On this day two years ago, I had the hardest day I've ever had in my life. Because I thought I was going to lose mine. I'll get into the details soon. This is more of a raw and vulnerable post and less of a humourous one, but it's one that needs to be shared because I know I'm not alone, and I don't want you -- dear reader -- to feel alone, too. Gulp.
I was sitting with my then-new boyfriend at a members only club in Toronto, waiting on brunch. I just had the perfect morning with my itty-bitty nieces and nephews, hosting them for a screening of Frozen on the big screen at said club. My guy (at the time) came to meet me for brunch after the film, and life was good. It was fucking great. Until it wasn't.
Because something that I can only refer to as stroke-like symptoms started to take over me, seemingly out of nowhere. A Mumford & Son's song blared in the background (I had just come home from a month long tour across the southern U.S. with them,) as I started to lose feeling in the left side of my body. First in my hand, palm and up my arm, then in my foot, calf, thigh and entire left leg. I wanted to tell my guy that something was happening to me, but I struggled to get any tangible words out of my mouth.
For as long as I can remember, I've had re-occuring dreams of being unable to speak up or move when doing just that would save me, and yet in this moment, it had become a nightmare of a reality. Between prolonged silences and spaces between each word uttered, I was able to shakily express to him what was currently taking over me, and gave him my fathers number to call to let him know something serious was happening to me. My life flashed before my eyes and I had no doubt that I was dying, somehow. And I didn't want to.
The symptoms became worse. My heart was racing, I couldn't move, I couldn't stand and I could barely communicate. My mind was running a mile a minute, unable to process what was going on; unable to accept that something life changing -- and perhaps life-taking -- was happening to me. A 29-year-old me. I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was also disappointed that it ruined our first date brunch and I was unable to dive into the delicious looking sandwich in front of me, but I digress. (P.S. I do things like that and need to work on it. Trying to make jokes to seem less crazy and to deflect from the intensity of feelings.)
Concierge at this venue called 9-1-1 as I sat there, a ghost and aghast. I tried to get my words out to tell said concierge to hang up the phone. To have the ambulance not come and take me to a venue that could be the entrance to my exit. I hadn't ever been in an ambulance, nor did I want to be. I didn't want to accept that I needed taking care of; that I needed to head to the ER immediately. Because to me that signified that it was as serious as I presumed. And that scared the living shit out of me. I'm too young. Now is not my time.
"Clinical depression. Anxiety disorder. It has a name. It has a label, and I am no longer ashamed of the stigma or judgment that comes alongside it."
The ambulance came and I refused to go in, until I had no choice and was put on a stretcher and rushed to emerge at Mount Sinai. My father was on his way to meet me and the guy, and all I kept telling myself in my head is "I don't want to die." Man, even reliving it right now to write about it is making me anxious, but I know that once we release our inner demons, we have some sort of catharticism.
The next six or eight hours were brutal. No one knew what was going on and with each passing second I was trying to literally fight for my life. Even on the day I lost my mom, and the day in which we buried her, I never saw my dad look as grave as he did sitting with me in a boxed off hospital room in emerge, watching me suffer something unnamed and unknown. Not knowing what the outcome would be.
Needles poked. Tests taken. Scans. Words uttered that go unremembered. Calls made. Screams heard. I was living a hell that no one should be alive in, and I needed an outlet. I needed the positive energy of others to help me make it through. And so, in my presumed final hour, I reached out. I used my words -- the greatest and most valuable gift I have -- to reach out to friends and acquaintances via Facebook, with a request to send their prayers, something I never asked for nor believed in before that days experience.
Messages of concern rolled in. Some messages of inquiry and "wanting the story" took over my screen. But no matter others intentions, I was only driven by my own: I want to make it. I need to feel like I can make it. And something as seemingly simplistic as hearing words of support from others allowed me to be strong. Encouraged me to will it out. Made me feel that somehow everything would be OK. I wasn't silenced, even though I couldn't speak in those horrific and unknowing hours under review.
