My psychiatrists have assumed I have bipolar disorder for quite a few years now. I don’t really know if I whole-heartedly agree with the diagnosis (I’ve really just kind of always felt terribly depressed, alternating with periods of … well, not feeling terribly depressed), but at the end of the day it led to a cocktail of medications that does at least let me live stably – for the most part. I have good days and bad days, and good months and bad months. Periods of productivity, and periods of utter misery where I can’t even get out of bed.
Most of the time I can identify the mood swings as I experience them; I know when I’m depressed because I don’t enjoy anything, don’t want to do anything, and find sleeping the days away the only way to tolerate the bleak emptiness. I know when I’m not depressed, because I don’t have any issue finding motivation – both for big, creative endeavors and for small, inane tasks like cooking and cleaning.
But sometimes – only when I’m at the absolute nadir of a depressive episode, when every little thing seems impossible to achieve – something else happens. I think it’s linked to feeling vastly overwhelmed, but I really don’t know how else to describe it other than feeling ‘insane’. It’s a form of mental incapacitation, and it happened the other day.
Let me try to explain. The other day I woke up feeling particularly depressed. (I’ve been having these strange dreams recently in which I do normal things, but am really, really depressed throughout, but that’s another story.) I had a therapy session in the morning, where we talked about how I feel bored and unchallenged at work, and that it might be an idea to explore other career opportunities. (Again, after 16 years at the same company, this is its own daunting story to dive into another time.) After therapy, I slept for a bit, tried to write, and then took my wife to a doctor’s appointment that lasted for two and half hours of me sitting in the waiting room, bored out of my skull.
When we finally got back home, the kitchen needed to be cleaned, because it hadn’t been touched since dinner the previous night. My wife, who works from home, had more work to do, so she retired to her office while I sat in the kitchen, contemplating the dishes.
The more I thought about cleaning up, the more impossible the task started to seem. There wasn’t really that much to do – no more than 15-20 minutes’ worth of cleaning, probably. I wouldn’t know, because I never actually made it happen. The longer I tried, the harder it became to actually do anything. At first, I tried sitting and building up my motivation. No luck. Then I got up. Walked toward the sink, and the clean dishes that needed putting away first.
And this is where I broke down completely. Standing in front of a pile of clean dishes, I quite literally couldn’t physically reach out to pick up a pot. I just. Couldn’t. Do it. I started pacing the kitchen like a madman, tearing at my hair, muttering to myself and at points literally crying. Every so often I would go back to the dishes. I would cry out: “Pick up the fucking pot!”
But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
This hasn’t happened to me in a while, although it was much more frequent before I was properly medicated. It’s some form of mental incapacitation, a disconnect in my brain to the point where I literally cannot move, can’t control my own hands or actions.
I don’t know what to call this type of breakdown. It isn’t really depression, not in the sense I know it. It certainly isn’t mania. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this kind of thing. It almost feels like my brain is completely tearing itself apart, a massive cognitive dissonance between what I know should be possible, and what I can (or in this instance, can’t) bring myself to do.
It’s an awful, awful experience, and takes days to recover from. This was two days ago, and I still feel overwhelmed and incapacitated, despite making it through a day of work in between. I know I’m in a major depressive phase right now, and I’m worried that the same thing might happen again. When it does, it feels like I need to be hospitalized for my own sanity.
I couldn’t pick up a pot.
Does anyone else ever experience this kind of mental breakdown? Is it a panic attack? Anxiety? I genuinely don’t know what to call it, or how to explain it. All I know is it’s happened before, it will happen again, and it destroys me when it does.