Two years ago my life started to slowly change. I had days when I slept for hours at a time. I was very sad, and I couldn’t snap out of. Over time, I began to eat more, sleep more, struggle to get up in the morning, and I had feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. I tried to tell myself these physical ailments would get better; they would go away the harder I tried. But no matter what I did, the symptoms worsened.
The fatigue and sluggishness were the worst of it all. I had no motivation to do anything. I dragged myself up every day, got the kids ready, and then used what tiny energy I had on doing the bare minimum of my job. I attribute it to when you’re sick with a cold or something similar and are stuck in bed for two days with no energy to move—only for me this went on for months. My heart felt literally weighed down; like it was heavy and someone was squeezing it. I was suffocating. I was drowning. This is how depression was physically for me, only that was coupled with the negative mental thoughts too.
When I was depressed, I felt worthless even though my circumstances were great. I had a wonderful, loving family, and a great house and job, but inside I felt like I didn’t matter; like nothing mattered. There was no hope, and death would be better than life because at least I’d be in heaven where there’d be no more pain—including the thyroid and chronic neck pain issues I had put up with for ten years. Some days were okay—especially if something good happened and lifted my spirits. But those elations were short lived. The world mostly felt dark and bleak.
I started to think I was crazy. I believed that if I told anyone what was wrong with me they wouldn’t understand me or they’d tell me to just try harder. I’d grown up in church, and depression and medication had always been somewhat of a taboo issue, so I didn’t dare go there or to those people. Finally, the day came. My husband said something had to be done or we needed to break up. When I felt like I really didn’t care if we divorced, when I felt numb to anything and everything that day, that’s when I knew I needed to seek help.
I went to my general doctor and managed to mumble out a few words. Tired. Depressed. Need something. That’s about all I could say while staring at the ground. She put me on medication, and that made me feel even stupider. I didn’t tell any of my family or friends what I was on. It was too shameful.
Within a few days I began to notice a difference for the better. I couldn’t believe it was so easy—that a pill could make me feel normal again. I finally felt like I was getting back to being the person I had always been. Life was in me again.
One day I sat in a Bible study when another woman my age admitted she had been depressed and anxious for some time and recently started medication. I couldn’t believe she had told a group of people this personal information—I had never admitted it to anyone but my doctor. I asked her if we could talk. We went out for coffee, and for the first time I told someone about my experiences. She shared hers with me as well. That day you would have thought I’d won the lottery—I was ecstatic. Finally, someone understood exactly what I felt. From that point forward, life was good, and I didn’t think it would ever go bad again.
Six months ago everything came tumbling back. Not only did the physical debilitations return, but now I had home issues as well. I went back to my endocrinologist to see if my thyroid had worsened; it hadn’t. She did say I was Vitamin D deficient and it could cause depression, so I added that mineral to my morning routine. I went to a natural path; she said I needed adrenals, so I added those as well. But not much changed.
Two weeks ago, I began to see a therapist, thinking that might help me with my personal problems. She told me I needed to make an appointment with a psychiatrist and work on changing my medication for my depression. Again, I felt like a crazy person—I couldn’t believe I had to go see a psy doctor.
I called around but couldn’t get an appointment for a few weeks. The next day I felt awful. All of my symptoms were back at full force. On top of that, my personal issues had worsened. I emailed my therapist; she told me to go to the hospital and see what they could do. It took every little bit of courage I had left in me to go because I didn’t want to. I wanted to return home, curl up in a ball, and cry. But I drove myself to the hospital, sat outside for a couple of hours, then talked myself into walking through the emergency room doors.
I sat in the waiting room thinking I would see a doctor, he or she would prescribe me some new meds, and I’d be on my merry way. Instead, the doctor told me I looked like I was about to fall apart; that I was having a nervous breakdown and dealing with major depression. She wanted me to voluntarily stay at the hospital. These are the thoughts that streamed through my head: “I’m fine. I’m not crazy. I don’t need to be in a mental institution. I have a job. I have kids. This can’t happen. This lady is crazy. Doesn’t she know I can’t do this right now?”
She must have read the doubt in my face, because she spun it like this: “You have a lot of stress right now. If you stay here, you can rest and sleep for a couple of days. Maybe take a couple of coping classes.” That sounded great! A little mini-vacation. They sure knew how to get me in, because when she put it that way, I said yes.
The only bummer about the situation was they took away my cell phone. I couldn’t have any technology other than the few minutes they gave me to email and call my employers, family, and friends to let them know where I was. However, they did encourage journaling, so as a writer that thrilled me.
Over the next few days, I learned and changed so much. I discovered I don’t take care of my mental health. I rarely think of it. I only focus on the tasks and people around me. I don’t do enough “happy” things for me. I think very negatively about myself. I’m always putting myself down. I’m not that strong, independent, confident woman I used to be, and I needed to figure out why.
On my last day there, the psychiatrist, who was such a kind woman, looked at me and said, “I want you to know from a psychological point of view you are not crazy, and you have a bright future ahead of you.” That made me smile, because when you’re held in a behavioral health institute you have a tendency to start questioning your sanity. She told me to stay on my new medication, visit doctors regularly, continue seeing my therapist, and get a good support system around me.
We often joke about being “mental” or “crazy,” but there is nothing funny about it. I met real people who have it way worse than I do—people who have been raped, beat, shot, suicidal, and more. But they all had one thing in common with me: we all had the courage to reach out and say, “I can’t do this by myself any more. I need help.” We got the resources and support we needed, and now we’re taking those tools and moving forward.
For people on the outside of depression looking in, it can be hard to understand what someone with this illness goes through. We might tell the person to snap out of it, we might remind them of all the great things they have, we might say to pray, or we might tell them to just give it time because time heals all wounds. But for those who suffer with depression, there is no clear-cut, easy answer.
I used to be ashamed, but I no longer am. If I was bleeding to death, I would go to the hospital. This time, I was dying emotionally and mentally, and I needed a group of doctors to save me, and they did. And since that time, the more people I talk to, the more I find there are many others who are hurting like I am.
I don’t know why this has happened to me or why God has chosen to give me this illness. But my goal now is to heal and move forward so I can be healthy for myself and my kids. I want to be the best mom I can be (I love my kids more than anything), an effective teacher (I love my students and job), and a successful author (I still have a passionate love for writing). These are areas I definitely want more of and not less of, but I need to be healthy in order to do them efficiently.
Some of you have expressed wanting to help me, and I so appreciate that. If you desire to, you can ask me to go hang out if you live close (the doctors told me I need to be out of the house having fun, taking walks, etc…); you can call me, get me to talk, and make me laugh; you can encourage me; and most of all you can pray for me.
As I continue to improve and get stronger, I want to advocate for mental health as an average person and as an author. It’s never too late unless you let it be. There is always help, there is always hope, even if you feel helpless or hopeless. Reaching out with what little energy you have left is the best thing you can do, not only for yourself, but also for those who love you and for those whose lives you will someday touch.