By Beth Brownsberger Mader
Taken from: BP Hope
The bill from the animal hospital arrived, a piece of mail representing the culmination of a very sad week for me. Inside the envelope was the invoice for “euthanasia.” I began to cry again. You see, six days before, I’d had to say goodbye to my 19-year-old cat.
Throughout her long life she was the blue-eyed, silver-coated grande dame in whatever house I lay my head. She came as part of the deal when I married my husband, who’s not a cat person. She was a 14- pound kitty with a demure, ladylike meow, a contrast in sight and sound.
After she died, I held her a long time and left the vet’s office still sobbing. I wanted to go home and climb under the comforter in my dark bedroom, watch the afternoon talk shows, and cry the day away. I actually wished to be more than sad. I wanted to be depressed, darn it, because sometimes depression can feel so comfortable.
In the relatively short time since my bipolar diagnosis, I’ve learned of the triggers that can drop me into darkness or toss me into the cosmos. And I’ve taught myself how to cope when these things come along.
But this was the first time I realized that such a major event could be a new trigger. (That comforter looked so good, Rachael Ray would be promoting a snack of the day, and I had plenty of tissue.) I also saw that it could trigger hypomania. Suddenly, the house looked filthy. How could I not clean my 925 square feet for the next 10 hours?
After the crying abated, there was a moment of clarity, and I wondered: What’s the difference between sadness and depression? And what difference does the difference make? How do I recognize what makes me sad but not depressed? Or manic?
Sometimes, it seems hard to tell. But my cat’s passing taught me that the difference is fairly basic.
Have you ever heard the saying “This too shall pass”? When I’m sad, I can absorb the phrase and know that things will get better. When I’m depressed or hypomanic, it’s nearly impossible to see that it will go away.
So this is what I ended up doing that day I really wanted to be depressed. I forced myself to remain regular-mode busy as if it were any other day. The only difference was that I kicked my coping and wellness skills into high gear, just as anyone who’d lost a loved one might do.
I talked to members of my support team about my grief and shared stories about my cat—funny, uplifting ones. I went running. I did my stretching and breathing. I played and snuggled with my four dogs. I drank green tea, telling myself it would help make me strong. I made a good dinner, took my meds, and got a solid night’s sleep. I let myself cry as needed.
I then began a mantra: “I’m sad, not depressed. I know the difference.”
Sure, throughout the week I felt that little buzzing in my head that warns me of illness trying to get in. I repeated my mantra and followed my daily plans. I was determined to give the sadness its due and hold a bipolar event at bay.
So far, it’s working.
In a way, even though the invoice from the vet’s office was difficult to open and read, my reaction to it is something I can celebrate. I made it through a week of sadness and learned that my own burgeoning coping skills and determination kept me from melting into the couch or wearing out the floor mop.
As I write this, I hear one of the dogs snoring then yelping softly in his sleep as he dreams.
I still cry for my loss, and that’s fine. This too shall pass.
Beth Brownsberger Mader is an artist, writer, and mental health peer support specialist in northern Arizona. She lives with her husband, Blake, and their four dogs.