Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

broken, but never alone

This will end up wordy. For the easily bored, here's the tl;dr version... I am a loony. I love the internet.

So those of you on Twitter will know that I went to the doctor today and, amongst other things, was diagnosed with depression and put on medication. I then came home and proceeded to lose my shit all over the internet.

This is not the first time I've had depression. It's something I've lived with all my life - well, half of my life. The other half was spent shagging and writing novels and scrubbing the bathroom at 3am, in joyous bursts of hypomania. Basically I'm a complete nutbag, but that's not what I wanted to write about.

What struck me today was how, for me, social media has completely changed what it means to live with a mental illness.

The last time I lost the battle with my brain was in 2003. I'd had a horrendous year, culminating in me dumping my boyfriend, quitting my job and moving back to the country. I had some immediate family close by, but zero friends. I had no internet, no landline and my mobile only did what every other mobile did back then - make very expensive phone calls. I was pretty much alone.

I didn't go to the doctor because I felt sad. I went for a Pap smear. While he was getting things ready, he asked me some stuff about life and my kids and the next thing I knew, I was sobbing my heart out.

That moment when the doctor asks the right question, says the right words, and the floodgates open? It's like a freakin' earthquake. The ground rumbles and splits beneath you and you start to free-fall. Until that point, you didn't realise just how hard you'd been fighting to maintain the balance, keep your shit together, pretend everything's ok. The weeks, months, even years of constant internal struggle. But in that moment, you admit defeat and realise you simply don't have the strength to do it any more. And that realisation is crippling.

Then, minutes after all this happens, your appointment is over and you find yourself back out in the corridor. Alone.

And this, my friends, is where social media changed my life.

In 2003, I had a two hour drive home from the doctor's surgery. I wailed and sobbed alone in my car until my eyes were so swollen I could barely see the road. On the way, I stopped and bought a bottle of vodka. It was late Friday arvo and Mum already had my kids at her place while I was away. I rang and asked if she could keep them for the night, went home, crawled into the corner behind my bed (paranoid that someone might see me through the window) and drank straight from the bottle, crying my heart out, until I passed out on the floor.

The meds kicked in a couple of weeks later, but things got much worse before they got better. I moved through each day like a zombie and cried myself to sleep every night. I started to fear leaving the house and having to speak to people. I've never felt so isolated in all my life. forward to today. Today, the earth opened up beneath me, just like it did last time. I sobbed my heart out in the surgery, then ended up in the corridor alone, just like last time. Only this time, I wasn't really alone. When I walked out of the hospital and turned my phone back on, I had messages from people asking if I was ok and cracking jokes and wishing me luck. When I got down the street and the shock started to set in, I stopped on the side of the road and pulled out my phone. Twitter made me laugh until I felt ok to drive.

And, yeah, I wailed and sobbed for most of the half hour drive back. Then I went to the chemist, discovered I couldn't afford to fill my prescription, went home and lost my shit. Like last time, I'm completely isolated in a town where I know nobody. And, yeah, like last time I headed straight for the booze, cracking open a bottle of Passion Pop. BUT HERE'S THE THING...this time, I wasn't drinking myself into oblivion. This time, I was having a few glasses of wine to calm myself down WHILE CHATTING TO FRIENDS. Rather than internalising all the fear and shame, I talked openly about it with people who had shared similar experiences. Rather than feeling like I had to pretend I was coping, I could say "I'm broken right now". And nobody judged me.

I was shown soooo much kindness on Twitter this afternoon. And I witness this kindness every day in my Twitter feed. Of course, that comes down to who you follow and how you interact on Twitter, but for me, it's a safe space filled with awesome people who genuinely care about each other. YMMV.

Isolation breeds depression and depression feeds off isolation. The last thing you need when you're depressed is to be alone. With social networking, you can carry your friends around in your pocket. When one timezone sleeps, another wakes up. You're NEVER alone.

Tonight, I'm not passed out on the floor next to an empty bottle. I haven't cried once since I calmed down on the verandah with a glass of sickly sweet bubbles. My son came home from school and I cooked dinner and we watched a couple of crappy comedies and when he noticed my puffy eyes and asked if I was ok, I said I'd be fine. And I will. Because I have you guys.