Two points…..two small points, to describe a condition, that all too many people have experienced. Two points that define a word that fundamentally changes ones life, the lives of those around them, and the understanding of what a “normal” life should be. Two small points………think about them…..
According to statistics, 1 in 4 Canadians will suffer a depressive episode in their lifetime. Having looked at the “depression” test available at Doctor’s offices, I would suspect that we are all closet depressive personalities….but what happens when, it is not a “simple” depression….what if it is more……this is my story.
At age 15, I clearly remember telling my mum, that something was not right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something with my internal chemistry was not firing on all cylinders. I was 15, I wasn’t supposed to overwhelmed with worry and feelings of uselessness…..My biggest concern should have been my choice in clothing, not how I was to make it through the next 24 hours. My mum dismissed my concerns, telling me I was hormonal (this was mid 1980’s remember, and things like “this” were not discussed in polite company, or any company for that matter.) This statement only added to my angst…..I knew it wasn’t hormones, I knew it wasn’t my age…..All I did know for sure was that it was “something” that was over taking my life, and I had no way to stop it. So begins the darkness that enveloped my life for the next 15 years….a darkness, that at it’s worst was something I would never wish on anyone, a darkness that robbed me of any joy, any compassion and love for others…the darkness I will call depression.
This is so hard to write about, as it is such a huge part of my life that I am so ashamed of, not ashamed of being clinically depressed, but of my actions during this time. There will be things that I am hesitant about putting down on paper. Please bear with me dear reader, if I am all over the page….this is like picking at a scab that is not quite ready to come off; but it is important. It is important for me, important for my friends, important for other people and parents out there who are catching glimpses of something…something they are not sure of.
Depression is a nasty little trickster….it comes and goes, and just when you think you have made it through the darkness it will knock you down harder than you have ever thought possible. Each time, it takes a little more of you, until you are so wrapped up in its cocoon, that the thought of escape, or even seeing life as worth living becomes almost non-existent. It robs you of any sense of self worth, self esteem or your place in this world of ours. Depression chuckles at you while you are being systematically torn apart. Does my description sound overly dramatic….for some perhaps, for those who have experienced it, I am sure you could more eloquently state the devastating effects of this disease. That is correct, “disease”….this is no more anyone’s fault than being diabetic, or having a thyroid condition. For those not well versed on depression, serotonin is the key to this whole equation. We simply, just do not produce enough of it. Now exercise, vitamin D, taking comfort in what brings us peace can help reduce the absolute “bottoms”, but in the end, it comes down to brain chemistry…..please don’t tell me to “smile”….it really doesn’t help!
For many years, I suffered, and suffered alone…..then came my “coming of age” years…and I found my “best friend” to help me deal with my feelings of hopelessness…..alcohol. I don’t think I would have considered myself an alcoholic, but a binge drinker definitely. Whenever the chance arose to go out I did…..and I did it in big style. It was amazing the feeling that came over me, when under the influence. The worries, the problems, the cares all disappeared…..for 5-6 hours, I was normal (yes, I know, I was anything but…..), but I felt like I could laugh again. I made a fool of myself on most occassions, said and did things to people I cared about that shames me to this day. I was jekkyl and hyde, but I didn’t care….as long as I had my 5-6 hours without pain, I was happy. There were times I drank so much I would pass out…..during these times, I prayed that this would be the one….the one time I wouldn’t wake up…..but that never happened, I am not sure why, but I was being spared. At the time, I saw it as a punishment…I was doing everything in my power to avoid the next 24 hours, but they kept coming. My anger and depression intensified, as did my drinking…remember 5-6 hours of happiness was worth the next 5 days of depression worse than the previous week’s.
I was spiralling downward quickly, I was pushing people away who cared for me. My self hatred was so intense, that I did everything in my limited power to make people hate me as much as I hated myself, and I was good at it! It was a confirmation, that I was a terrible person, not worthy of anyone’s time, anyone’s love…..all I was worthy of was to be the “goodtime girl”….I can’t expand any more on that, but it was one of the lowest points of my life.
