I’m used to juggling several things at once. Multi-tasking was the way I learned to cope with a lifetime of ADHD, turning a flaw into a strength (I hope). Even after I started taking medication for it last year, I’m still in the habit of following through in stages, moving from one task to another and back again, so I can focus in smaller chunks and get through them both on time. I think that’s why I didn’t notice those moving pieces getting bigger, and heavier, until the balls in the air became bricks and then boulders and I was buried under it all.
In April, my son lost his afterschool care, and the following week, my job as an admin assistant ended. In May, I started to notice that my bones ached. I stopped working out, put on weight — 20 pounds in 2 months. When I saw my doctor, he said it was “women trouble” and suggested I just accept it. In July, my landlord — who’d been a problem for months — grew worse, his negligence and paranoia turning into outright harassment. (My neighbors think he’s suffering from dementia.) I felt lost, overwhelmed, and trapped, in my apartment, and in my life.
I did what I always do when life gets hard: I shut down. I grew up learning that talking about problems was really just being selfish enough to burden other people with them, so I don’t like to say too much. I’m not sure when all of that turned into depression, but at some point I realized that I was watching a lot more tv than usual, losing track of what day it was, planning projects I never finished, avoiding people, promising that I’d call or write and then not realizing when days or weeks had passed… even just sitting, not doing anything at all. I kept trying to get myself together — the other great lesson I learned from my family is that “depression” is just another way to say “lazy” — and failing. I stopped taking freelance clients. I stopped talking to people. I started panicking whenever my phone would ping, so I turned off all the notifications from Twitter or email, and eventually started turning it off entirely.
After a while I realized that I wasn’t writing, and I’d even stopped reading. At that point I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
Getting better enough to even talk about it took a lot of little steps. I went back to therapy, and got a chance to lay everything out to someone else; hearing it out loud made me see it was a bigger problem than I’d let myself believe, and also helped me figure out where to start making changes:
At first, I walked a lot. I told myself that if I wasn’t getting anything done, I needed to get outside and go for a walk. Some days I’d walk 5 or 6 miles. I always used to walk as a kid, everywhere, and getting that back felt a little like reclaiming myself. The weight started coming off, which was nice, too.
I started taking editing clients again, slowly, not advertising it but just taking what came my way. Finishing things helped me feel a bit better. I got an opportunity to start working for St. Martin’s Press as a freelancer, and took it. Was asked to interview for a position as an interim Managing Editor for an academic journal, and pursued that (it’s still in progress but moving forward).We got word that after 2 1/2 years of filling out paperwork, my son was finally approved for state-funded services that included afterschool care, so I could go back to work full-time, knowing he’d be safe. I applied for a few admin jobs in town, had a couple of interviews for jobs I didn’t get, and applied for several more.
I focused on the writing I felt I could do, which turned out to be literary fiction, and a non-fic research project I’d thought of when I was still at UPenn a few years ago, and even poetry. Whatever I was inspired to write, I did, instead of limiting myself to a particular genre, theme, or project. Words on the page was better than no words, I told myself. I saw a different doctor and found out I had the onset of arthritis — and all I had to do was start taking aspirin (an anti-inflammatory) every day to feel better.
I decided, after a CO leak in my apartment a few weeks ago, that I needed to get out, so I’ve put in notice and plan to move by the end of October. The firemen who came discovered several gas leaks in the building, and though they’re repaired now, who knows how long they were leaking gas into the building? And that CO leak — I was home at the time. It could have killed me. The only reason it didn’t was because the detectors went off, the same detectors my landlord had refused to install until after I contacted the Building Inspector myself.
And I made a decision to distance myself from some toxic people in my life, and hold on instead to the person who still loved me even with all of this going on.
My life is quieter now. I get out more. I’m getting things done. I hate that I lost so much time I’d rather have spent on working and writing, but I’m trying to use that as motivation to work harder now instead of letting the regret drag me down. I’m not where I want to be yet — I’m still not reading enough, still trying to get completely caught up — but I think, when I am, that this whole experience will have taught me a lot. I like where I’m headed.
But if I let you down this summer, or if I owe you anything, I am sorry.
If you read this and you think to yourself that you understand, you’re feeling the same way: I don’t know that I can offer a lot of advice. Just keep doing as much as you can, push yourself a little more each day, find someone to talk to, and don’t give up for good. Bad day? Okay. That happens. Try again tomorrow. As long as you keep doing that, there’s always the possibility that tomorrow will be a good day. And the next.
And the next.