With the death of Robin Williams, depression seems to be the “hot” topic. I wonder how long it will last? It seems to me that when someone famous dies of some disease, the disease becomes the hot topic for a while, but eventually fades into the darkness. I guess that’s because people can only handle real disease issues in small doses. They need to be sympathetic for a while, but eventually move on in their lives. However, some of us never move on.
I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed completely by luck after years of searching for someone to tell me what was really wrong with me. I had gone to the doctor for a pain in my chest. Turns out, I had pulled a muscle. As luck would have it, my doctor was specializing in depression. I remember having blood drawn. There was a poster in the room that listed 10 symptoms of depression. As I read the list, I realized that I had 9 of the 10 symptoms. I thought to myself, “I should probably tell the doctor about that.” However, as depression often does, I immediately thought, “No, she’ll never believe me. No one ever does.” So, I never told the doctor. As I said, it was complete luck. On my follow up visit for my pulled muscle, the doctor looked like she was going to leave, but instead put her clipboard down. She turned to me and said, “Are you depressed?”
The shock and horror in my eyes as I broke down must have been hard for her to deal with. I cried and cried as she told me she could help me. No one had ever said that to me before. For so many years, I went to doctors, explaining my symptoms, trying to figure out why I was the way I was, yet no one could or would help me. Since I wasn’t totally convinced that depression was an actual “thing” I just went along with what I was told by the doctors – this will pass. But it never did, and sadly, the diagnosis wasn’t the cure all.
For the next 5 years or so, I struggled with medications. I tried all kinds until I finally found a combination that seemed to work for me, all the while trying to raise my children and be some kind of wife. I remember one day; I dropped something in the kitchen. I don’t even remember what it was, but it sent me into a spiral I nearly didn’t come out of. I went to my room and closed the door. I crawled as far back into the corner behind my bed as I could in hopes that nobody would find me and I cried so hysterically I thought for sure this was my ticket to the padded cell. I remember thinking in my head, “This is crazy. You dropped something. So what? Stop this!” But I couldn’t control myself; couldn’t stop the unbelievably hysterical crying.
There have been many other days like this along the way. As a matter of fact, I have been this way all of my life. When I was a teenager, I had a similar episode. I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. I was crying uncontrollably on the bathroom floor. I remember thinking about the medicine cabinet and wondering what was in there that could end this pain for good. When I found out that my 2nd husband was cheating on me (again!), it happened again – many times, actually. When I had to leave my 3rd husband, it was almost the end of me. I would drive through the hills on my way home from work thinking how easy it would be to just keep driving off of the cliff, like Susan Sarandon and Gena Davis did in that movie.
I’ve read a lot about depression over the past 2 days. It seems that every article mentions that telling people helps; that knowing that others suffer the same as you helps. I say HOGWASH! This may be a solution for some, but for me, it has never helped. Actually, it just makes me feel more sadly that others have to feel as badly as I do, or worse. However, if it helps just one person to know that I understand what they are feeling and going through, then this post is worth it.
So, what does it really feel like? Many describe it as a darkness, a grey that is washed over you. I have spent most of my days hating myself. When I was younger, I over compensated for my bad feelings by being overly exuberant in public. I was the life of the party, the joker, the one with all of the crazy ideas. I was wild and demanded all of the attention. I drank a lot to gather my “courage” and overcome the darkness within. Of course, I hated myself more the next day for having acted like such a twit. I got angry at the smallest thing and was unable to forget any perceived transgressions against me.
As I’ve gotten older, and more mature, I find myself extremely introverted. I never feel worthy of anything, including happiness. If I do something good, it wasn’t good enough. If I do something bad, I’m worthless. If something good happens to me, well, it won’t last, so don’t enjoy it too much. If something bad happens to me, well, I deserved it, obviously. I don’t go out anymore. Going to a party is terrifying and causes all kinds of anxiety, even something as simple as dinner with a friend. I over analyze everything. My mind is never free of thought. It’s always racing. I have trouble sleeping and have unbelievably vivid and terrifying dreams. I HAVE to read before I go to sleep to allow my mind to think on something other than my failures.
However, with medication, I don’t have suicidal thoughts as often as I used to. I don’t cry hysterically anymore. I have a lot more control of my emotions than I used to. I don’t have the extreme lows that I used to. With the proper dosage, I find that I can actually laugh and feel joy in things, something I haven’t been able to do in many, many years.
There is such an ugly stigma that goes along with depression. It’s a mental illness, which, in society’s eyes, means I’m crazy. When I started my new job, I had to have a physical by the company physician. They always ask about your medications, and I told him I am on antidepressants. He told me, “Don’t say anything about them at the workplace. People will misunderstand and think you can’t perform on the job.” Unfortunately, I knew he was right.
In my case, I do not produce enough serotonin, which is what controls our emotions. You can boost your serotonin with things like sugar, which is why I gained so much weight as I got older and caused me to think worse of myself. Just like a diabetic has to take insulin because they don’t produce it on their own, I have to take antidepressants because I don’t produce enough serotonin on my own. It took me many years to come to terms with this. The stigma of mental illness was very hard to overcome. I had to change my way of thinking.
The one thing that I have read that I know to be true is this: if you have a friend who is suffering from depression, be there for them. You may not ever understand what they are going through. You may have to hear some ugly things. You may have to watch someone cry uncontrollably while you just hold their hand. It’s not an easy job. I can’t even imagine what some of my friends have been through. When I left my 2nd husband, I would call my friend every day on my way to work and just scream and cry hysterically into the phone. She was unbelievable in her tolerance of me. She would listen and sympathize and get mad for me when I didn’t have the strength to get mad myself. She was my rock when all I could be was sand. It was a thankless, difficult, ugly position for her to be in, but she held my hand when I needed it most. I will forever be thankful to her for that!
And there have been other friends along the way. One of my friends has been with me through almost 40 years of ups and downs (mostly downs). Some friends come and go, some stay a bit longer, but I thank God every day for the ones who have stuck it through, and continue to stick it through with me. There aren’t very many, but it’s enough. Having a friend with depression must be an exhausting experience, one that I don’t think I could handle, to be honest. I struggle so much with my own demons. I’m not sure that I could be strong enough to help someone else with theirs, which makes me all the more thankful for the friends who have been there for me.
I could write so much more, but I won’t. Just know that depression is real. It’s chemical and uncontrollable. It’s a disease as any other disease. It is something that I will have to endure my entire life, but I’m so thankful that it is now being talked about so that others who suffer can get the help they need.