I have tried to be as open as possible, on this blog, and in my real life, about my lifelong battle with depression and anxiety. It hasn't always been easy to share, but I believe that monsters live in the dark and the only way to get rid of them is to shine a light one them. And depression and anxiety are my monster. I've dealt with depression/anxiety since I was 10. I'm 47 now, so you do the math. A long damn time, that I know for sure. It has it's ups and downs for sure and I have tried a lot of things over the years to make things better for myself. Or, I should say, to make myself feel better.
When I was a girl, I would isolate myself a lot. Stay in my room, reading, listening to music and writing in my journals. In my 20s I participated in a lot of risky behavior, as do many undiagnosed depressed young people. I self-medicated, in an attempt to find SOMETHING that would end the bottomless pit that, at times, I felt defined my life. I believe, there is a whole other blog that needs to be written on that period of my life, alone. Those were some dark years. Suffice it to say, I was unable to find anything that gave me lasting relief, and I feel it's only through some unknown factor, and more importantly- the grace of my God, that I lived through that time.
Finally, in my mid-thirties, while pregnant with my fourth child, I was put on an anti-depressant, after I told my Obstetrician that I had been through some pretty extreme post-partum depression (PPD) with all of my previous pregnancies, but most especially after my third child was born. I had gone from zero kids to three kids in two years and seven months.
When number three he was six months old, we moved to a new city, during a very long, hot, Texas summer. I knew by the time I was pregnant with my fourth, that winter, that I was going to need some help coping with life. I was lucky, my Obstetrician was very concerned and helpful. He gave me a prescription for Zoloft.
I clearly remember the day when the medication kicked into my brain. I was awe struck that other people felt like, GOOD, all the time. The first year of my fourth child's life was very much different than the year after my third. I do feel regretful and sad at times that I didn't reach out sooner, so that I could have enjoyed my 1st, 2nd and 3rd babies a little more, but in the mid/late-90s when my children were born, PPD was just starting to be a topic of conversation. Prior to that, it was just something women silently endured, I suppose.
And just as PPD was silently endured, so to was clinical depression. Depression (and anxiety) were not something that was discussed. I do remember once, as a child, my mom and her friends, in hushed whispers talking about the minister's wife's ::Nervous Breakdown::.
I really had no idea what that was, but I could tell by the way they were talking that it wasn't something you speak about in the open. And it was clear mental illness was something you really didn't want to have. There was secrecy and shame associated with it, in my mind. Consequently, I never told anyone about my own depression, I just did what I needed to in order that others not feel uncomfortable, although some of my anxieties were harder to hide than the depression. It was a source of embarrassment to me that I had fears, worries and anxieties that the people around me didn't have.
It soon became clear, the first time I tried tapering off my anti-depressants that they were going to be a lifelong companion for me. I needed them to live just as a diabetic needs insulin. Unfortunately, there is no accurate way to measure how much of what chemical someone needs. There are no blood tests or brain scans that can be used for diagnostic assistance. So, a lot of trial and error goes on, trying to get the medications and dosages right for each patient.
I did a pretty good job of accepting, and managing, my mental illness. Yes, depression and anxiety are mental illnesses. There still is the tiniest bit of hesitation for me to write that I am mentally ill. Even after all these years it's a little embarrassing to talk openly about in clinical terms. Baby Blues, a bit down in the dumps, a little nervous - those are terms that people find more palatable. But it needs to be called what it is, I NEED to call it what it is and own the fact that I am mentally ill.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, making a public admission. What if someone sees it and thinks differently about me now? I guess that's a chance I take. I sometimes still, after all these years, have difficultly admitting I have psychiatric issues, and fear being stigmatized. It's not easy to admit when you have emotions you can't control, so it can be difficult to ask for help.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which I will post tomorrow. I had originally written it was one blog, but it was too long, even for my verbose standards. ;)