Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One Little Word: Humility Revisited

It isn't that I've forgotten about humility since the last time I wrote about my One Little Word for 2013 project, quite to the contrary, I really have been working on being more humble in a whole bunch of different ways.  I've been working on listening before I speak. I've been trying (with intermittent success) to reign in my sarcasm and to make teasing people a little bit less automatic.
One thing that I learned in the Spring is that it's difficult to be humble and ambitious at the same time, especially when the road is full of stumbling blocks.  It takes a certain amount of ego to finish a Ph.D., to stand up in front of a group of your mentors and peers and boldly state that you've learned something completely new, that you deserve to be part of their club, and they're lucky to have you.  It's difficult for anyone, even at their best, but I haven't been at my best for a very long time.
I knew before I ever decided to have a baby that mental illness is a significant risk for people in my family, but I was completely unprepared for how hard I was hit by post-partum depression.  It is impossible to explain depression to someone who has never been clinically depressed.  People think it just means you're sad, that you need to be cheered up.  They think that if they do or say the right thing, you'll get better or maybe that you just need to snap out of it, pick yourself up, and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  They think that you can't be depressed if you can smile or laugh at a joke. But none of those things are true.  The truth is that every type of mental illness gets filtered through the personality traits, the experiences, the environment of the person affected by it, so it feels different to different people.
In my case, I'm normally a seriouusly type A personality, without even trying.  I don't sit idle.  I am engaged in some sort of project from the time I wake up until I'm ready to fall straight to sleep.  I have an extremely logical thought process. I plan, organize, problem-solve without effort.  I jump out of bed, shower, get dressed, and I don't just face my day; I attack it with the determination of a person who has a purpose for each step.
When depression hits me, the first thing that happens is my thought process slows down.  It is no less logical, but I have to think to solve problems and access information that would normally be automatic.  Unfortunately, the speed of my speech doesn't slow down quite as much, so my verbal fluency plummets.  It starts with adding fillers and leads to forgetting words.  It's very difficult to seem like a credible authority figure on any subject when you can't seem to access basic vocabulary when you'er trying to speak--you have the concept in your head but the word for it just won't come to your lips.  Before too long, people begin to doubt you and then you begin to doubt yourself.  It's all down hill from there.  When I'm sick (read: depressed. Yes, it is an illness and it affects people physically as well as mentally), I am exhausted...all...the...time--not just tired, but a level of lethargy that I never experience when I'm mentally well, not even when I'm sick with the flu.  I never feel completely awake.  There is a constant sense that I need to close my eyes, and I do.  Closing my eyes allows me to focus on what I'm thinking, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the people I'm talking to.  When I'm sick, I eat excessively.  I lose all my self-control.  I'm quick to anger.  I'm anxious. I pick up compulsions like burrs in a field, and I absolutely, positively CAN NOT...handle...my...hair.  AT ALL.  I get it blown out at a hairdresser once a month and wear it in a pony tail.  It's funny, my straight hair looks much more tame than my unruly curls, and someone who didn't really know me might think that going to the salon is an indication that I'm taking an interest in my appearance.  The truth is that it means that I've given up on the idea that I'm going to be able to muster up the energy to wash it and comb it in the next two weeks...maybe even a month.  I start taking baths instead of showers because I just can't cope with the extra energy required to stand up.
  This post was supposed to be about my One Little Word project, and before I lose you, let me say that this is all connected.  I can feel myself getting better.  I won't be going off my medication any time soon, but I'm beginning to see glimpses of the person I used to be when I look in the mirror.  My focus on humility right now is all about allowing others to help me get back to the place where I can feel really healthy again.  I have to seek (and pay attention to) the advice of my mentors and friends, and, hopefully soon, I'll be me again...only better.