On Help

January 15, 2012

We all need it when we grieve. We needed those people who brought us food and drink and help around the house when Mom died. I needed to hear Hitch 22 again when Christopher Hitchens died late last year. We are a society that spurns it. “No, I’ve got this,” seem to be the words that sum up our culture, the strength mindset is our go-to mode. I come to you today to argue that this is pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Humans are first and foremost social primates. We seek the company of others, even the introverts among us. I’m an introvert by nature, and even so I try to find relief and joy in the companionship of those who enjoy and thrive on similar interests, even if the experiences leave me drained and craving the quiet solitude of my room, my cat, and my Nook with Le Carre’s epic struggle between Smiley and Karla.

But this is about help of a different sort. I am a depressive. Growing up, the signs were there. I was antisocial, and had a tendency to completely fail to relate to other people. Mother would berate me over this, calling me schizoid, and dad just didn’t understand why tickling my feet with his beard was so terrifying and uncomfortably unpleasant to me that I would kick him in the groin to make him stop.

But most of all there was a sense of fear, inevitability, of desires thwarted and exhaustion with this routine we call life. At I believe seventeen years of age, it may have been sixteen, I was told my mother had cancer, and ‘it would be a battle.’ I didn’t realize that there is no ‘battle’ with stage iv cancer. There is simply prolonging the implacable inevitability.

I broke down a bit at college, and moved home to be with her. Six months I spent with her, cleaning up the vomit, watching daytime television, and just talking. Sharing memories, discussions, ideas I had with her. I knew time was precious, limited, something inside me simply understood that this was the end, I had to have this time because there would soon be no more.

And then there was that last two weeks. She collapsed on me one day, and I didn’t know what to do. Dad called, and told me gently to phone an ambulance, and tells me to this day I reacted the best I could, with no fault. I wonder, sometimes, when I am alone in the dark and the beasts with the long knives wait at the edges of this civilization we’ve created, if this is true. Had I been faster, would it have been different? Did I make her go to the hospital when she might have died more gently, more simply? Has everything I’ve done been wrong?

There are no answers to these questions. I grieved, I moved on, or so I thought. My earlier post, five years, illustrates where I was at the time in the grief journey – process is a word I have come to despise in this discussion.

But it’s come back again. The near constant panic attacks, the sleeplessness, the fear, the depression.

My parents weren’t big believers in psychology. They fed me lines of bullshit like “it’ll be on your permanent record! You’ll never get a job, you’ll be labelled psychotic!”

But…I needed it. I needed help from someone who could understand, who could study it. I made the appointment, with Dr. Steele.  I sat on the couch, accompanied by his dog Patches, who in addition to being a Terry Pratchett reference, Dr. Steel finds comforts many patients. I like Patches, he’s a sweet and gentle beast.

And you know what, I’m not just depressed. I’m dealing with a lot more than I thought.

That last week and a half with mother, I had to watch her defecate and vomit herself into exhaustion. I had to hold her up while dad cleaned her. I had to watch her endure humiliation after humiliation, only to open her eyes and say, “I heard you got great grades in all your classes, I’m so proud of you.”

And then I saw her die. I saw her lungs fail, and her eyes wide with fear that she couldn’t draw breath but was still in there, fighting to inhale just once.  And then, she was gone.

I buried it, I didn’t grieve it.

So, in explaining this to Dr. Steel, I’ve learned that, to my surprise and yet something I think I can understand, my panic disorder and depression have an underlying cause. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s apparently not just for roadside bombers. It’s for people whose loved ones died in a terrible way, and you’re forced into six months of disgusting and miserable decay as someone you care for slides into the inevitable oblivion, believing they are on their way to meet their god, but the look on their face as they go isn’t relief or joy, but blind and unyielding panic.

I have begun a round of medication. Sedatives, to control the stress for the moment, and an antidepressant to control things longer term. It’s working. I’m having some trouble adjusting, my sleep schedule has gone to hell.

But it is working. I haven’t had a panic attack since I started. I feel mellow, comfortable, able to think things through and not go to pieces, not have sudden surges of grief or rage or self-doubt.

Maybe psychology isn’t the answer for you. Maybe you have a loved one, or a support group like Grief Beyond Belief in your area, or some other means to get help.

All I can say is, above all that you do, take it. Take it early, take it long and hard, cling to it and do not let up. It has been six and a half years and I am only now coming to realize how damaged I was by all of this. Don’t let your wounds fester.



One comment

  1. William I have come to your blog via the Grieg Beyond Belief site. I’m so pleased you have found something that is helping you in this most difficult of journeys. I have found comfort and support as a result of my visits to a psychologist.
    I love that your Dr Steele has a dog in attendance during your time together.
    Take care and thank you for sharing so much of your journey.

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