Content warning: Depression, anxiety
This weekend, I made an appointment for a haircut. You’re probably thinking, What’s the big deal? Allow me to explain.
From a young age, I have been wary around strangers. The adjective “shy” readily applied to me for a long time. As I moved through school, my growing dysphoria affected my interactions with others. In my teens, I avoided large social gatherings like the plague. I’d go to the end-of-season banquets for marching band and musical, but dances, parties, and such? No way. I hate loud noises, didn’t like any of the music that was popular, couldn’t dance, and didn’t want to deal with the stress of what to wear and how to act and how people might be reading my gender at any given point. I started to break out of this shell in college, thanks to friends who understood and supported me and knew when to call me on my bullshit.
However, to this day, I don’t like talking to new people unless absolutely necessary. I have to psych myself up for these encounters, remind myself of the fact that anyone who looks at me now sees me for who I am. This is easy at some times, difficult at others. It’s especially difficult when I’m dealing with depression.
My life lately has brought a lot of change. A new job in a new city in a new part of the state necessitating an actual cross-country road trip means I’ve encountered more new people in the past couple of months than probably in the last couple of years. At least, it’s felt that way. I’ve got a classroom full of completely new faces, new-to-me curricula to learn, a new way of grading, new expectations to follow. My new co-workers and I are still figuring one another out and learning how to work together. And unlike the village, we don’t live with or next door to one another, which limits how much I see them. Like I said, a lot of change.
When I accepted this job, I expected to deal with the blues. I remember when I moved to Nunap: New places and faces means learning who and where is safe, and that’s stressful. And while I don’t get homesick to the degree I did as a youngster, I still will find myself longing for the familiar. So yes, I expected a little dip in my otherwise normally optimistic personality. I didn’t expect to spend over a month in the worst depressive funk I’ve suffered since college.
Bear with me: Twenty-five years ago, I acquired a third grandmother. Granny R lives down the street from my parents. When I was four or five, Mom started giving Granny the occasional ride to work (Granny has never driven since I’ve known her and would usually take the bus). Occasional rides soon turned into more frequent rides turned into visits turned into dinners at our house. By the time I was six, Granny was as much a part of the family as my Dad’s parents. Over the years, she came to concerts, plays, and musicals. She ooh’d and aah’d over report cards and other achievements. It became standard procedure to stop in and visit with her when walking the dog. When I came out, she hugged me tight. She has always been one of my biggest supporters.
Granny’s health hasn’t been so great the last few years. Nothing unexpected, especially considering her age. I think I started noticing things more once I moved to Alaska; since I saw her less frequently, the changes were more noticeable. This past summer, I suddenly realized how frail she looked. Visits would be a little shorter, and I often had to let myself in to her house when visiting. Pauses broke up her speech as she caught her breath. But she still eagerly asked for any details I could give about my upcoming move and new job, and would tease with the same twinkle in her eye as always.
About three weeks after I arrived in Seward, I got a call from Mom: Granny had fallen and broken her collarbone. This seems to have been the proverbial straw, as from then on most of the updates I’ve gotten are not what one would consider “good”. I spent the next few weeks feeling torn between being here, doing my job, and being there, wanting to spend more time with Granny. I used to call her on the phone weekly, but soon after her fall I stopped. More often than not, the phone would be picked up by the caretaker, and I’d be told Granny was not available. Such conversations didn’t do my mental state any good.
Combined with the stress of all the new, I spiraled down. I couldn’t get to sleep at night, but getting up in the morning was a chore. I knew I had things I had to do, but I couldn’t find the energy to do more than read. Numerous mornings, I’d debate calling off from work, because I just didn’t see how I could find the energy to deal with the kids. I had a TON of things that needed doing at school, but couldn’t stand to be in the building longer than absolutely necessary. Where I could usually see and recall the good moments of a day, all I could hold on to were the bad. And when I get depressed, I isolate myself, not wanting to bother other people. I didn’t feel like I could talk to my new coworkers, because I don’t know them that well and didn’t have the energy to get to know them. I didn’t reach out to anyone in Nunap or in the Lower 48, because I didn’t want to bother them or add to their worry. I knew I was making bad choices, that I would feel better if I just talked to someone, but I couldn’t bring myself to care enough to change the behavior. Realizing I was not in a good state, I reached out to a local therapist to see if I could get added to her patient list. She has no openings until January. I made the appointment, but then promptly reached out to Dr. A, the therapist I worked with last spring, to see if she could work me in to her schedule on a temporary basis. Thankfully, she said yes.
The day of my first appointment marked a new low for me: I overslept. By two hours. I barely made it to work on time. (On the bright side, I didn’t have time to give in to the by-then-normal morning depression.) I spent the day glancing at the clock, mentally counting down the time until I’d be talking to Dr. A. Finally, four o’ clock rolled around, and we got started. For the next two hours, I spoke while she listened, she spoke while I listened. She talked me through some possible steps to make it through the week until our next appointment. And while I was nowhere near my old self, by the end of the session for the first time in weeks I felt I could see a little bit of light through the gloom.
The very next day, I learned that Granny has decided she’s ready to die. She’d apparently begun refusing her medications over the weekend, and ate and drank only sporadically. After numerous phone calls home over the ensuing four days, including one with Granny herself, I began to make peace with the news. This is clearly what she wants, and I support her just as she’s always supported me.
The day I learned about Granny, I started talking to my coworkers. Not about everything, but I did say that my grandmother wasn’t doing well. I also talked to my students, explaining why I might seem a little disconnected from what was going on in the room or why my temper might flare unexpectedly. Got to love kids: Over the course of the day, most of them told me that they were sorry and offered hugs.
For the past two weeks, I’ve woken up every morning wondering if there will be a text or voicemail saying Granny is gone. (So far, she’s still with us.) I’ve checked in more frequently with the family. Thanks to Dr. A, I’ve been able to set small, achievable goals that have helped pull me back out of the pit. In the last few days, I’ve finally begun to feel like I have energy again, energy that I can use to interact with new people. And so I could finally walk through the door and make a haircut appointment.