, however, that in combination, it’s likely that they were all partly to blame for triggering my downward slope (I say this only now in retrospect, since hindsight is 20/20). Alone, they wouldn’t have been enough to have brought on the crash as it was, but together they hit on the level of a nuclear fallout-type downer. It took the last two days for me to figure it out and start to crawl back up the sides of the crater.

Roller-coaster accidents are, at the very least, disturbing, like when the safety bar comes loose halfway through the course, and at the very worst, horrific, like when a car goes off the rails. What makes these ‘worst’ accidents even more horrific than any other type of carnival ride accident is that roller-coaster cars are linked together, so where one goes, the others follow, and if one goes off… well, that’s a picture no one wants to imagine. With depression it’s very much like that: when one thing happens that triggers a depressing thought or mood, it’s usually linked to another depressing thought/mood, that’s linked to another, and so on. Similarly, for some who struggle with depression like myself, incidents (translation = bad luck) seem to occur consecutively with equally upsetting effect, which results in waves of deepening depression that come rolling in, one over the other. Such was my past week and a half.

I’ve been trying to sort through my anxiety about returning to work after a year and a half away on stress and health disability leave.  It’s been a struggle and a very difficult fight to be understood not just by my coworkers and immediate management but also by my doctors and mental health workers. There is a severe lack of quality care and assistance for those trying to cope and overcome issues of mental health here in our remote little piece of the world in the crook of God’s elbow. Wait times and delays between specialist’s appointments are normally up to 3 months, longer if you’re waiting for imaging tests or scans. At present, I am still waiting to see a new Psychiatrist after my old one moved away in May and gave instruction for my file to be referred on (as of today I have an appointment scheduled for October 14th with who I hope will be my new permanent Psychiatrist).  In the past two weeks I have been in discussion with my insurance representative, my Occupational Heath Services representative, my Human Resources representative, my Psychologist, and my regular physician, all of us trying to come to an arrangement for me to be able to return to work at a slow easement that I can manage without overwhelming stress. So far, I’m more stressed just talking to all these people about it than I think I’d be once I actually start back to work! This is where the first wheel of my roller-coaster car came off the track.

Then a little more than a week ago my hubby was doing some work at a nearby property, clearing out some trees that had been cut down previously, when he came across two orphaned baby squirrels. They were laying on the ground several feet apart. He had lifted up the tree trunks and spotted the first one, then moments later saw the second. The fellow who owned the property was working with him and would have killed them (his words were ‘I hate those things!’) so what else could hubby do but scoop them up and rush them home to ‘momma’. “Hey, Honey, look what I found! You can nurse them, can’t you?” Can you hear my eyes rolling in my skull? You can, can’t you? Yes. I know you can. Well, we did some research and estimated them to be just 4 weeks old, they had likely only opened their eyes that day, but they were in rough shape and hadn’t been with their mother for at least a day or more judging by their condition. So, yeah, alright, I was the Rescue Ranger on duty. Scouring the internet for every bit of info I could find, making re-hydrating fluid and digging out the old hamster cage and heating pad, keeping the cats at bay, I was having a grand old time. (You can hear my eyes rolling in my skull, can’t you? Yes, I know you can.) The little guys (yup, both males – don’t make me explain it) seemed to perk up a bit, one more than the other, but by the next day it was clear that there was a problem with the other and by the third day the other had died. We were heartbroken even though it was not entirely unexpected, and after we had a little burial for the poor fellow I didn’t cry until later when I was alone so that hubby didn’t see how much it pained me to lose him. Fast-forward a week and I’m trying my damnedest to keep the seemingly healthier brother from following his weaker sibling to the grave: 3 to 5-times-daily puppy milk formula feedings as per recommendations by various wildlife rescue rehab websites, cubes of apple and cold watermelon for teething gums, paper towel toilet training, and dear-Lord-give-me-strength-this-is-crazy-I’m-trying-to-be-a-mommy-to-a-squirrel. This is where the second wheel of my roller-coaster car came off the track.

While I’m in the process of clinging to the safety bars of my coaster car to avoid slipping into the swirling vortex of stress, I somehow manage to inflict compound injuries upon myself without actually doing anything physically strenuous. While sweeping the front hall one morning, I gave my shoulder a small twist and aggravated my already-torn rotator cuff that I’ve been two months trying to heal, resulting in a renewed perpetual ache that travels the full length of my arm from shoulder to fingertips.  On another day, as I was on my hands and knees retrieving one of the cat’s toys from under the couch, I popped my kneecap out of joint (a routine occurrence and a hereditary physical trait handed down from my paternal grandfather, which I share with my father, uncle and brother), and even though I was able to pop it right back into place, it still ached and throbbed for the rest of the day and kept me on edge for several days after worrying that it would pop out at any time now that it had been weakened. Topping everything off, with the onset of cooler weather and chilly nights, we’ve begun turning the electric heat on in the house and the resulting dry air has brought on my annual nosebleed season: bend over to pick something up = nosebleed; have a sniffle and blow nose = nosebleed; sneeze = nosebleed.
….. Aaannd there goes a third wheel of my roller-coaster car off the track.