During this time, I was being dragged from one psychologist to another, to psychiatrists…….all to no avail. I distinctly remember one psychologist, who had me look at ink blots……yes INK BLOTS!! I thought that science had long been abandoned, but after five minutes with me, and his interpretation of my answers, proudly told my mother “she is psychotic!” Once again, this being the late 80’s….there still was not a “good” mental health network…..ink blots prove my point. I remember arguing with my mother about revisiting this “professional” again…….I knew I was suffering from something, that I was not “normal”, but psychotic…..no! I did not go back to see said “professional”, but was in and out of various Doctor offices….”take this, take that, I will see you in a month.” I took the medications, but secretly hoped that in the ensuing months time, that somehow my life would be snuffed out….somehow I would not have to return to the cold sterile environments, and politely answer questions with the appropriate answers and be sent on my way.
I remember family members asking me “when I was going to stop giving my mother such a hard time, grow up, and smarten up.” How do you answer that question? I was on a dangerous roller coaster ride, hanging on for my dear life. Was I hurting everyone and everything in my path…YES, but, and this sounds incredibly selfish, was nothing compared to the hell my life was…..once again, I wanted everyone to feel even a portion of the pain I was living in….and if that meant hurting them in the process, then that was my way of “sharing” my life.
By this point, I was living on my own, as I like I had said, pushed everyone away who cared about me. I sat in my apartment day after day falling deeper into the well. I did my prescribed tasks ie: taking out the garbage. Yes, my task for one month was to take out my garbage each day. I could not work, I went on the welfare role……I even had home visits, as I was emotionally not able to leave the confines of my home (Friday nights, different story….remember alcohol was my best friend.) I missed my mother’s wedding to her second husband, ( I wasn’t welcome, and with good reason) I missed my best friends wedding to her husband ( I was too entangled in my own battles to understand the consequences of this action)…..university had fallen by the wayside, I had nothing…..I sat, and sat, and sat.
I thought my life was turning around, when I met someone we will call “John”. John moved in, and I thought this was it, I could not have been more mistaken. “John” saw in me something, the depression, and was quick to pounce on it. What I thought was love, would end up being a physically abusive con man, who played me like a well tuned violin. When all was said and done, the depression (and me) had given “John” all of what was left……it was at this point I tried to commit suicide for the first time. I was a joke, I was a waste on society, my life would never even be noticed if snuffed out….in fact, it would be a blessing to so many if I just disappeared….First attempt failure……there would be another day though.
I was sexually assaulted, not soon after this…..my mother took me to a sexual assault clinic, where I spoke to a counsellor….I suppose my answers, or lack of emotion (remember I had none), led to her conclusion that this event had never taken place, a fact that she told my mother. The shadows became even darker, I didn’t care anymore….even less than I had previously, if that was possible. I was a drain on society….suicide attempt number two, once again a failure. Failure, the constant theme in my life….I was scratching at walls of a well that I wanted to get out of, but at this point, I had no hope, I was exhausted, and no one could seem to help me.
During the next 5-6 years my life continued along its’ path….I did get on medication that let me function (to some extent), I gained employment and went about my days. I can’t say I felt any real joy in my life, but I was functioning again, I suppose that was good enough for someone like me.
It was in 1996, that my life took a downward spiral again, my uncle was missing. I connected with this uncle on a level that was different, he suffered from depression too. I felt that we were lost souls who understood each other, understood the aspects of our lives, that no one else did. I remember like yesterday the moment we got the phone call, letting us know they had found him…..he had hung himself….he was dead. My cousins without a father…..others were angry with him, I understood how the pain became too intense, and all he wanted was for the pain to end, and ended it he did. I found myself defending my uncle, (and although in retrospect, suicide is the most selfish act anyone can ever inflict upon themselves and family) I was yelling at other family members, “You don’t understand, you can’t understand the helplessness and pain!!!”
