It is hard to imagine what good can come from a tornado. Really, the whole of a life is destroyed, heaped into piles of debris. Years of work, dreams, memories, and promises shredded in a few moments of unbridled wildness. Later the survivor comes to search through the rubble hoping to find pieces of her broken life.
A tornado ripped through my heart, and I’m struggling in it’s aftermath. The biggest difference between the tangible tornadoes and the emotional ones is living among the remnants of the life afterwards. What damage can be seen by others, and more frightening, what damages cannot be seen by others. How much help does it appear that I need. What can friends do for me. Then there are the offerings of good wishes: I will be better off; I will start anew; This is a good thing; I should see this as opportunity.
I think it was mere shock and disbelief that first drove my body after the storm. The simple necessity of finding a new place to live, packing, moving, unpacking, and breathing. Stopping to think or trying to feel was cruel, stabbing pins in my eyes. The storm picked me up, chewed me up, and spit me out. I was rubbish, broken, and strewn amongst five years of relationship minutia. Often I found myself just standing, staring at walls. The simplest of decisions was brain surgery. Friends could see this kind of damage, so they helped pack. They helped take things to the thrift, donated items to shelters, took other pieces and bags to the dump. In shock, it was easy to downsize; it was easy to throw pieces of my life away.
Sometimes help comes from people and places you don’t expect after a tornado. People who care and see the pain offer their time and energy. I was blessed with such help in unpacking the new little house. Without them I know I would still be staring at boxes floor to ceiling. They unpacked my kitchen and living room. Hung shelves and pictures; helped to turn the little house into a little cozy home. How long I would have taken to try to decide where to put glasses and where to put pans.
However when this first phase of damage began to mend, and the visual debris lessened, the immediacy of the storm clean-up slowed. Next came the part of the aftermath when the depression and fear grew where no one can see. It is in this fearful black place I dwell.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so devastated by a storm before. I had no earthly idea such a storm was even possible. I believed my heart was safe. I believed in a committed lifetime there was no problem too small or too big that couldn’t be solved with compromise and work. I believed a couple rough years balanced out over a lifetime with love. I truly believed I had a shared future. One tornado later, I had nothing. I felt naked, raw, and vulnerably foolish.
I had no idea how I could be so wrong. I had no idea how I could mean so little to the one person I who had accepted all my flaws and had said I matched perfectly. Perfection was conditional. The relationship debris felt like handfuls of sand running through my fingers and blowing away.
I suffer from depression. Sometimes it is kept in check, and sometimes it spirals out and seems to rule my world. I don’t usually write about my depression. Even with all my anti-depressants, getting out of bed is a struggle. The hardest thing each day is to show up at work.
Rollo May said that depression is the inability to construct a future. The foundation I based my future on is gone, and much of what was the structure of my past five years is in question. I think many people who suffer from depression hide it, cover it up, disguise it. I think many people who don’t suffer from depression, as a clinical diagnosis, don’t understand the depths of fear and paralysis it can cause. Imagine the darkest night you’ve ever known, without stars or moon. You walk naked in coldness on sharp objects. Reaching out for anything familiar to grab hold of, there is nothing. The objects you step on become sharper and the coldness turns to ice. The voice in your head starts to play the tape you’ve heard most of your life. “There is no point. You are not good enough. You never will be. You’re in trouble now, so hide. There is no point.” When the voice echoes in your entire numb body, and your feet bleed without pain, you stop and crouch into a ball. Maybe you cry. Maybe you just wish you weren’t there anymore. This description barely touches upon the despair of depression.
Now I can stare at a wall for hours; the old tape plays in my head. I have various versions of this tape, as this tape has played in my head since I was a teenager. Everything I do takes hours, cleaning the tiny house, laundry, and school work. I’m supposed to keep an activity log at work. It’s one of the first signs that my balanced outlook is slipping. Its the easiest task I’m required to do, and yet I don’t. Sometimes hours go by as I try to decide what to do, then I do nothing, and then feel horrid for wasting the time. I get nothing done. Certainly no school work. Every day I drive to work, usually late because it took every fiber in my being to get me dressed and out. Every day driving to work I cry. Mostly I’m scared to face people. I’m afraid they will find out. Find out that I’m not prepared; find out that I’m faking. I can’t call in depressed. Depression might be a medical diagnosis, but mental health is certainly not an accepted excuse for missing work. Well unless of course, you are hospitalized. Then it’s okay to talk about it because depression is a whispering disease. “You know so-and-so tried to kill herself, so now she’s in the hospital.”
When events, like tornadoes, trigger depressive episodes eventually it becomes harder and harder to differentiate between the storm devastation and the depression. What is normal sadness and heartache? How was I so foolish? What is the unfounded belief that no one will want me after being broken by such a storm? How do I even think about that when I was so sure I had my forever after? How will I ever get out of this darkness now? What’s the point because I always end up here?
For the present, my skin feels like leather and I’m walking in waste high snow up hill. If I see people, there is a smile I pull from my pocket and attach with sticky glue. At the sound of holiday music or talk, I leave my body, fly up to the furthest corner of the ceiling, and hide until the moment passes. At home, windows are black and the carpet is nails. I exist in cold thick oatmeal and indecisiveness. Fear. There is always fear. Someone will find out, and the mental illness alone will make me less than.
Having never survived a tornado before, I don’t know the first thing about rebuilding. I don’t even know if I ever want to again. I certainly don’t see the good of it.