Oct 11, 2016

On Depression: The Worst Vacation Ever

They look so innocent and majestic, don't they? Lies.

Trigger Warning: Depression, Suicide, and Camping. I've wanted to write this for awhile, but I wanted to get some distance from it, but I'm writing it now so I don't forget, even if part of me really wants to. I present to you, the worst vacation ever, and the reason I'm taking antidepressants now.

This summer we went to Arches National Park to camp with friends. My son has never been camping, and I have fond memories of camping as a kid, because we tend to romanticize the past. Having only ever gone camping once in our long marriage, we needed to borrow most of the camping supplies from family.

Before leaving, I received the rather ominous warning from my father-in-law that camping can ruin friendships. I mostly ignored it, as we've been through a lot, but the fear stayed with me most of the trip.

After packing the day before and the day of our departure, I was understandably sore. We don't pack light, and I suffer from the bad combination of being out of shape and suffering from constant pain. Before I was fully packed, I could barely move, and felt awful physically and mentally, as I often feel I'm letting my family down because of my disability, and feeling like I can't be the husband and father I want to be. Tracie booked a last minute massage for me which helped tremendously, meaning I could finish packing the car, while in extreme pain, it was possible.

Then things started getting bad. I'll try to recap briefly, then get to the depression. We planned to go with 3 other families we're close to. Before leaving, one family had to cancel. Another family had to leave early. After driving in pain but at least sitting for several hours, and driving through Arches national park in the dark, we arrived at the campground. My excellent friends had magnanimously (it's a word, I promise) set up a tent for us. Because I snore, we still set up a second tent, one for me and Morgan, one for Tracie and Lyra. Wanting to visit with friends but exhausted, I crashed and slept on a cushion that in retrospect was about as comfortable as the dirt beneath.

The next day, also known as the second worst day ever, began when 2 of our friends chose to go skydiving. We offered to watch their kids while they did, but rather than watch them at the campsite, we went to the airport to watch them. Tracie stayed behind with our baby daughter (never take a baby camping) and we watched the kids with the family who were leaving early. In retrospect, we weren't really needed, and poor Tracie and Lyra were alone at the campsite for about 3 or 4 hours. So she was pretty cranky. We ate lunch, and before we could do much, our friend's dog broke its toe so they had to take the poor thing to the vet. We saw a few rock formations and got back to the campsite. As we made dinner, it began raining. A lot. We ran to our tent, and they ran to theirs. We waited for the storm to pass, but it didn't. Then came the thunder and lightning. It was very windy and scary, but I thought the wind meant the storm would pass. I got outvoted and so we agreed to pack up and get a hotel, worried about wind, lightning, children who might not sleep, and flash floods.

Still sore from packing and unpacking, I again found myself packing in the dark, the rain, and the mud. Fortunately as we packed, the rain began teetering off. As stated above, among other things, I suffer from a martyr complex combined with a desire to prove to my wife I can take care of her and be physically capable of being the Provider with a capital P. Add the constant pain and low self-esteem, it makes for a bad combination. But I really didn't want to sleep on the ground again. So, with help from Tracie and our friends, but less than I probably should have asked, we got packed up and found a hotel we could crash in. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in such pain, what didn't burn ached, what didn't ache throbbed.

Fast forward to the middle of the next day, and we were ready to head home. Our friends wanted to head to Fish Lake, to try to make the best of a bad situation, and to meet up with our friends who couldn't make it. I was ready to call it a wash, and just wanted to go home and sleep in my bed, and swear to never go camping again.

(Quick aside, I'm grateful to the friends for all they did, and how I felt and still feel closer to them having survived the horrible trip than having our friendship ruined.)

Tracie wanted to go to Fish Lake, also wanting to make good memories in our lousy trip. As the default driver, I didn't want to drive roughly 2 hours out of our way for an afternoon where I was in extreme pain and struggling enough to stay awake, let alone be fun for anyone. I decided I wanted to go home. More than that, I knew I was incapable of going to Fish Lake. I made the turn towards home rather than Fish Lake, understandably (in retrospect) upsetting Tracie and Morgan. Tracie began shouting at me, and Morgan began crying. On top of the pain I was feeling, I felt the added emotional pain of letting my family down again. Not letting them be happy because the broken and worthless Austin couldn't handle going to Fish Lake. I knew what I had to do, and I was finally ready to do it. I knew it would upset them, but I calculated that the brief moment of tragedy would outweigh the perpetual disappointment those I loved best would suffer through with me in their lives.