All of the stress, all of the emotional turmoil, the upheaval of my once routine daily life, all these sudden changes in my world, had been overwhelming. I was trying to keep my mind focused on one thing at a time while I was trying to do ten things at a time. My brain couldn’t keep up with my hands and my mouth. I had begun to lose my appetite for good food and was starting to fall back into my old bad habit of eating unhealthy and bad foods at all the wrong times of the day and night. I wasn’t getting to bed at a decent hour, or waking at a decent hour. I was becoming distant from my family and had started to crawl back into the shell I had been working so hard to get out of. I began to ignore my personal needs. I had stopped writing. My roller-coaster had gone off the rails.

It’s never a good thing when the cars go off the rails, mentally or physically. When it happens physically it’s not very difficult to deal with: you can treat cuts, scrapes, broken bones and bruises; time in hospital with adequate rest and medicinal care under doctor’s supervision is readily available and home recovery is all fine and well. When it happens mentally however, it’s a completely different situation. The injuries aren’t so easy to detect, the bruising doesn’t show on the outside, there are no definitive wounds or marks, no bleeding to indicate where the damage has been done. The treatments aren’t as easy to come by either. Finding a doctor who knows how to effectively and compassionately treat a person who’s suffered mental injuries is a very tricky and sometimes impossible task. It can take months, even years, of trial and error before a physician can find the proper combination of medicinal care to treat mental harm, and even then there’s no guarantee that the medicine will always be effective for very long. Most prescribed antidepressants only remain effective for two to three years before the body becomes too used to them, and then instead of helping the brain adjust and compensate for what’s wrong, the drug begins to have a complete opposite effect that can cause a worsening depression which could lead to suicidal tendencies (this is a fact that I know firsthand). Along with medicinal treatment, therapy is often the most beneficial and effective way to help a person who is struggling with depression get back on their feet and learn to cope with their anxiety and phobias. The problem with therapy is that there are so few therapists available to take on new patients, particularly here in my region. Without the guidance and support of a good therapist, it’s very difficult to see your way clearly through the dark cloud of self-loathing and sadness that blinds us when we’re stuck in a low pit of despair. A therapist teaches us how to recognize when we’re starting down that wrong road, how to turn around and get back on the right road again. It may sound like a simple thing to do but for those of us fighting the demons inside, it’s tantamount to single-handedly stopping a stampeding herd of T-rexes (translation = very very difficult).

Once I realized that my roller-coaster car was hanging from the track, I had to force myself to sit down and take a deep breath, have a good long rest, listen to some relaxing music, do my best to clear my mind of all the scrambled, frantic, whirling thoughts, and just be calm. I had to literally tell myself that I recognized I was letting my depression get out of control, that I saw myself going too far in the wrong direction. I gave myself permission to accept that it was alright to have that down time, that few days of bad eating habits, those few nights of bad sleeping habits. I was just going through some stressful times and it was passing. I would be alright, it would pass. I made lists, I wrote down all the things I knew I needed to remember that I had done in the past week: all the calls I had made, the people I had spoken to, the things we had discussed, who I had to call back and who was going to get back to me next, what appointments were made and which ones I still had to make, what tasks I wanted to accomplish and what ones I had gotten done. As I began writing things down, I began to feel a little better. Seeing things in print seemed to make them more real, which in turn made me feel more connected to them and more in control of them. Slowly, I was able to claw my way up and back onto the rails again.

So, now here we are, after a very long, rough week, a knuckle-scraping run and a heart-rending fall off the rails, finally getting back on track, slowly but steadily picking up the pace, not fully up to speed but knowing that I’ll get there as I’m able, in time, under my own steam. It was a harrowing experience, one I hope won’t be repeated any time soon. I’m still feeling shaken, there are still residual effects from some of the events (my arm is still aching but not nearly as deeply), and there is heartache that has yet to heal (this morning the second baby squirrel died, despite my best efforts at being a Rescue Ranger, sometimes there is just nothing you can do and nature must take its course). I haven’t done as much writing as I would have liked but I’ve gotten back at it and done some, and I know it will come back as I keep plodding along (even now I have new ideas in my head). It’s like any other time when you take a tumble: you have a little cry, take a deep breath, go slow, take your time, but get back up… get back up and keep going, start over, try again, don’t give up, take another step, get back on the rails and roll on. You know the ride isn’t over yet. There’s still so much fun to look forward to.

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” ~Etty Hillesum

PS. – I did manage a bit of writing in the last couple of days and you’ll find some new poems under the Poetry pages, including “Let Go” as posted below.  🙂