Swimming with the Sharks

21 Jun

As you may or may not have noticed, depending on how often you tried to get a hold of me, I have been gone, off the grid, since June… 2nd? 3rd? Time is playing strange tricks on me. I’m still not sure what day it is, or when everything happened, or what I’m supposed to do next. I debated a long time about opening up because this is really, really tricky stuff. But every time I’ve opened up before, I’ve been surprised and overwhelmed with gratitude for the support that flows in, sometimes from the least expected corners.

That being said, I am going to try to turn off comments for this post. If you have something hurtful to say, to me or to Ken, I’m sure you’ll still find a way to do it, people always seem to be able to, but I’d prefer to not hear it or deal with it. If you have something supportive to say, I’m actually not ready for that yet either.

Deep breath – dive in.

Well, first, some analogies. (This is me, after all). Three times in my life now I’ve had what I would term ‘shark experiences.’ I can’t say ‘shark diving’ or ‘swimming with sharks’ because each one was different. But each one involved me in close proximity to a shark, and I loved each one.

#1: In late December of 2000/early January of 2001. Our winter, but New Zealand’s summer. My mom, my sister, and I went down for two weeks to visit family. We went to a tourist town on the South Island – Kaikoura – along with my cousin Carsten. We debated what we wanted to do there. Whale watching? Swim with dolphins? Courtney, my sister, found a brochure for a shark dive. The kind that is, incidentally, the most ecologically harmful, but hey, we were 19 and 20 and did not know about those things. You got in full scuba gear, you were taken out to a smaller boat, from there you were lowered into a cage two at a time. Then the boat workers would throw out some chum to make the sharks come. They came very close to the cage, gnawed at the bars, delightfully terrified us.Image

That’s me in the foreground, with my best “I can’t believe you talked me into this” expression. It was scary, it was exhilarating, and I was hooked on sharks.

#2: On our honeymoon, my husband and I randomly ended up going to Mazatlan in Mexico. If you’re there in the off season (which we were), there is not a lot to do. You can snorkel, but it’s not much fun if your husband is more interested in staying behind on the beach getting wasted on rum. You can walk around town, but there’s not a lot to see and there might be a terrifying moment where you think you’re about to get kidnapped. Or you can go to the Aquarium, “an experience you’ll never forget!” It was a sad, sad aquarium. But there was one highlight. The brochures showed people going into the feeding cages for the shark tanks with the aquarium staff. I speak no Spanish, so I kept pointing to the picture, saying “Yo quieres.” They kept asking something that sounded like, “Umm, are you sure?” They let me change into a swimsuit, gave me a snorkel mask, and gave rapid instructions in Spanish. I asked Ken, who is bilingual, to translate, but he couldn’t keep up. “Something about a mechanical arm, honey. Have fun, don’t die.” I tried to assure him, saying, “If it wasn’t safe, they wouldn’t let you do it.” His response was, “Yeah, AT HOME. We’re in MEXICO. They lose tourists all the time here!” So I went into the cage, speaking no Spanish, with a guy who spoke absolutely no English. Even better, he couldn’t pronounce my name to save his life, so I told him to call me Cecilia to make it easier. Problem was, I kept forgetting that my name was now Cecilia and he would shout instructions and I would be all “Who is he yelling at?” Anyway, I got to feed some fish, and see some sharks swim by.

 

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That’s me on the right, trying to tell him “I guess the sharks aren’t hungry” but actually saying something like “I want eat shark.”

#3 was last year, in Australia. I was perusing my credit card rewards points to see what I could cash them in for. One of them was a shark dive at the Aquarium at the town I would be staying in. My rewards points were the exact amount of the ‘experience.’ I took it as a sign and booked it. I thought it would be like the experience in New Zealand, where we were out in the ocean, since the aquarium is right on the ocean. Or I thought it would at least be like the experience in Mazatlan, where there is something between the sharks.

Noooope.

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Notice the lack of any protective barrier between me and the shark on my head. We suited up, went in to the giant shark tank with lots of other fishes, and walked around for a while. I don’t know, in retrospect, if I still would have signed up for it if I had known how close the sharks would be. But it was also the most amazing – ecologically okay, I understood all the instructions, and the sharks were so beautiful up close.

So now you’re probably thinking that my disappearance for the last few weeks can be ascribed to some wonderful, meaningful shark experience. Alas, that is only true metaphorically. And here is where the hard stuff comes in.

