I went to the doctor this week. Just for a checkup. We hadn't seen each other since December 2019, and being conscientious about my health - and getting nagging phone calls from his office to come in for a checkup - I finally felt it was time to go. I like my doctor a lot. He really listens, and responds. Rare to find.
So, we caught up, and we talked about the last year and the lockdown and our reactions to it. And I talked a bit about how depressed and frustrated JD and I have been. He was immediately concerned, so I reassured him that we were basically OK, it wasn't chronic depression that required drugs and counseling.
And I was reminded of the times in my life when I was stymied by depression.
When I was 20, I married my first husband. I knew then it wasn't going to work, but I couldn't see another path. (In retrospect, I wonder if I had to take that path in order to get to where I am now, but that's a whole 'nother Oprah, as a friend says.) In any case, after a few years, we were in trouble. We went for couples counseling, where he blamed me for all our problems. After 6 months, I went to see the therapist on my own to tell him I was going to leave the marriage. He wasn't surprised, saying he was going to tell me to go. I left on my 6th wedding anniversary. We were divorced within 11 months, and shortly after I accidentally found out about his secret life. That was helpful, and reassured me that I was right to leave.
A few years passed. I was living alone, had a good job and active social life. A relationship I had hoped would lead somewhere was clearly going nowhere, and I was turning 30. I wasn't that concerned about my age, but due to other circumstances, I spent my 30th birthday calling about 50 people to let them know that a dear friend was in hospice, and wanted to hear from everybody before he died. He was only 40, needed a heart transplant, but wasn't a good candidate for it. He died. I was back in therapy within a month, after breaking down in my OB-Gyn's office. He had asked me a question: "How are you?"
I asked my friend for help, who was Director of Nursing at a local hospital, but Sheila knew I wouldn't make the phone call myself, so she had Joe, a clinical social worker, call me. That is the sign of a true friend. She told me everyone was worried about me, because they could see how much trouble I was having, but I had to ask for help, otherwise it wouldn't work. I was shocked to find out that my pain was visible.
I saw Joe every week for a year. Sometimes twice a week. He made me work. Hard. He gave me tools that I use to this day. When I find myself having trouble getting out of the house, or can't quite get myself to the gas station or grocery store. Or can't make phone calls, even to friends.
What I remember most is the first day I met Joe. I was sitting stiffly on his couch, clutching a cup of tea, and he asked me, carefully, if I had any thoughts of self-harm. I assured him that that was not on the table. I wasn't going anywhere voluntarily without some proof of what was on the other side! Reassured, he asked me what I wanted from therapy.
I said I felt as if I were stuck in a dark corner and couldn't find my way out. That I needed someone to listen to me ramble, and maybe help me turn on the lights so I could see where I actually was, and tie together all the loose ends I seemed to have in front of me. He said that was a good way to think about therapy. So we talked. For a year. It helped.
Eventually, I found a way of getting back to California. I was happy to be back in the sun, discovering that I also had been dealing with a mild case of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I had been in Pennsylvania for 12 years, where it rained all the time. Being a native Angeleno, it never occurred to me how much I relied on sunlight for my mental health! Life back in CA wasn't perfect, but any means, but I could cope better with sunlight. Who knew?
And that path I was on led me to JD, who became a good friend, then a lover, then the ONE.
Even when you're happy, life deals you blows. In 2003, having to put my mother into assisted living put me back into therapy. It helped. It always helps to talk to someone who has no stake in your game.
This past year has been so hard. At least JD and I had each other; we've always been good friends, so it's not hard work to be together. But the lockdown, the fear of this horrible virus, the loss of friends and family, exacerbated by JD's awful bout of shingles, and the constant political frustration and anger until we finally got adults back in the White House, has taken its toll.
I've gotten my Pfizer vaccinations; JD gets his 2nd shot on Monday. I feel a bit safer. I got my first manicure in a year. I was able to run errands, gas up my car. I feel a little better. I'm still using the tools Joe gave me back in 1983. Every day.
I still plan on wearing a mask, for as long as it takes me to feel safe around people. And I may never shake anyone's hand again. But I'm looking forward to hugging some folks.
Every day brings a bit more clarity. A year ago I wasn't sure how we would weather this storm, but the clouds are breaking up, and sunlight streaming in.
I urge you all to get vaccinated as soon as you can. We all need to remember how vaccinations have helped us beat other diseases - polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, etc. Don't listen to the anti-vaxxers. They are wrong.
Be well. Get help where you can. Call me. I'm a good listener. Talking helps.
Back to wine next time! Cheers!