Stable: “adj. Resistant to change of position or condition; not easily moved or disturbed.”
Stable: “adj. Maintaining equilibrium; self-restoring.”
Stable: “adj. Consistently dependable; steadfast of purpose.”
Stable: “adj. Not subject to mental illness or irrationality” (Wordnik).
I never thought stable, in any of its definitions, would describe me. Yet, it is exactly the word my psychopharmacoligist used to answer the question, “How would you describe Valerie’s current condition?” when submitting paperwork about me and my progress at the end of 2014.
I’ve worked with my current psychopharmacologist and therapist for over ten years. I was very sick when I met both of them, and my diagnosis changed several times. We tried countless medications and therapies. After two courses of ECT and yet another medication change, I was ready to give up and focus on accepting that this was just how the rest of my life was going to be: I’d never work again; I’d never finish school; I’d never get married; and I’d never have children. I would just exist as well as I could.
I sat across from my psychopharmacologist, ready to give up, and he said, “There’s a new medication that just came out, and I want you to try it. I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but I want to try it. If it doesn’t work, we’re out of options.”
I didn’t get my hopes up, and maybe that was for the best. If I’d gotten my hopes up, I may have felt a bit of hopeful placebo. Instead, when I started to come out of the fog of depression, I knew it was the medication. It couldn’t be anything else. The new med brought me out of that fog just enough that I could actually start to make sense of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that I’d been trying. The medication didn’t fix everything, but it took the edge off the debilitating depression and anxiety so that I had a hope of functioning again.
Slowly, things got better. Sometimes progress moved so slowly that I wasn’t sure that I was actually getting better. Over time, though, I realized I was going longer between hospitalizations, and that became my measuring stick. When my psychopharmacologist sat down to fill out this end-of-the-year paperwork with me this past December, he asked, “When exactly was your last hospitalization?” Neither of us could remember. He had to look it up.
At that moment, after the worst year of my life, it began to hit me just how far I’ve come. It has continued to take me several weeks, though—and perspective from my husband—for it to fully sink in. Stable. My baby died this year; how could I possibly be stable? How could this possibly be the most stable I’ve probably been in my entire adult life?
I’ve said numerous times over the last nine months that I couldn’t have survived Patrick’s death ten years ago, five years ago, not even two years ago. When we found out there was no longer a heartbeat, I couldn’t see how I’d possibly survive. Yet, here I am, nine months later and stable.
Part of me is dumbfounded; another part of me sees this as a second chance to live a full life. I wish—oh, do I wish!—that I didn’t have this clarity, this full understanding of just how far I’ve come, at the cost of my son. I wish I hadn’t had to live through the last year. I wish I had my sweet boy with us; I wish that each moment of every day. But, I wonder if I would have ever really understood how far I’ve come if I hadn’t survived something of this magnitude.
Stable. My baby died. Stable. My world crashed around me. Stable. My dreams were ripped from me. Stable.
The new year has me terrified, but also curious. I’m begging God for a year that I don’t need to just survive. I want to savor each moment, make the most of every experience and every relationship; I want to thrive this year, no matter what life throws at me. I want to be willing to take risks, be authentic, be present, be grateful, give and receive love, and give my best each step of the way. I want to live life fully and have no regrets. As I look back on last year, my stable year, I’m amazed by the mindfulness I experienced throughout the year—staying present through the most challenging of experiences and devastating moments, even experiencing joy alongside the excruciating pain.
I’ve come to realize over the past nine months that the glass half-full vs. glass half-empty concept can be taken a step further: one can’t fully appreciate and experience a full glass unless she’s also fully experienced and understood a completely empty glass. One can’t fully appreciate and experience joy unless she’s also fully experienced and understood complete devastation. I look forward to the joy I will experience this year.
Earlier this week, I went back and looked at the copy I kept of that paperwork. I’d probably frame it, except it’s now crushed and half-eaten, thanks to our puppy, Didi Darling. I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: for the question on memory and concentration, he answered, “Now normal.” Normal, huh? And stable. Inconceivable!