I was in my therapist’s office when I couldn’t finish my sentences. I couldn’t follow the conversation, my brain was fogged, and even now I barely remember even being there.
Jana said, “Tricia, I’m prescribing three days of bedrest. Cancel everything for the next three days. You are depleted in every single way. And if you’re finished resting before those three days end, rest some more.”
I texted her later in the day: I don’t remember anything I told you today.
She responded: You said you would rest for three days.
And so began a downward slide into depression that I haven’t felt in many months. Dishes piled high. Laundry piled higher. I lived in my jammies. Four days passed with no milk in the refrigerator. The fog was deep and dark.
I called my doctor, my primary care physician. “It’s like I’ve stopped taking my medications, but I haven’t. I think we need to adjust something.”
She was so patient, so kind. Aside from the patient/doctor relationship, our friendship extends also to the blog and to Facebook. Really, she knows all there is to know about me. She could nearly do a physical from my online profile. It’s like having a small town doctor in my very own suburb. She knows what I’m up to.
“Tricia, we can adjust the medications if that turns out to be the best answer. But quite honestly, you are maxxed out. Look at all the things you’re doing right now? Look at what the last few months have held for you? You pushed through all of those events and milestones, and now you’re exhausted. Please rest.”
But I’m sleeping and I’m sleeping and I’m sleeping, and it seems like I just want to keep on sleeping. This can’t be normal. I can’t think myself out of this pattern. It’s bigger than me. Seriously. Prescriptions, please.
So I went to see my psychiatrist, expecting him to scrawl out some milligrams that would have me up and running again.
He asked me to tell him my routines, on an emotionally healthy day.
Well, I take the boys to school, and then I go somewhere for a cup of coffee and I write and study all morning. After lunch, I change locations and write some more. I pick the boys up from school, we do the evening routine of outside play, dinner, baths, and bed. Then I sit down by the fireplace or cozy up in my studio, and I write or study until my eyes are ready to close, which lately isn’t much past 8:45.
He asked what I’m writing about and studying for, even though I know he already knew. Those psych types are big on making me say things out loud.
I’ve just finished my first book, I’m working on my second, and I’m speaking or teaching a few times each month.
He took it all in, with his gentle, kind manner. Then he counted my routines on his fingers. “So, you’re writing about loss, you’re studying the grief process, you’re reading to learn paths for turning grief into productivity, you’re teaching others how to embrace sadness and grief, you’re speaking and teaching from your story, and every time, you’re drawing from your own pain. And in the four hours of the day that you’re not doing all of the above, you’re fulltime single mom to two busy kids who have grief and questions and learning of their own.”
Well, when you put it that way.
“Tricia, what you’ve experienced is actually a minor breakdown. You’ve got to make some changes, or your body will start shutting down. That’s what has happened here.”
See, the thing is, when everyone was telling me to rest, rest, rest, I felt like I was obeying by simply taking a nap. But, on better days, I would wake up ready to go again, and I faithfully grabbed my computer or my notebook or the book forever at my side, and I dove in again.
It’s a tricky thing when your work is also your hobby and your outlet and your energy and your favorite thing to do. This is how one becomes a workaholic, I suppose.
As it turns out, my brain is the part of me that needed the rest. She was begging me to think about something else. When she didn’t get the break she needed, she sent messages to the rest of my body.
Abort Mission. Systems: Shut Down.
How did I miss that? Why didn’t I make the connection on my own? How didn’t I realize that even though I can laugh and talk and think and read about other things, I wasn’t really allowing my mind to rest and escape?
That’s why they get paid the big bucks, those specialists of mine. And I’ll happily pay their mortgage and their car payments as long as they keep me above the waves.
A minor breakdwon. That’s what happened.
The prescription for recovery: hire a babysitter one evening a week. Take yourself to a movie. Out to dinner. Not McDonalds, just because you’re alone. Treat yourself well. Every week. Have a standing date with yourself.
Plan one day a month when you will disengage. Go somewhere from sunrise to sunset. Write some fiction. Create some characters. Take them on an adventure.
Get away, Tricia. Give your mind a break. She’s stretched pretty thin, dangerously thin.
“But what about my boys?” I ask. “What about their routines and their fears when I’m gone?”
“Tricia, the best thing you can give them is the promise that you’re just one phone call away. Let them learn how big their support system is. It’s much bigger than you.” Very true. Very, very true.
So, I’m trying to think about not thinking. Just this weekend, the guys and I were eating muffins in front of TV on Saturday morning. I realized they didn’t need me, I had some downtime, so naturally I should get my computer and get to work on something, anything. Surely there’s a sentence that needs rewritten. And that, my friends, is my danger zone.
I didn’t do it. Instead, I poured another cup of coffee, snuggled up in one corner of the sectional couch, and read a book just for the sake of reading a book. Just for the beauty of the story, the truth of the characters. I still underlined and wrote in the margins. I couldn’t help myself. But I’m trying to read for reading’s sake, and not necessarily for the endless pursuit of the craft.
All my prescriptions will stay ‘as is.’ And I will dig myself out of this darkness – one movie, one book, one night out, and one day off at a time.