The myth of “better”
It’s somehow Friday, finally. It’s been one hell of a week and things are slowly ramping up so it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of moving parts happening right now and I’m just trying to keep a handle on things, so if mental health seems to be the theme of the week, then well it’s with good reason. Also it’s mental health awareness month. Which, somewhat ironically, I was not aware of until recently. So the theme of my life fits the month I guess.
Where to start. This week has been brutal, we had a major deadline that I was trying to hit for hospital-PI. I believe we made it, or at least made it as best as we could given the time crunch, but there are still other deadlines that I need to worry about. Mostly this week has been stressful because I’m trying to coordinate everything for the following weeks, so while this week is mentally draining, next week promises to be physically draining.
First we have two full days of experiments with some out of town collaborators, meaning we need to cram in as many experiments as possible into two days. Let’s just say lunch will be highly discouraged during this time (not really, but it feels like it). We’ve done times like this in the past, so this is nothing new for me. I’ve gone in before the sun has come up and left long after it has gone down, a full day without seeing sunlight. I don’t recommend it if you can help it, but in research sometimes there are slow periods, sometimes there are periods where you’re doing all the science, all of it.
At the end of next week, I’m going to be starting data collection for my experiment, my dissertation project experiment that is. I’m very excited to start data collection for this project since it will be the definitive answer to, “does super secret technique” really work? I’m hopeful and to kick off the project, I’ve recruited a labmate who was the original volunteer for the project. This will be a good check to make sure that what I found the first experiment wasn’t due to some weird processing error or some other mistake I made. I was new when I first collected the data and while I had help, I processed it all on my own, so there are probably some errors somewhere.
Now a decade or so ago if I had this much work on my shoulders I would collapse, avoid it all, and probably just drop out. Honestly it would probably trigger a very serious depression spiral and I would either have checked into the mental health ward again or I would hurt myself, by hurt I mean attempt to end my life, just so we’re clear. However, that’s not the case these days, thankfully. It’s not because things are better though, they aren’t.
If anything things may even be worse. It’s been over a decade of seriously fighting with my brain to stay alive, fuck me if I’m not tired of it. So how am I okay now when I wasn’t back then? It was a question I’ve been struggling to understand. While circumstances have changed and I’m not one false move away from being homeless (or actually homeless, like I was after my first suicide attempt), that wasn’t the major factor here. It’s good that I have that stability now, or at least mostly, I mean we’re all a few bad days away from being homeless, or maybe that’s my brain being stupid again.
So not much has changed, but I’m as okay as I can be. I realized a while ago that I was searching for the mythical “better” everyone keeps talking about (side note, I liked this sentence so much I changed the title of this post to match). Life will get better, things will get better, your depression will get better. Things are bad now, but soon, they will be better. Days passed, then months, then years, and over a decade later and things aren’t better. I don’t think whatever is wrong with me, which again I don’t think I’m particularly rare here, will ever get “better.” I’ll always be one breath away from drowning.
That’s not a plea for help or for sympathy, it’s just the way it is. Like the sky being blue or water being wet, I will most likely always be dealing with this issue. I know it’s not just me. Maybe one day we’ll even have a special name for it, because it certainly doesn’t feel the same as how depression is described. Then again, what do I know? I’m just some random crazy person trying to survive my own brain.
So the magic land of “better” was just not in the cards. Another aside, that search really fucked with my head for a long time, so maybe we should stop saying things will get better, maybe? Yet something changed between then and now and it’s been eating at me because I couldn’t put my finger on it.
The truth of the matter is the load hasn’t gotten any lighter, I’ve just gotten used to carrying it.
While I’m excited to be starting my semi-mythical medication, the one that actually did something to improve my quality of life (this post), the truth is it’s not a magic pill. It did very magical things for me and I suspect that it will once I start it again, hopefully in the next few days, but it didn’t cure the feelings in my head it just helped me mentally carry that load. That was all it did, that’s all I really need.
Over the years though you do get better at carrying that weight. I imagine it’s like going to the gym. You lift weight every day and eventually the weight becomes easier to lift. The weight still weighs the same, it’s you that has changed. I don’t blame past me for dealing with that weight the best way I could at the time and I have no qualm if future me ends up in that same spot. But for now, for today at least, I can acknowledge that I’m carrying a lot of mental weight and it’s okay… for now.
I mean no matter how used to carrying a weight you get, the second you remove it you realize how light you feel and how exhausting carrying that weight can be. Since I cannot put down that mental weight, I am very excited for my medication to arrive so it’s not so draining just trying to take another breath. Because when I say I feel like I’m walking through a vat full of razor blades and molasses, I mean that literally. It hurts to exist and when I try to move or think there’s a high resistance keeping me from going too fast. I suspect I’ll visit this topic again soon because I want to demonstrate how this affected me and I have just the way to do that.
I guess I’ll close by simply saying that if you’re like me, unable to find that magical “better” then maybe you can find comfort in knowing that while the load doesn’t get lighter, carrying it gets easier. It’s a hard existence, I won’t lie about that, but it’s enough to keep me going for one more day at least. Sometimes that’s all you need to do, just make it to tomorrow and before you know it, it’s been a decade.
This is a really good observation I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone make previously: your idea that there are multiple ways for a situation to improve, and sometimes it’s not your circumstances that get better, it’s you that gets stronger.
Nothing like this has happened to me – yet. I’ve never gotten trapped in a dire situation that was permanent. But I can still feel it ringing true with my own experience, in a way. There are sacrifices or risks I can handle now that I would have been reluctant to go near once, and it’s not because they changed, it’s because I did. My nerves didn’t get any less sensitive to pain, it just stopped mattering as much.
And it’s comforting to think that if I ever do fall into an inescapable hole, I might be able to adapt.
Good luck with the heavy workload. Hold on tight.
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May 6, 2022 at 7:58 pm
I mean you’ve had your fair share of struggles and that’s just what I know about, you have every reason to be acknowledged for your strength! I admit it’s a little hard to see when you’re trying to find it in yourself, but I see it.
Thank you! I’m slowly chipping away at things, I’m not too worried, for the moment anyway. I’ll probably feel dead by next Friday, but if I can get everything done at least I’ll have the weekend to crash and recharge.
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May 7, 2022 at 10:56 am
Thank you so much, Alex. I don’t think I’ve even told you about the really bad stuff yet, so it feels like you’re rating me high.
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May 7, 2022 at 11:57 am
If anything I’m definitely underrating you! I’m glad I can point it out though 😀
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May 7, 2022 at 1:50 pm