Shortly after this, my first marriage broke down forever, re enter the clinical depression. We had another family friend, who shot himself in the head….clinical depression turned into another dark, dark depression…..this one, would be like no other…..one that almost destroyed me.
I wandered around in a fog for months on end….I went on long term disability at work, I could not and did not want to be a part of society. I could not relate to any person I met. Other people’s happiness only threw me deeper into my well. I could not speak in full sentences. I wanted out, but was so badly off, I didn’t even know how to get out. I reflected on every criticism (and there was a lot of them) I had ever received in my life, every joke made at my expense, every failure, every negative….this was the beginning of the end, I thought. It was the beginning of the end, but not as I had envisioned.
We were now in 1999, and thank goodness, mental health care and mental health issues were “socially acceptable” topics of conversation, and because of tragic events in my family’s life, my battle was not a “dark little secret”, but something that needed to dealt with, and dealt with immediately.
It was a beautiful summer night at Lake of the Woods, and we had just returned from a bay dinner. My mother excused herself to say good-bye to neighbours (this neighbour had just bought at Lake of the Woods, and happened to be Head of Psychiatry at a Winnipeg Hospital, yes, God works in mysterious ways). I was later told, that my mother had trapped the good Doctor on the dock and told him, “I am going to lose my daughter, please help us.”
I met with the Doctor on Monday afternoon, and was admitted Monday evening….upon entering, I had the humbling experience of turning in all my necessities ie: toothbrush, razor, hair brush etc……, when you needed them, you got to ask for them, you could check them out, and then return them. I was put on a cocktail of drugs, that had the ability to take down a small horse, but put me in a state of not feeling bad, not feeling good, just not feeling. For weeks I went to therapy, met with my Psychiatrist, took my meds and slowly the fog started to lift……one day I laughed, not a forced laugh, but an actual laugh. It almost took me by surprise, as I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed, just for laughters sake. I was released from the hospital, I thought I was ready to face the world again….this euphoria was to be short lived. While in the hospital, I learned to accept the depression I was dealt, but my coping mechanisms for the real world were non-existant. Each week upon visiting my Psychiatrist, he would take notice of not just my mood, my answers, but my weight…..one month after being released I was back in the hospital, after losing 20 pounds. My battle with anorexia had begun (previously blogged about).
This hospital stay was much more intensive than my first. I was to learn that depression, is never just depression. Depression is alcohol’s best friend, depression loves anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders skip through the fields together hand in hand. I was a mess. Why was I cursed with this life? Why me……why bother??? Why bother, because of the little bit that I had learned, was that in my pathetic shell of a body, was someone who was worthwhile…..there was a little pin point of light at the end of the darkness. It was my choice to reach for it. I choose to reach.
That choice to reach for the light proved to be one of the hardest jobs I have ever had in my life. Now some may laugh, but consider this; when you have lost almost everything, and must redefine who and what you are….that you have been sick, and have to recover emotionally and physically….this is a full time job. The therapy was intensive, painful, exhausting, but worth every moment. I was in the light…..I had lost so much (not things, but people) in the process,,,,,but those who were still standing with me at the end, I knew, would be there for life.
There are many individuals you have to make amends with when fighting depression. There will be those who don’t want to hear it, there will be those who don’t believe in mental illness but do believe in you as evil incarnate, there will be those who are too uncomfortable to hear your story, there will be those who just don’t care….but there will be the one’s who will rejoice with you in your recovery and those are the one’s the make the journey incredible!
Often, I find myself being diagnosed by well meaning individuals, who really have no clue as to what I have fought for, I also have been judged by these same individuals. I have been denied opportunities because I had a “major depressive episode”, I have been told to “pray more,” as if somehow God has a control switch to my serotonin levels, and I was also told, “it was a shame that your suicide attempts were not successful.” I have been told a lot of things….. I have learned what to listen to and what not to.
