What Depression Looks Like - For Me
I fall in love for the first time in 8th grade. I fall all the way in. We hook up but never date seriously. I am poor and not cool, I think I embarrass him. I am swallowed whole by all oft he feelings in this relationship. Eventually he turns on me, him and his friends tease me, shame me in front of friends, embarrass me. At school one day, I take a bottle of Tylenol, washing it down in the drinking fountain. I go to the school counselor and tell her. I wind up in the ER with my mother, I get counseling from an awful counselor. I don't remember my school counselor ever reaching out again. I am not medicated at that point. I have some other cries for help at that age, but eventually move in with my father and away from these negative influences. I get a job, make friends, go to college and do well for some years.
Nearing the end of graduate school, I experience my first episode of major depression. I have always been chubby, but during school I took up running and was as fit as I had ever been. As my depression progressed, I lay on the couch. I ate comfort food. I gained weight. I still visit with friends, but I do this less. I look for reasons to cancel. Finally, I reach out to my doctor and begin a trial of an antidepressant. After taking it for some time, I go to see the movie "Men in Black" with my best friend. I laugh so hard and it feels good. When we leave the movie, I say to my friend, "I can't remember the last time I actually laughed. I've been so depressed." She looked at me and laughed a bit, "That's not how depression works," she declared. I've puzzled over that comment for years.
I've been married for a couple of years. My husband and I have our first home together. We are very much in love. I have been off of my antidepressant for some time. I can't even remember what inspired the conversation, but I have such a vivid memory of my husband standing in the basement laundry room with me and looking at me with love and asking, "Why are you so angry all the time?" I feel a bit startled to hear this. Am I? I think deeply about it and realize that my depression has crept back in. I see the doctor and begin medication again.
I went on and off of antidepressants for several years but am on one when I discover I am pregnant with our first child. We have struggled to get pregnant and are so surprised and excited. I develop blood pressure issues early in the pregnancy and am hospitalized at around week 23. My beautiful son is born in his 27th week and he doesn't survive beyond his third day. The grief is all consuming. I go to therapy, I increase my medications and, along with my husband, I work through it. We get pregnant again and have a daughter the next year. After a time, I talk with my doctor about starting to decrease my meds. I feel immediate negative repercussions. I struggle with thoughts of wanting to die every day. I talk to the doctor and decide to return to my medication. This is the first time I am truly scared of my illness. This is the point that I realize I will always need medication to cope with this illness.
I remain on the medication I have been taking for many years. It has been working well. Until suddenly it doesn't. It would be my son's 10th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his death and I am not coping well. I cry at everything. I sit in traffic on the way to work and wonder about just driving in front of the oncoming traffic. I am pretty sure my family would be better off without me. I can barely put one foot in front of another every day. I am seeing a new doctor and on our first visit I break down in her office. I apologize to her that our first meeting is me being like this but I acknowledge that I need help. She is patient, supportive, understanding. She writes me a new prescription and, though I don't feel despondent, I take that pill every day because I can only survive on the hope that it will pull me out of this. Eventually, it does. Eventually, we add a second medication. My depression scares me more than ever. I fear that I will reach a point one day where nothing works. I fear that I will ruin the lives of those I love most.
My father dies an ugly death early in the year. I mourn his loss and the loss of all we never had together. I continue to take two medications daily. Still, my depression breaks through. I sleep more. I eat junk. I am not suicidal but I often think of dying - an image of myself falling from a building repeats some days in my mind. I am having those thoughts as I drive to meet a friend for dinner. Then, while waiting for her, I am checking my phone and see a cute little cartoon that I smile at. The waitress approaches and says, "Your face is just shining so bright." I smile but this drives home how people can't see the truth of my illness.
I don't know what depression has in store for me in the future. I know that there have been times where I have survived only by sheer force of will. I know that I have to trust the meds even when they aren't working. I know to use my husband as my touchstone and to let him help keep me healthy. I know to listen carefully to my symptoms - it can be hard to notice when I start heading down the rabbit hole, but I have to make sure I don't go too far down. I know depression lies and that I cannot listen when it tells me I'm not worth it. I know I am sick and I will always be sick, but I know ways to stay well. And I will keep using them.