Depression & Anxiety - A Lifelong Secret
What drives people to succeed?
Do you sometimes feel that you are two people, the one the world even relatives see and the one you really are. You don't want to answer questions because it appears to be a weakness. People tell you how much you have to be grateful for, to just snap out of it and that just makes it worst. You feel guilty. Maybe they are right. When you suffer from this depression it really doesn't have anything to do with circumstances. Things seem to be going well but you plunge into gray drunkness. For years I didn't know what I waa fighting. Now I use medication, therapy and self knowledge to help, I would advise you to look back at your relatives because there is a genetic component. Also warn your children so they can be aware of signs in theselves as well as their children. Knowledge is power. You are not alone. There is hel
Why write it now? I have resisted it for years. It is too complicated; I am not sure of the answers and never will be so why even ask the questions? The motivation that finally made me make the decision was something a priest said at a funeral of an old friend. “All the good things you have done in life have to stand on their own because the number of people who will attend your funeral will depend on the weather.” So will this help someone with insight into one’s own life or help someone understand somebody better? “ I thought it was only me; I didn’t know anyone else felt the same way”. Maybe it will simply be a catharsis for me. In trying to understand this complex. What shall I call it? An illness? A condition? Maybe a syndrome. I will tell it as simply as I can without pretending to understand it. The secret is that although I could be described as someone who has been very successful in her career, an extrovert, an outgoing optimistic person since childhood I have kept secret the demons that have stalked me. I have occasionally spoke of being “ clinically depressed” and urged others to seek professional help if they believed they were as well; but the deeper truth has seemed so complex, so baffling that I don’t mention it.
The depression has been with me since childhood, a gray cloud that made me feel often that I was walking underwater. I was often exhausted for no reason. But the difference from being simply depressed was anxiety so profound that even at times when the events in my life made me “happy” I would lie in bed, shivering, with fear that seemed to come from nowhere. Fear of what? I am happy. I am grateful for the relationships in my life, the fulfillment in my careers (there were several). Yet every night of my life since I was a child before I can fall asleep I have to have a “safety fantasy”.
Maybe this has been why I have been reluctant to speak of it, to put it down on paper. It seems almost silly. Each night I dream of a safe place where my family and friends will be so that we will not be harmed. Over the years there have been many havens: bomb proof buildings on top of a mountain, safe huge shelters miles under the ground, a van, a caravan of vans in which the drivers stay in touch by two way radios to escape from “the enemy”. Over the years, the people who are with me in my safe haven have changed…husbands. Friends, relatives, relatives of relatives (an hour maybe of deciding who will be with me because, of course, friends and family also have friends and families they don’t want to leave behind. Who will be included? At the height of my media career a newspaper interviewed prominent people on what their fantasy jobs might be. I wanted to own a gas station in Alaska. What I did not tell the reporter was that my “circle of people” and I would be living in a warm homey haven underground. The only reason I wanted to own a gas station was that my work ethic told me I had to work. I had figured out that a few people would run over the alarm that would tell me someone needed gas. At that time, I would emerge from my retreat just long enough to pump the gas, collect the money and return to my haven. There were always problems to figure out. How could I keep these people who shared my haven happy? Sometimes I would have a remote almost cult like retreat (totally undetectible by the enemy, of course, that was always a must). In this retreat everyone would have a job. Sometimes we would have pirate radio programs and newspapers that would rail against “the enemy”. That would be the primary reason for being there and then there would be jobs: cooks, teachers, and guards. Depending on how long I lay awake the logistics could be staggering.
Do you see why I have resisted telling anyone? It sounds so crazy, especially for someone who has spent her career in the limelight. That is the other strange complexity of this condition; how can you be so afraid and yet be willing to challenge any authority, fight for any cause, defend any underdog? I am someone who has clinical depression and anxiety but who from childhood became a fighter. I fought to succeed in a career which had been closed to women; I took on fights for people where I would challenge any authority who treated them badly, as a talk show host and interviewer ask any question I felt was relevant even if it seemed confrontational. Since childhood the fear has meant a choice. Fight or flight and I have always chosen fight. The fighting was never physical. I know my limitations and bodily dexterity has always been one of them. When what seemed to me at times to be almost insurmountable hurdles showed up in my life I rose to the challenge. My fear made me a fighter and sometimes an” in your face opponent”. I did more than survive; I thrived on challenges. Sometimes when I would lie in bed shaking in fear of nothing I could name, nonetheless, I would be on guard for the next battle. It was only recently that I noticed that in every photograph of me my shoulders were raised. How unbecoming, and then I realized I live my life in constant readiness for a battle with some opponent. I have more to write now that I have started this. I am committed to writing it down no matter how silly it seems. Surely the circumstances of my life, my childhood, and inherited genes also play roles. I recognize whatever condition this is in other people, especially those who are very successful. There is an inner drive to succeed that goes beyond ambition and the desire to do something well. That drive has to do with the “hot breath” I feel at my neck. My oldest son remembers when he was a child I often warned him and his brothers “It is a dog eat dog world. No one is going to hand you anything. You will have to fight for everything you get”. During the times when I was a single mother and later during a disastrous second marriage the anxiety was so great that my jaw would ache at night from having clenched it so tightly all day.
When my picture was on the cover of several magazines, when I won honors for my work, when more people knew who I was than knew who was governor of the state, I never relaxed even during times that I can remember as being “happy”. I have taken anti anxiety and depression medication since 1992 when I came close to a nervous breakdown. I am grateful for the medication because the fear and the depression have abated. abated but never disappeared. I have to write about this now. All those years, all those choices. Would I have been successful if I had not been so afraid of failure? My extrovert behavior at times was self-medication. Somehow I needed constant affirmation. Measurements of success were my drugs of choice. Did some of it come from my childhood? I have been to counselors. At times I tried to dig for answers but then I gave up. What was I trying to do, blame someone? What did it all matter? Probing the events of my life, the relationships, the family history all seemed so “ 80”s”. But now for whatever reason I will write it as I remember it. Maybe it will help someone understand such a mystifying condition. If I have been that anxious and depressed why not just run and hide, become a hermit? Why this navel examination?” What’s it all about Alfie?” It seems so self-centered. If I am going to examine this as though my life were under a microscopic why put it out so hundreds of people can read it?
Maybe no one, so maybe it is just an exercise done by a woman who has lived more than six decades with a dichotomized personality. If this doesn’t resonate with you, I probably lost you several paragraphs ago.
Going back to childhood
I have to go back now, if I am to be honest with myself...Are you ready to go with me?