Friday, November 6, 2009

School of Thought Seminar: Breakdown!

Art by W. S. Hutton

There was a big jolt, and then it got bumpy. I sensed it coming, but I was going too fast and it seemed impossible to slow down. As the air escaped from my tires, I veered out of control. Everything went flat. I was having a breakdown.

It all started in June, 1981. We were excited, expecting our 7th baby, but we didn't know where we'd put her. Our house was overflowing with kids and shoes and outgrown coats: we decided to remodel the basement. The contractor said it would take two months. Perfect. The kids could all live in the family room while the bedrooms were reconfigured into two big dorms.

Too much togetherness.

Four months later Marta was born. The painter was the one who took the call announcing her birth. Workmen had taken up permanent residence in our home—it was a nightmare. One thing had led to another and construction was taking place all over the house. What were we thinking?

One day, when the baby was less than a week old, I put her in an infant seat on the dining-room table, out of danger. Her sneezing siblings were smearing chocolate on the drapes, while I talked to the pediatrician on the phone. A lamp tipped over just as the doorbell rang. "We're here to see the baby" called my friend, herding her three kids around ladders and through stacks of lumber.

In the garage a saw whined. The carpenter had just removed some wooden slats that held the cathedral windows in place when suddenly a gust of wind blew the plate glass in. It shattered all over the room.

Our house back then.

Marta and the other kids were luckily protected from the tiny shards, but I was hit—not by glass, but by the enormity of my situation. These kids were out of control. I had way too many of them, and they were all living in the family room out of boxes, and there were strange men using my bathroom, watching me and my house fall apart.

A week later I was feeding the baby when the phone rang. Walking backwards to answer it, (so I wouldn't expose my bare boob to Ron, the carpenter in the hall) I clipped the end table. My knee went out from under me, and I fell down, throwing Marta in the air. She landed on the hard kitchen tile, and I landed in a twisted heap. Ron dashed in to rescue both of us. Again, the baby was fine, but I wasn't. After a few hours in the emergency room, I came home with a leg brace, crutches, and torn ligaments in my knee.

Fast forward another two weeks. Neighbors helped with my preschoolers; Marta spent her life on my bed, surrounded by diapers, because I couldn't carry her and walk on my crutches at the same time. Saturday morning Dee had a leg-ache and took a couple of aspirin. Within minutes he was turning blue, unable to breathe. When the paramedics arrived, they gave him a shot of epinephrine, and rushed him to the hospital. In the ambulance he went into respiratory arrest, and heard them yell "We're losing him! We're losing him."

When I got to the hospital, and asked how he was, the frazzled doctor said, "He damn near died!" So, now I was a single mom of seven under eleven, on crutches, trekking to visit my critically ill husband in the ICU every day for two weeks. He recovered, but the stress was taking a toll on me.

Back to normal.

Six months passed, the workmen were gone, the kids were installed in their cool new rooms, my crutches were stashed in the garage, and Dee was back in the pink. However, I was heading into the blues. Life was getting darker and darker, although nobody else seemed to notice.

I was all sunshine outside my house, but my own little world was dismal. I had periodic dizzy spells, double vision and random aches and pains; I was certain I had a fatal disease. I blew up at the slightest thing, and had tantrums right along with my kids. I used to call Dee and have him come home in the middle of the day, because of my frantic state of mind. I imagined all sorts of terrible things happening to me or my kids—I was full of fear, doubt and worry.

The hardest part was that I couldn't let anyone in my humiliating secret. I was breaking down, but I had to keep up my image.

On a Merry-Go-Round

The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me and suggested anxiety or depression. I would not accept that as my diagnosis. I wasn't the depressed type—it sounded so depressing.

One day I was moping on the couch while my kids stared at the TV. I had been praying about my bleak situation when the thought came to call Shawna—a neighbor I did not know well. When she answered, I started sobbing uncontrollably, and told her how helpless and hopeless I felt. She sounded caring and calm as she assured me, "We'll get through this together. It will be all right." She said she knew what I was going through, because she'd felt this way herself. When I finally settled down, she said, "Now, Dear, first tell me: who is this?"

Shawna steered me towards a doctor who shared tools to help me with my breakdown. Depression is a chemical imbalance, and anti-depressants balance the brain's chemicals so it can function normally. He explained that for me to go without them would be as foolish as a diabetic going without insulin.

Stress, hormones, illness or trauma can trigger a bout of depression. Sometimes it goes away completely on it's own, other times it goes away but recurs. In my case, it is chronic, so I'll take anti-depressants the rest of my life. A friend referred to them as "happy pills," but that's not right. The medication doesn't make you happy—it makes you normal. Then you can make yourself happy.

Out on a limb

Life is full of crashes and surprise breakdowns. I can be philosophical about them when they're happening to somebody else.

Mrs. Organic wrote a post on her three weeks of solitary confinement:
"I was placed in a corner room on the top floor with the rooms next to me left vacant since radio waves are no respecter of walls (I always wondered about the poor soul in the room beneath me). A line was taped off around the door that I was not allowed to pass, a box of disposable blue booties and a chair sat waiting for any visitors, nurses, or doctors. No one was allowed to be in my presence for more than a total of 20 minutes per day. It was rather lonely." (Click on her name for the rest.)

Diane is one of my heroes. Her story begins with, "One misstep changed my life." Click on her name for her courageous tale (start with the bottom post and work up.) Diane is the example of how to deal with an unexpected breakdown.

"Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear,
for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you . . ."
—Doctrine & Covenants 68:6

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~If you've had the blues for more than two weeks, talk to someone about it. Don't suffer in silence. If you've been in a funk for more than a couple of months, go to a doctor.

~Write about a person who saved the day for you.

~Do you have a friend who needs your brand of sparkle? Think and pray about who you should call. Then make her laugh.

*Get out your blue books. Final exams are next week!

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.


Tiffany said...

The terrible thing about posts like this is that it leaves me wanting to hug the author(s) and all I have before me is an un-huggable computer.

So heart-wrenching and honest. Ms. Oma, I love your writing and your honesty and your encouragement to everybody.

Katie H said...

I love this post. I am obviously late in reading it, but it comes better late than never. We are facing some difficult stuff in my family & it's been interesting trying to be the cheery one for everyone. :)

Thanks for all of the efforts in writing - I know you're tired, but I've enjoyed it oh-so-much!

Christie said...

I cannot imagine what that must have been like. You are so amazing to me. And look how those crazy kids turned out? They're fantastic. And all because of you and Dee.

KJ said...

I can't find my sparkle

Kristie Lynne said...

I'd just like to say, if anyone is considering it, therapy is an amazing thing. I thought I could sort it all out on my own, but just having someone to talk to and cheer me on changed my life. I highly recommend trying it out. At least for a bit.

polly said...

great post! you are the one that helped me when it was my turn to have the nervous breakdown. some just need a shoulder and some need a shoulder and anti depressents. either way there is nothing to be ashamed of and most important to get the help we need!

crissy said...

You are amazing, Oma!

My story.

Diane Linford said...

My story is the other side of the coin. I stand by and watch as my children suffer.

A side note for parents whose children need therapy or counseling: it's wonderful! It allows the parent to be the cheerleader and the counselor to be the coach. Sometimes we parents need that.
my assignment

diane said...

I love this post and not just because you called me your hero. I think depression is a silent killer. You look fine. You can fake it. All the while inside you are dying.

Thanks for sharing your truth.

Whenever a young mom I know has a baby I follow them for awhile asking if they are really ok and how they are doing.

I love you even more.

audrey said...

Every story I hear like this one brings me strength to know there are others who struggle like I do. Thank you for being brave enough to share.


Misty said...

Oma, thank you for this honest, heartfelt post. I needed to read it. I need to do the homework. Give me a few days.

Alana said...

Oh my goodness, I can't comprehend going through all of those things at the same time- sounds like a nightmare. Depression hit me like a brick a few days after having my baby. It was the darkest of dark. One of the biggest comforts then was to read or hear stories of other women experiencing the same thing. I am great now but fear having another baby- I'm so afraid of going through that again- though this time at least I know it gets better. Thank you for this wonderful post!

gab said...

Thanks for showing me the way to live good and bad times.

Sorry that I probably added to the breakdown. But you'll be happy to know the grandkids are helping me have one of my own! I think it's a family tradition.

Sandra Ferguson said...

Depression can be caused by medications as well. Recently went through this with my sister, who has a few prescriptions that she can't alter -- add one new one to the bunch and suddenly she was in a manic depressive stage. They changed her meds, then almost killed her with a drug interaction. Bottom line -- anytime things get out of kilter, consider any changes in medication, look for the interactions, talk to your pharmacist (the really in-the-know person about medications) and write it ALL down. A journal full of specifics can go a long way to helping a physician make the right diagnosis.

Keri(th) said...

Well slap my cheeks and shiver me timber!

I had a minor breakdown of my own the day I read you post.

Oh, what a GREAT post!

I felt much better about being overwhelmed after reading it, and wondered in awe how on earth you got through it all without going completely mad!

Then I realized that my version of a breakdown down doesn't even count, so I had a cookie (or seven).

Which leads to your question about the cake, and was it me?

It sure was. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. It remains a chronic problem, for which I am sorry to report - there is no cure.

p.s. I know I've been a terrible student, attending class and not saying a word, sitting at the back, out of plain view and making funny faces. It's completely out of character for me, but I'm always here.

And I always LOVE it.

Keri(th) said...

Now if only I could write a sentence without looking like a goof-off!

dalene said...

oh dear. i've been up close and personal with the black hole that is depression. my heart goes out to you. but that is an awful lot of stuff to deal with all at the same time. why is it that when it rains it pours?

does it count if i did my homework a day early? one of the sweet girls i supervise at my job got a call at work that her husband had had an accident at the carpentry shop where he works. i could tell she was in no state to drive, so i checked out and drove her to the hospital and offered to stay with her until her mother could get there.

it seems we have lots of friends in dire straights these days, so i'll keep on the lookout for more.

best to you and yours--

Miranda said...

Oh Oman, now I'm crying again! I'm so very VERY grateful to have read this post. You've already read my story and now I'm learning to deal with the fact that my depression is also, I'm learning this TODAY. Thanks for the reminder that I'm not alone.

P.S. Love the part about how they're NOT happy pills. They're pills that make me who I am.

KJ said...

I usually save the day for myself. I didn't have an emotionally stable mother, not the kind to talk with and confide in and trust and adore, so I had to cope with drama on my own, and I didn't always do it well. I'm still learning how to do things with grace. my sweetheart has since taken part of the burden of supporting me and adoring me and telling me it's going to be ok. I hope one day to manage things half as well as you did.