I have been hospitalized for a major depressive episode. I went to one hospital, and was there for a few days, but it was like the Mazatlan sharks – no one could help me understand what was going on, no one seemed to understand what I said, and like the non-hungry sharks, my depression did not seem to respond to my efforts to fix it. And the rules and regulations were making my anxiety and depression so much worse. Nothing comforting from home. NO PEPSI. (Those of you who know me well know that I did not deal with that very well – I resorted to trying to bribe the social worker). And, worst of all, NO BOOKS. No one was allowed to even bring any in from outside for me. There was no individual therapy, no individual therapist even assigned. You got a psychiatrist for 5 minutes a day – if you were lucky – and a social worker to work on getting you out. I went to the groups, I did the best I could, but I started telling them I was feeling better just so I could go home, drink a Pepsi, and read a book again.

I was out for one day. I lasted almost a full twenty four hours. I had a massive panic attack in Barnes and Noble when I thought my wallet had been stolen. I was still a wreck. And then I had my follow up appointment with the therapist. First question: Do you have suicidal thoughts? Well, yes. They come and go, all the time, have always done that. Second question: Do you have a plan? And this is where honesty may not have been the best policy. Well, yes. They sent me home from the last hospital with a prescription for sleeping pills. I’m not planning on committing suicide right now, or this week, or this month, but I do know how I would do it if I had to.

The poor therapist was then in a really rough position. This was only my first time meeting her and she had to make a judgment call as to how serious I was. I genuinely feel sorry for the position that my honesty must have put her in. But I do think she made the right call – she called 911, and I ended up in a different hospital.

For nine days. But it was different this time – more like Australia. I did not know what to expect it, and I thought it would be awful, like Mazatlan/first hospital. But this hospital was not as strict, much more accommodating, AND HAD A SODA FOUNTAIN WITH PEPSI IN THE CAFETERIA. I could do so many things I couldn’t at the first hospital – not just the little things like actually being allowed outside for recreation, and being allowed to wear my own socks, and have books, and DRINK PEPSI, but the bigger things too – I actually benefited from the groups, I had a therapist and a psychiatrist that both really cared about me and advocated really hard on my behalf.

So that’s where I’ve been these past few weeks, and why you haven’t been able to get a hold of me, if you tried. I was stuck swimming with the sharks again. First in Mazatlan, where nothing made sense and everything was frustrating, and then in Australia and New Zealand, where it wasn’t perfect or what I expected, but where I was brave enough to step into the cage and face the sharks up close. There’s still a lot of swimming ahead – a lot of sharks to face -and I don’t know how the next few weeks are going to look. I feel almost as if I surfaced too quickly and have to readjust to the atmospheric pressure, like a real scuba diver. We were in the AT&T store today and the weather sirens went off and I started crying. My short term memory seems to have big gaps, like a block of swiss cheese, my energy levels are pretty depleted, and my ability to concentrate and focus seems to be affected as well. I don’t know what I’ll be ready for, or when I’ll be ready for it.

I do know that I am scheduled to do an intermediary step in the meantime – an outpatient program – more like snorkeling in the cove than diving straight into the shark tank. And I do know I have a lot of tools with me – not oxygen tanks and diving belts, but a loving support network, a great therapist, and the best family and friends a girl could ever ask for.

So thank you for being patient with me, if you made it this far in the post. And I pre-emptively thank you for your understanding. Any negative comments – even those that can be remotely construed as negative – will be deleted. I am taking a huge risk, putting this out here.

But I am putting it out here anyway, for a few reasons. I don’t want people to think that depression is uncommon, or that it should be a source of shame. I saw a wide variety of people in both hospitals, from all walks of life. Good people, smart people, people that in any other location would be considered ‘normal.’ The first person to react to these news by calling me ‘crazy’ or thinking less of me gets the privilege of being the first person kicked out of my life.

Second reason: I want people to be gentle with me for a while, if possible. I am still recovering from my deep dives, and, like I said before, my equilibrium is a little off. I apologize in advance for any weirdness that results.

Third reason: I want anyone else suffering from depression to know that they are not alone, that there are resources out there, and that going to the hospital is not a failure, not a sign of weakness, but sometimes can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Australia and the second hospital were both not what I expected, but they both changed my life for the better.

Wishing you all love and peace,

Sheilah

 

 

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