Coming to terms with my depression
For most of my life I have considered myself to have had good mental health. There was an awful year in seventh grade but otherwise I was really fortunate, privileged, lucky, blessed… how could my mental health be anything less than great? Yes, I could get stressed out about obligations and events, but that just meant I really cared. For many years I was in denial of depression, or at least in denial of the fact that my depressed mood (which could come and go) was impacting my life and affecting those closest to me.
I was in denial because I had this notion that if not acknowledged, life could just keep going as it should— without much complication. People who were depressed experienced much stronger emotions than I did. They couldn’t shower, go to work, or smile so obviously I was not depressed. I really did believe that true depression was completely crippling.
There were many behaviors and actions that I either excused, ignored, or figured were just my own weird thing. These behaviors and actions included:
When I would put off studying and instead eat about a quart of ice cream.
When I dated (for three years) someone who cheated on me and told myself I was too weak to leave
When I had things I wanted to do but would lay down wherever I happened to be in the house and feel paralyzed by the overwhelm
When postpartum I was very nervous my baby would die simply because my life had just been too good so far and it was time for something bad enough to account for all of that good to happen
When I recovered from the postpartum fears only to instead feel the utter despair that accompanied sleep deprivation (from an extremely enthusiastic little nursling)
SO MANY HIGHS
There were still lots of highs in my life. The births of my two children, the purchase of our first home, weddings, promotions, and friends were all amazing experiences with fulfilling and very positive emotions. Many of these wonderful times helped me to deny the occasionally debilitating emotions that would come and go. There were also difficult events that helped me deny depression. Our first born had delayed speech and was later diagnosed with Autism. Surprisingly I felt that I handled this well, my main concern was that he didn’t grow up feeling like I was trying to “fix” him (coincidence that I myself ended up thinking I needed to be fixed?).
My denial began to majorly shift during the fall of 2015. I felt good, so good that I noticed everything felt different. I was becoming productive at home and I was noticeably happy. Life felt easier. Getting up in the morning was easier. I started to take better care of myself because I felt better. It took this shift to realize that I had been living in a sort of depressed fog for the last few years. I started to keep tabs on different aspects of my life such as my relationships, physical health, and other needs. I was looking for patterns. It felt like the clouds had parted and the sun was shining down on me. I wanted to know how I was going to keep this feeling.
Honestly I never really figured it out. I was surprised to find that I was still happy after the Christmas season was over. It wasn’t until spring that I started to feel more drained and less motivated. I found out about a family reunion and realized that for the first time we had the funds to make a real distance vacation happen. I love to travel so the trip planning became my motivation and gave me a purpose. I didn’t crash until we returned from the vacation at the end of July 2016. My husband and I just figured I was in a funk from no longer having the trip to look forward to but as August went on my husband strongly encouraged me to bring up depression at my upcoming physical that month.
Bringing up depression with our family doctor was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. I had to try hard not to cry and I passed it off as if it was my husband’s concern. I did admit that I found it hard to motivate myself and to keep the house picked up but looking back I believe I downplayed some of the feelings. All of my blood work came back fine, meaning that my thyroid wasn’t causing these moods. The doctor suggested reading up on behavioral cognitive therapy, that I may be able to help myself.
I never did check out any books. I felt busy and then my son started Kindergarten. I still feel emotional when I describe this time. My son had done very well in preschool so my husband and I had expected more of the same for Kindergarten. We didn’t think about how rigorous Kindergarten had become because we didn’t know and because I had worked hard to get him to identify all of his letters. We didn’t think about how the change from 14 kids to 24 kids (or more) would be way too much stimulation for someone with very little impulse control. Every day was a struggle dropping him off. He would kick at teachers, scream, and hide under tables. We were fortunate to have the Autism diagnosis and a lot of support through special education but I left crying almost every day. I already had low confidence in myself and this was a punch in the gut. I felt like a horrible mother and a failure as a human being. My kids are a priority to me and I took each wild reaction to school as evidence of my failure.
PATH TO SEEING A PROFESSIONAL
It was becoming hard to focus on anything positive. My three-year-old was sometimes consoling me as we walked back to the house after dropping off her brother. I knew something was wrong when she was acting like the adult. The lowest point came before my son’s birthday. I told my husband that I didn’t want to host a party or even travel to my in-laws to have his party there. I felt overwhelmed and didn’t think I could pull it together to host or travel, of course I didn’t explain that to him. My husband within minutes of hearing this informed my son that “mama doesn’t want to celebrate your birthday.” It wasn’t true that I didn’t want to celebrate, I just couldn’t be around other people (or didn’t think I could). I felt so hurt and powerless. I wanted to escape but felt trapped. I felt that as a member of the family I couldn’t leave. I didn’t know where I’d go or even what the purpose of leaving would be so I ended up lying on a rug in our entryway sobbing.
One of the main thoughts cycling through my head was “I can’t do this.” That was it. I didn’t want to die, I knew that feeling from the seventh grade year (I won’t address that here because I feel like it was a separate and different issue), but I felt like I couldn’t contribute any positive thing to the world other than going to work. I could hold it together at work and it was the only place that I really felt productive. My husband was frustrated with my lack of motivation and upkeep at home (I worked three days a week at that time). I just thought that I was slow and that it was really hard to get things done. Even looking back it’s hard for me to say how true that was or how much was just depression. That day on the floor of the entryway was a sort of bottoming out or breaking point for me. I realized that I needed to see a professional because my reactions and breakdowns were intensifying and increasing in frequency. I could also see that I wasn’t going to be able to fix it on my own. I told my husband and made an appointment to see a psychologist.
I didn’t realize how many times I would have to stop denying that I was depressed. I had to tell my parents because I needed someone to watch my daughter while I saw the psychologist, I had to tell the person I called to make the appointment, I had to come to terms with spending a significant amount of money on an illness I thought I was supposed to fix on my own, and then I had to actually get into detail with the psychologist. I was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood. The adjustment disorder part was in relation to my inability to adjust to my son’s new school situation.
I have come a long way in terms of accepting the fact that I have a depressed mood that comes and goes. Both my son and I have adjusted to school (although I questioned whether I might need to talk to someone this year when my daughter started Kindergarten- apparently I have no distress tolerance for Kindergarten). I have been fortunate to have experienced several good months in a row recently. When the depressed mood happens now I am able to pause and acknowledge that it won’t last forever, but that I might have to cut my “to-do” list in half for a recovery period. I definitely have more work to do and I still let myself get overwhelmed, but I will never regret getting help with my mental health.
Although I only saw the psychologist for four months, I feel that the return was invaluable and I also know that I can go back if necessary. I recently went back for my first physical since the one in 2016 and was amazed by how much easier it was to talk honestly about my mental health (and with a different doctor too). Denying depression was not really keeping me happier, and it wasn’t benefiting anyone…least of all me. Sharing this story is just one more way I hope to continue to acknowledge my mental health and hopefully help remove the stigma.
A few words about me
I enjoy listening to music, time with family talking, being outside, traveling, seeing friends, doing art, and work. I’m usually trying to create balance between those things and the things I value but don’t always enjoy (making healthy meals, cleaning, and managing the morning routine of getting myself and two kids to their destinations). I am so happy to be a part of this community and to be given the opportunity to contribute. I feel so much love and connection having authentic exchanges with people about mental health.