I'm typing this now, so of course, we found the root of the problem and I have a clean bill of health, sorta. Or maybe I'm a ghost, rocking the role of Jen Kirsch's spirit, here to flip you the hell out as if you're living a modern day, real life M. Night Shyamalan written film. Kidding! OR AM I?
It turns out I suffered from my first (and only) panic attack. Something I had heard of, but never really believed in nor understood existed but will now understand (and fear) forever. And so, it's been two years, I've grown up, I've dealt with PTSD, the loss of my mom, the loss of those closest to me whom I've had to bury all too soon, and I'm finally ready to say what I've been living with: depression.
Clinical depression. Anxiety disorder. It has a name. It has a label, and I am no longer ashamed of the stigma or judgment that comes alongside it. Because this is me. And I've accepted it, flaws et al.
Release. Relief. And there you have it. It's nothing I chose, and I care not to blame the consequences and losses and dramas I've endured in my life, on something that is so obviously a chemical imbalance and need not depend on my past situations. That said, those close to me and who I work with, know that I suffer daily, hourly and in every minute, and it's this openness and honesty that allow me to be real; that allow others to understand that I'll have high highs and low lows, and to never take it personally. That I'm on medication, and that somehow this medication has saved me from my darkest hours, and has leveled me off from my excessive highs of happiness.
But with said mental illness, and said candidness comes judgment. Because life ain't easy my friends and authentic though you might be, there's someone around who thinks depression is just a way of viewing things negatively and you should just "put on a brave face" as if it's a goddamn choice. My god, I wish it was. Wouldn't life be grand if I could just not have to suffer? But it's a disease, as is cancer. And so, I must live with the ailments that arise, and source out the tools that can help me continue to live when it feels impossible some days to do just that.
The judgment of others, and their unwillingness to accept mental illness is a life long disease, is what disappointments me the most. A friend who was once extremely close to me reached out via Facebook private message the day I was rushed to emerge, no doubt to get the deets on what was up after I updated my status asking for prayers and good vibes. But instead of sympathy, concern or understanding, she told me I shouldn't have posted my update on Facebook. That it doesn't make me look good and people talk and whisper, and I really should've thought before making such a public declaration and request for help.
"For those who are dealing with a friend, family member, or romantic partner who you know is going through depression, do them (and yourself) a favour and be supportive, whether you understand what they're coping with or not."
It was in that moment that I knew for certain our friendship was very much over, and beyond repair. Because life is all too short and I don't want to live a life surrounded by unsupportive people. Or people who think that mental illness is something that should be shunned, hidden behind closed doors. As if those of us with it aren't already suffering enough.
This isn't the only significantly close friend I've lost as a result of my depression. There are a few others, too, who were in my life for more than 15 years, who seemed to take my depression personally. Unable to realize how crippled it made me, not being able to understand that sometimes I'd have to break free of commitments I gave my word to (such as not being able to attend a babynaming, something I regret but had one of those off days where escaping the safety of my bed to even get up and get water was deemed impossible).
I've mourned these situations which for a while I tried to apologize or repair, but I've run out of effort. I don't think it's my duty as a friend and a person suffering an illness to have to defend it. I am who I am. It's not you, it's me. It's never personal. And for those who are dealing with a friend, family member, or romantic partner who you know is going through depression, do them (and yourself) a favour and be supportive, whether you understand what they're coping with or not.
And so, here I am. An open book. Sharing my inner demons, battles and experiences with you so you can realize that it's OK if your genetic makeup or life experiences have caused you to go on meds, or seek therapy or to deal with it in whatever way that works with you.
You can still have it all. Still find success. Still find love. You are just as deserving as the next one, and know this deep within. And cherish it. It just makes the happy and good days all the more bright. You are lovable. I understand what you're going through, and remember that the waves of the lows always pass, if you let it. Stay strong. We're in this together, and I'm rooting for you.
This post originally appeared on TheJenKirsch.com.
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