Hi. I’m Xero. See below.
Pleasure to meet ya. I think it’s time we had a little chat, because it’s been a long road from there to now. One year and change, in point of fact, since I began a regimen of medication and mindfulness to help me get a handle on both my anxiety and bipolar depression disorders.
Specifically, I’ve been taking medication to address the anxiety issue. We’ll get to that. But I want to reflect a bit on the journey. Specifically, I want to stop and appreciate what’s changed since I walked into that Doctor’s office one solar rotation and a few months ago.
So, what’s changed, really?
I can go out into crowds. No, listen to me: I CAN GO OUT INTO CROWDS. I don’t mean that I’m suddenly an extrovert extraordinaire that can work any room. I mean I can walk through a crowd and not immediately dance along the fight or flight response. My eyes are no longer tracking every movement, every person, every potential threat that my brain is convinced is about to blindside me. My synapses aren’t overloaded with the sensory information of all the sounds and smells and changes with each person passing so close.
I can just walk from point A to B without running up and down all the colors of the threat meter. That is pretty bitchin’, to use the parlance.
I can ride in a car. Think I had issues with a simple crowd? Multiply that times velocity. Now add in the Aggro-funhouse that is the realm of Houston drivers (now proven by science to be some of the worst drivers in this nation). I used to have panic attacks just with the simple act of sliding into the passenger seat. Now? Well, yeah, Houston drivers are still scary as hell, but I don’t want to curl into a protective ball on every trip to the grocery store. It’s no longer my own personal replay of the potential greatest hits of Death Race 2000.
But sure, those are small potatoes to some of you. I don’t fault your reasoning. Some get it, others don’t, and no amount of literary gymnastics on my part will ever completely convey how warped those simple social situations can become to someone dealing with anxiety.
Instead, here’s the main course: I don’t have to struggle with the fast and furious nitrous boost that said anxiety gives depression. I don’t have to fight against the double team of those dark thoughts getting bolstered by the absolutism stance of anxiety, where “everyone hates me” becomes “everyone hates me because I failed spectacularly, and it will never end until I do.”
No longer do the thoughts make the leap from “my work just isn’t successful” to “my work is utter garbage and must be scrubbed from existence”; “I’m not the best husband I can be for my wife” to “I am a horrible person, and she does not deserve to put up with me, because no one does. I will not be missed.”; “I’m not in a great headspace” to “I am broken and beyond repair. I’m giving up.”
No longer “I wish things would improve” descending to “I wish I was dead.”
Do I still have issues with depression? Absolutely. There are days when the world goes full on grayscale, nothing entices or engages me, and I’m ill at ease with how things are going for me. I’ll deal with that for the rest of my life. But now? I can recognize it. I can mitigate it. I can take the self-care steps necessary, and when I falter my wife takes up the slack.
Now it’s just about bringing me back up instead of riding out the storm of a complete breakdown. It’s reassurance rather than the horror of preventing another suicide attempt. Blunt, yes, but real. I talk about what I’ve gone through, but it’s with the knowledge and full appreciation for what she’s gone through. I didn’t get the choice. She did.
And, with love and courage that outstrips any hero of legend, she chose to hold her husband, and hang on tightly while I was a shaking, sobbing, screaming mess bent on my own destruction, because that’s all my mind could comprehend.
We both know I’m not in the clear. There are still issues on those days when the dopamine and serotonin don’t get their waltz in synch. I struggle, but I’m mindful now. One day, we might see about medication for that as well. But for now, I am so far removed from that man a year plus ago, and more than anything else that has laid the groundwork for bigger, better things that I could not have believed were even possible.
And there are still plenty of challenges ahead. Hell, I still contend with self-image and confidence snafus. We’ll be moving back to an area we love soon, so that will surely help. But there’s still a lot of climbing to do. My career isn’t where I want it to be. I’m pulling in regular money now with entertaining and creative work (and, seriously, THANK YOU PATREON SUPPORTERS), but I’m still not able to save, or pay more than one bill. I’m thirty-six, and still learning to do the kinds of things that others have taken for granted since their early twenties.
But I can do it. Isn’t that something? I can do it. Dealing better with crowds and car rides, and life in general is one thing, but the fact that I can make that statement at all is testament to the power of seeking help without guilt or shame.
So, why am I telling you this? To be frank, I’m telling myself this. I’m putting words to the electronic page for a future me to read. Because I know that future version of little old me will be even better if he makes it that far, sans calamity. I know it because I’m living it, and every day I’m better armed to deal with the issues my brain throws my way.
I’ve got hope in spite of it all.
And I own it. My bottle of meds sits right out in the open on my desk. Nearby, on the burlesque calendar my wife picked up for me, each day sports a blue check mark to note that I remembered to take my pill. Anyone that visits us can see it. I talk of it openly, and own the good and bad aspects of it. In this house, my mental illness is simply a fact; not a stigma, not a dark family secret, and no longer a constant source of shame.
I have social anxiety and bipolar disorder. I am living with a mental illness. I am actively surviving, in a wondrous relationship with a woman who has let me be by her side for almost seventeen years. I am not what the popular mode of public thinking has made me, and others like me, out to be. I am not the illustrative measure that excuses using the phrase “mental illness” as an example of aberrant or dangerous behavior, or as an insult. I’m not a punchline, or hopeless.
Because, I’m not broken.
Neither are you.