Next to my husband’s Afghanistan deployment, the biggest challenge to holding onto who I am to this point, was when Child and Family Services Alberta denied us for adoption because of my prior depression,…..in their eyes, I was not a “fit parent.” The crack smoker, or abuser can get their child back, but there was no way they would consider my husband and I as adoptive parents. For many months, I questioned my parenting abilities with boog #1 and #2, my ability to be a good wife, my abilities as a human; these were the “professionals”, maybe I was not fit to be raising children, maybe I was on the fringe of society, not deserving. I did come to realize that unfortunately the stigma with mental illness still remains…..it may not be as bad as it was, but there are still people living under rocks when it comes to this subject….Remember the statistic at the beginning, 1 in 4 people!!
My life pd (post depression), has not been an easy one (nor is anyone’s), I have had my ups and downs. I have never (thankfully) been at the stage I went through before. I have taken antidepressants once in the past 13 years, short course, did the trick. I am keenly aware of the signals my body is giving me, and my physical capabilities…..I know when to ask for help. I have also learned that each day is a gift, it may not always be good, but we must embrace what is given to us, the good with the bad.
I have redefined what success is. (as I have witnessed first hand how quickly that can be taken away.) I watch in fascination as others go “full out” to succeed or define themselves by doing something they and society consider “successful”…..I have altered what success is in my life. I am alive: there is light in my life, I have a family; that is the greatest success I could ever have dreamed about at my darkest times, and I have it all!! Some judge me on this, but having come from where I did, I love and bask in my small but meaningful successes!
The one thing that I have hung onto is the love of my family. I know my husband can get extremely frustrated with me, but God love him, he has stood by my side. My children are rays of sunshine that I have been blessed with. Not a day goes by that I do not count my lucky stars to have three individuals in my life who don’t judge, don’t offer the “just smile, you will feel better” line, just love me……me, with all my human foibles.
Depression, it isn’t a scourge from God, it is not the devil’s work, it doesn’t afflict people because they are bad people…..it is a disease. I will repeat that, “it is a disease,” not unlike any other disease. People with mental illnesses do not need to be judged by at an all to many times, very judgemental society (you are different than me, you are bad), they don’t need to be looked down on, they need to be loved, and loved harder than you think is humanly possible…..for only through this and a willingness to fight, will they emerge into the light.
My depression has taught me many things about life; the number one thing is that life is worth living no matter what the circumstance. Life is a precious gift given to us….use it wisely and to its’ fullest extent!!!! It has showed me the ugliness in people, but also the shining examples of human compassion, understanding and love. It showed me that the seemingly impossible can be overcome if we have the inner fortitude to stick it out. It showed my humility, humility and more humility. It showed me that success is not measured by what we “do”, but rather what we have battled through and who we are now. It showed me that ignorance still surrounds us, but that rising above the narrow minded thinkers is very empowering. It showed me that just taking the time out of our busy lives to just listen can be better than all the medication in the pharmacy Finally it showed me that people we judge as “bad” or “screwed up” are a lot of times suffering, and suffering alone.
I sometimes wonder why I was chosen for this battle, but as time goes on it become more clear. I am to share my battles, share my story, share the knowledge, share the hope.
This in a small way, is my apology to all the people in my life I have hurt. It is a story, that I hope can be shared with others a story that can erase a little of the stigma of mental illness. This is something I never wished for, but it is my story. Am I proud of aspects of my story, no……am I proud to tell my story, YES! This is my story from the darkness back into the light…..and it was worth every step!!!!!
To Michael, Caleigh and Liam…..you are my life….I love you with every fibre of my being…..I am humbled by each of you. You teach me everyday how to be a better person. To all the others who stood beside me, “thank you” will never be enough…..I love each and every one of you…. ❤