On a busy stretch of road surprisingly fast and plentiful for Moab in the off-season, I pulled the car to the side of the road and tried getting out, ready to step out and stand in front of a truck and setting my family free of me. Tracie grabbed my arm and wouldn't let go, and Morgan screaming helped shake me back into my head and stop trying to kill myself. I did realize I lacked the mental stamina to drive us home. So with some assistance, Tracie helped me to the passenger seat, and got in the driver's seat. Then, unintentionally giving me a taste of my own medicine and probably traumatizing our poor son further, Tracie had the worst panic attack I've ever seen, complete with convulsions, shaking, a period of being comatose, and glossolalia. Having to try to help her through that got me back to a level where I felt better about driving. We got home without incident, but tried explaining the situation to Morgan and amending to improve.

Since then I started meeting with a therapist and spoke with my pain doctor about it, as one of the side effects of my medication is depression and suicidal behavior, so I also started taking antidepressants.

And now I'm going public with it, it's hard, but, like I'm trying with religion, I'm trying to be more authentic and open about what's going on with me. I'm feeling better mostly, I don't think I'm going to stick with the antidepressants long term, but I haven't wanted to kill myself so I got that going for me. I think I mentioned this in my pain blog post I wrote about a year and a quarter ago that I'm sure you all memorized, but I've suffered from suicidal depression for a long time, and it's gotten steadily worse. So I'm fighting that currently, and learning how to be a better and happier person, and also how to be alive.

On Memory: Letter to My Physical Successor

I recently attended a writer's workshop, with the theme on "memory." One of the exercises was to assume you're about to lose all your memories, and write a letter to yourself things you want to remember. 

I found this fascinating, and took it way too seriously. But I think I got some good writing out of it, and more importantly, it helped me see what's important to me, and how memories are basically all we are. Hence I didn't see much need to tell myself any actual memories, since that person wouldn't be me. 

Just our luck. You felt good about yourself and after 34 years of self-loathing and 17 years of chronic pain you star making progress and the damn brain we live in needs fixing. 

I am not you. I hope you will never be me. I've hated myself most of my life. I think it goes back to comparing myself to my brother. But I only have 20 minutes, so I better make it count. Here is what I want you to know. 

Mormonism is not true, and there is no God. Please don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself. I think I'm supposed to give you my most cherished memories, but I'd rather give you advice and counsel I've figured out in my life. 
1) Study. Learn. Find out things for yourself. I don't believe in God for the same reason anyone who doesn't believe something doesn't believe in it, I haven't seen sufficient evidence to remove my doubt. Doubt is healthy, doubt is good. Doubt lets you question and discover the truth for yourself. 
2) Believe in yourself. You're amazing. Your greatest enemy is me, who always doubts and second guesses. 
3) Don't think you can read another's mind. Tell others how you feel and how they make you feel. So damn simple but it's taken me 34 years. COMMUNICATE. DISCUSS. Everyone perceives everything differently.

Now onto relationships: I love Tracie. I hope you do too. She's loving and wise and brilliant and hilarious and gorgeous and dynamite in bed when she wants to be. She's an amazing mother and friend. You have 2 children, they're my everything. Morgan is 7 and he's not neurotypical, possibly high functioning autistic, loving, funny, energetic, passionately curious, and has the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. Lyra is 1 1/2 and I'm probably most upset about dying because I won't get to see who she is. For now she's sweet and shy and loves kisses, her mom's boobs, toy cars, and her brother's company. Please take care of them for me.

I had lots of unique and interesting and common and boring things happen in my life that made me who I am. Ask your parents, and brothers. If they try to tell you you're Mormon, please read the Essays on LDS.org and the CES Letter and the FAIR Response to the CES letter first. Remember point #1 above. 

Instead of telling you all about me, I want you to be you without the baggage, and learn for yourself who that is. But to better understand me, and to know what's up with the big scar on your leg and the pain you're currently experiencing is when I was 15 I had bone cancer. I've had numerous surgeries trying to alleviate the pain with varying levels of failure. On the plus side, you can tell when it's going to rain and you get to park in handicapped. It also may eventually make you more like me than either of us would prefer. Chronic pain shaped who I am, for better or worse. But please take this advice: anything you can do to reduce or remove the pain- do it. I've been taking gabapentin and antidepressants and they seem to help for now.

I believe if you get to know Tracie you'll fall in love with her. Take good care of her. She needs someone to see and show and tell her how incredible she is.

A bit about me: I love games, both video and roleplaying like Dungeons and Dragons. Don't knock it til you try it, it's interactive storytelling, but better. I love Art History and poetry and doodling. I love sex but who doesn't? I love to eat and cook and perhaps most of all, I love to make people laugh. In my youth I wanted to be a stand up comedian. Good luck with my body. In some ways I envy you, in some ways I'm sorry. 

The last thing I want to say is please tell Tracie how much I love her, which is more than I ever imagined possible