I used to want to be extremely mysterious; I wanted to be able to hide what I was feeling and keep people guessing. I’m not sure why I wanted this. As it was, I was EXTREMELY shy as a child. The Down The Stairs episode is a good example. When I began to compensate for my timidity (by being an impenitent smartass), any capacity to deeply hide my feelings went straight out the window. For most of my adult life it’s been painfully obvious how I was feeling (at least in a generalized way). Mind you, I think my body decided that it was more healthy NOT to be pent up; in spite of myself, if I would get too frustrated or too stressed, I would usually end up crying whether I wanted to or not. I gained a catharsis reflex, I guess.
Things have changed, however, through a serious of unfortunate events (not to be confused with A Series of Unfortunate Events, the fine Lemony Snicket books – they are excellent fun, incidentally). I have been, always, I believe, dysthymic, which is a constant form of a low-level depression sometimes contributing to major depressive episodes, but always returning to a rather “blue” normal mood. My dysthymia could have been the cause of my shyness, actually, and could also have contributed to on and off sleep irregularities in my life. Dysthymics can be extremely functional; I think I was – did well in school, held down jobs and so forth. I think it may have led to some “drama queen” behavior (perhaps a combination of my personality and the disorder) and changes in mood such as the The Cookie Incident when I was a toddler.
As an adult, I was encouraged by a number of people to “up the ante,” so to speak – to raise the baseline of my mood. I was wary (hypocritically – would have told anyone else to do it). Partly, I think, because of my reliance on asthma maintenance medication I wasn’t sure I wanted to make what might be a life-long commitment to mood-altering substances and I was concerned about the side effects. I finally tried a tiny, tiny dose of an antidepressant that is well-known for its lack of side effects. I became increasingly irritable, but as this is a recognizable human emotion, I didn’t think too much of it. Then I increased my dosage the next week, as per instruction. I became, let’s just say, seriously irritable. At some point I finally had an epiphany about what was causing the problem. Unfortunately, the bad reaction to the medication had an increasingly negative effect, even after I stopped taking it. I started to have horrible panic and anxiety attacks, generalized anxiety and depression unlike anything I’d ever known. These diseases run in my family (on both sides) and perhaps the disruption in my body chemistry caused underlying genetic predispositions to express themselves. Some have argued that they may have spontaneously done so, but I tend to think that since I was already in my thirties when my chemistry went all to hell, that is not the case. It doesn’t make any difference, I suppose, because what’s done is done.
Since that original adverse drug reaction I have been on a cavalcade of doctor-supervised medication experimentation. It seems that if I am going to react poorly to a medication I will do so at a very tiny dose (a second bad reaction eventually confirmed this) and that on medications that don’t do harm but don’t necessarily help I can take ridiculously high doses without much relief. Some have wondered why I don’t just stop taking everything and “go back to the way I was.” I can’t tell you how much I would love this. But I know what happens, for instance, when I go off the anti-anxiety meds, for instance. It isn’t a good thing. My chemistry, for whatever reason, has changed irrevocably. I’m stuck with the medication circus. And I haven’t really felt like myself for about three years.
So why do I bring all of this up in terms of having wanted to be “mysterious” and unreadable? I have finally found the thing that I can successfully understate. It is the wretched state of my mental health. I can’t hide it altogether; I break down eventually. But as far as the extent of my feelings of depression and hopelessness and panic – I have shocked and surprised any number of people (including a psychiatrist and a DSW). I seem to maintain some modicum of what I call “socially-appropriate” energy. For brief periods of time I can joke and act “normal.” I don’t think of it as deceptive behavior; I think of it as some little well of my former “socially-appropriate” self that I can access on a limited basis. And even if I am upset and anxious and horribly sad, I can and will joke. I have ingrained the “smartass” compensation part of my personality totally, I guess. I saw a psychiatrist, a young guy from the South (you only would notice his origins when he would say, “I fancy that this course of medication will make a big difference” – nobody “fancies” anymore who’s not from the South), who, more than once, partway into a medication consultation, would look at me in utter surprise when I started crying and say, “I had no idea you were so sad.” I think it was partly because he didn’t expect anyone on the brink of despair (not trying to be ultra-dramatic – I do feel that way sometimes) to make little jokes. It could also be because at the visits you reported your mood on a scale from one to ten; this was so inane and subjective to me that I rarely could remember which end was utter despair and which was delirious happiness – couldn’t tell you right now, in fact. The times I didn’t ask him to remind me which end was which I probably reported everything upside down. Oh well.
I also did a number on my newest therapist. I took a 300+ question personality inventory (no doubt some version of the MMPI). It has those great questions that you aren’t supposed to over-analyze like, “Do you like mechanics magazines?” “Do you want to be a florist?” “Do you want to be a singer?” Then there are the questions that (unless, I guess, you ARE hearing voices) you can see right through: “Do you hear voices?” “Do voices tell you to harm others?” “Do you hallucinate?” You name it. When my therapist scored my test, she was “extremely concerned.” It wasn’t that she’d found any new maladies, however, according to the test, I was extremely depressed and extremely anxious (I also had a moderately big “paranoia” peak, but she attributed that to things that had actually happened to me. Ha ha). I almost said, “I told you that the first day I was here.” But she went on to explain that she knew I was anxious and depressed but thought that my medications were “controlling it better.” Yikes.
So I’ve found my “mysterious” facet. I am apparently just well-groomed enough, just well-spoken enough and just humorous enough that even the pros haven’t understood that for the bulk of the past three years it has taken a gargantuan effort just to get out of bed in the morning; that often I’ve just moved about like a zombie and most of the time someone could ask me and I couldn’t tell them any compelling reasons to live. And that isn’t a cry for help – I’m too much of a guilt-monger to not “live” (even during the times it seems like it would be an enormous relief to somehow disappear). I am beginning to understand that my last therapist (the head of the in-patient psych ward at a major hospital) probably did NOT get it. That’s not to say that she didn’t understand that something was wrong with me and that she didn’t have good behavioral modification suggestions or whatnot; she’s a very good counselor. I was already of that opinion and had it strengthened when I found she’d actually admit when she didn’t know what to do for me. But I believe now that she had NO IDEA how depressed I was. So now I can inadvertently fool the people who I desperately need to help me, which is SOOO useful. And many others around me think I need to just “buck up” and “get over it.” Even those individuals you’d think would understand (because of their own experiences) do not get it.
Beware what you ask for. You may receive it and it may bite you in the ass.