With all the talk about Robin Williams suicide this week that has turned into talk of depression and mental illness, I feel like I need to repost something I wrote a while back about my struggle with depression. There seems to be two very strong opinions on this issue of suicide and mental illness and I personally feel that the people who think it is solely a spiritual issue have probably never experienced the depth of depression or the tight grasp of mental illness. While there are absolutely spiritual reasons (attacks) that can bring on depression, that is not the only cause. Mental illness is a disease that requires treatment and understanding.
Here is my story.
(Today’s post is very personal. I have struggled with whether or not to post it, as it was originally written for an audience of people who I don’t know on another blog. But after sitting with it for some time, I am convinced that there are others out there who are in the midst of this struggle and need to hear that there is help and hope. Please feel free to forward this post to anyone you know who may be struggling with depression.)
Life is a collection of short stories all tied together in a long biography.
In my life, some of the short story titles might look like:
- Three Sisters and their Lower Middle-Class Christian Upbringing
- Living Life on My Terms
- Infertility Woes and God’s Blessings
- The Call to Pastor, Complete with Roadblocks
- My Relationship with Food and Fitness
These are all good stories to tell, and there are more as well, but this is the story I need to tell today.
- Depression: Hiding in Plain Sight
For years I noticed that by February, I was in trouble. Life was hard. I was tired. I was cranky. I could barely get out of bed, much less face life in the way I was used to – taking it by the horns and going hard.
There were other things; a huge slump after a big weekend with friends, getting quickly frustrated with something I shouldn’t be frustrated about at all, that pointed to the fact that something just wasn’t right.
I assumed I had some kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but really I just thought I needed to buck up and deal with life.
When I got pregnant with my son, it was a total shock. We had tried so hard to have our daughter, going through infertility tests and treatments, we assumed we couldn’t get pregnant on our own and would be a one child family. Not that we didn’t want another baby, but we had grown used to the idea of not having anymore. And the pregnancy, although healthy, wasn’t easy. He was huge and caused me all kinds of pain to just carry him. And then he was late. I was miserable. I just wanted him out.
Once he was born, the stress of working full-time, having a three-year-old, nursing a baby, and trying to keep order was significant. I remember just crying night after night while I fed him.
Fast-forward a few years. I was determined I was not going to be a mom who yelled. My mom could be a yeller at times and I didn’t want to do that. That would not be me.
One day I saw it. I was a yeller. It didn’t take much for me to lose it. You know how you aren’t supposed to cry over spilled milk? Well, I yelled over it and made my kids cry. It wasn’t all the time, but it was enough that I saw it and didn’t like it.
In the meantime, I was again struggling to get out of bed. I was always tired. I could lie down at any point and fall asleep.
I talked to my doctor. She asked if I thought I was depressed. I assured her I wasn’t, but in the back of my mind I wondered. We ran tests. Nothing showed up.
Time marched on.
I started exercising more regularly. I lost some weight. I ran my first half-marathon.
But nothing changed.
My husband bore the brunt of my frustration with life. I yelled at him. I fought with him. I tried to tell him all the things that he was doing wrong that were contributing to my meltdowns. And then I would cry for hours.
One day I even threw a good old-fashioned hissy fit at work in the presence of one of my co-workers because I was so upset about something that had happened. I jumped up and down in anger and frustration.
In the midst of a particularly bad day, I was sitting in my bathroom and noticed that I had some pain-killers and muscle relaxers sitting on my sink from a neck injury earlier in the year, and in that moment I thought, “I wonder how many it would take…” I wouldn’t finish the sentence. I knew I meant to finish it with “to end my life,” but I was sure I wasn’t suicidal.
That was enough to scare me and scare me good.
I told my husband what I had experienced. He told me that I hadn’t been the same since our son was born, eight years prior, and that every year it just got worse and worse.
I knew I needed to talk to someone, but I was so scared.
I am called to be a Pastor. I should have my stuff together. I am supposed to lead people. I can’t tell my doctor – she goes to my church. I will never be ordained now. These are just a few of the excuses I had for not admitting I had a problem.
I put out a fleece. If I was supposed to talk to my doctor (and friend), then she would be by herself while we were at Family Camp.
One morning, there she was. And I walked on by. I got back to my cabin and felt so strongly that the Lord was telling me that was my chance so I went back out and sat by her.
As we talked she eased my fears. She reminded me of the many times that she had asked if I was depressed, but I was determined I was not. She asked if I was truly ready to try something. I was.
For over two years now I have been regularly taking an anti-depressant. We have tried different kinds. I even went off of them for a month at one point after making a change that didn’t work (which resulted in thinking one day that I understood why someone would drive their car into a lake– so I immediately called my doctor.) We finally have a medication and supplement plan that is working well enough that I am level.
It’s not gone. There are days that the old familiar heaviness covers my chest.
But it is better.
And it wouldn’t be better if I hadn’t said something and asked for help.
The amazing thing to me is when I started talking about it, so many people came out of the woodwork who struggle with the same thing. I found friends, articles, and bloggers who have told their stories that have helped me and continue to encourage me through this thing called depression.
If you find yourself struggling with depression, find someone to talk to about it. Send me a message. Don’t let your life spin out of control like mine did before I was willing to ask for help, because there is help.
Depression is stubborn. Depression is dark. Depression doesn’t let up just because you try to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Ask for help. Don’t try to go it alone.