“I’m so depressed”
“You broke your iPhone? That’s depressing”
“Stop acting so depressed”
“This weather is so depressing”
We all use the word. We all know the connotation. But let’s talk about the medical definition.
The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines Depression as “a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.” I specifically have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder which is “a mood disorder having a clinical course involving one or more episodes of serious psychological depression lasting two or more weeks each with no intervening episodes of mania.”
I have Major Depressive Disorder. It is moderate. It is chronic. It is referred to as unipolar depression as opposed to bipolar, because there are not manic episodes, only major periods of depression. The symptoms of Major Depressive disorder can not be attributed to physical illness or normal bereavement. Having Major Depressive disorder is very different from having a case of the “blues”. I am in no way discrediting how difficult dealing with feelings of depression are, however, I seek to raise understanding of how having Major Depressive Disorder is not the same as periods of feeling low.
We are all so uniquely and individually made. For whatever reason, something in my make-up causes me to be prone to depression. Let me be clear that it is no one’s fault. My parents are incredible and loving and wonderful. My depression is no one’s fault. I can remember as far back as 4th grade, having suicidal, self-deprecating and self hate thoughts. They were short lived and passed but as I got older, they took hold. My parents were doing all the right things, I was in counseling and beginning medication. Despite their interventions, it still spun out of control. During my sophomore year in high school, my depression and self-hurting had taken over and I was hospitalized for 5 days. I will never forget what being there felt like. Locked in. Away from my family. Being monitored 24 hours a day. Finally stopping. Stopping and looking at myself and how the way I was living life was not working. It was not living. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe. I don’t remember the worker’s name, but I remember that he sat at my door the first few nights and I finally felt like I was safe from my worst enemy, me. In group therapy, I witnessed the hurts of others, the deep hurts. I related and it was scary, yet I also was comforted knowing that other people were experiencing feelings like I was and that with help we could get better. When I left, I walked shakily to my parent’s car and I vowed never to go back to that place of existence again.
The reality is, though, that depression can be difficult to manage consistently. I was pretty stably medicated from the age of 16 to 29. That doesn’t mean there were no dark times but they were more the result of unclear boundaries in my life and bad choices such as stopping taking my medication or resisting therapy. Since the trauma of losing Glen and sustaining a brain injury, I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Order, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Quite a mouthful. I am not textbook on any of my diagnoses, but there are parts of me in all of them. After the accident, when I attempted to begin my psychiatric medications again, my doctor warned me that they may not work because after a severe traumatic brain injury like I experienced, the brain is forever different. I’m grateful that he warned me because they sure were no longer the right medications. 6 months post-accident, after a bad reaction to a new medication and a failed second attempt of a return to work, I went back to the place of existence that I had never wanted to go again. With all that I was dealing with, the lows persisted. Once the lows start, I feel powerless to them and the out of control feelings that come with them. I don’t choose the lows and I don’t want them, but once they start, I feel I have no strength over them. I feel that I am fighting a war that I will never win. I began attending partial hospitalization (day program) at a mental health hospital here is Georgia. Although it was not lock down and I left each day, it was still a shocking place to be. In order to be discharged, I had to discuss my medicines and I had to have a psychiatrist in place. I have continued to work with her and I still go once a month to her. My medication is still not right (but we’re getting so close) and unfortunately there is no way to know but try and the transition periods can be pretty bad.
I would like to share what an episode a year ago looked like for me. Something triggers me. The “me” that is the usual me is gone in an instant and once I’m gone, I lose myself and I don’t know how to come back. This degree does not happen often, only a handful of times in my life. However, when it does, it is scary. Not only for me but for those around me. Here is an example:
That night last April was dark. The night I stopped holding on to the strings and just let go. That night I closed down. The Boston Marathon bombing had occurred and it set something off in me. My kids were away for the night. I was alone in my house. Alone. I began drinking wine, not with casual sips but with hungry gulps of desire and longing, desire to drink myself into numbness and longing for comfort. I wanted to drink myself into not caring. And so I tried. Not to care. But it didn’t go that way.
While I drank, a concerned friend came over. I told him the story of my life. I talked about all of my mistakes and felt sorry for myself. I accused myself of Glen’s death. Said it out loud for the first time. I explained that I caused Glen’s death. That his support of my marathon training had put us in that place, at that time and caused us to be in the accident. I believed I was telling the truth. I talked about how everything bad that I had ever done and how losing Glen was punishment for all of those decisions. I had done this to myself and I deserved to be miserable. Love wasn’t meant for me. I was married then divorced, married and then widowed. I was clearly missing something that God was trying to tell me. I clearly just needed to be alone forever. Forever. Alone. I screamed. I yelled. I yelled I wasn’t worth it. I would never be worth it. I would never be worth it. I wanted to be alone in my misery. Now he knew the story. Now he could leave. Against his wishes, my friend left. I really didn’t give him any other choice.
Once he had left, I sat and looked at the sofa table behind my couch. Three tall rectangular glass vases were lined up on it. The vases were filled with rocks and had bamboo sticks that made them even more tall and foreboding. I began to realize that their presence had been silently tormenting me the whole night. I moved closer and studied the three glass vases which I had gladly invited and moved from the old house. I now felt they were jeering at me, mocking me with their vitality. I had loved them at the old house. Now they tormented me. They were still living, still alive, long after Glen took his last breath. How was that possible? I was mad at them, for their life and their growth, for everything that they stood for that Glen no longer could be. I decided it was time to throw them away. I picked all three of them up, feeling the weight of my pain and anger in my arms. I took them into the garage and placed them beside the trash can. I knew I wasn’t going to just leave them there, perfectly intact, while I was a shattered remnant of my old self and my old life. I turned back. I was not okay and they were thriving. Glen was dead and these stupid plants of his were alive. I was not sober, I was not okay. I sat down on the floor next to them. My phone vibrated in my pocket:
Pick up my call
— I’m slowly getting worse. I don’t expect you care
Why u getting worse?
Why can’t you stop?
— I don’t want to
— I don’t need another thing in my life that I’m a fuck up at
— I have enough of those
— Just making it through the day without wanting to hurt myself and then without actually doing it is all I have the energy for
I threw my phone aside. I didn’t want anyone to save me from this. I tipped one of the vases over with my foot, barely cracking it. Unsatisfied by the tiny crack, I stood up and picked up the one that I had tipped over. I felt the smooth edge where the vase had chipped and then with all the rage in my little body, I threw it to the ground. It shattered, little pebbles and little pieces of glass scattering across the ground of the garage and I breathed, a new breath. I sat down in the middle of this mess that I had just made and although it was quiet, it felt loud. It was loud and messy and it wouldn’t stop and I just wanted it to stop. It was loud, I was loud. The sounds escaping from my body were raw and angry.
I feel up until this point, I was cycling through survivor’s guilt and grief. Besides the drinking they were healthy expressions of accepting and expressing my grief, but it didn’t stop there…
I punched at the ground, my hand beginning to bleed. The sight of blood did not give me pause for concern. I wept at how stupid living was and how mad I was at Glen for leaving me. How badly I just wanted to go and be with him. I breathed in the truth of that statement. Then I picked up a piece of glass and pondered making my heart hurt less by hurting my body. The powerlessness took hold and I relapsed. I had been a cutter in my teenage years, I knew this feeling of release well and I wanted that. I wanted to throw caution out the window and all the pats on the back and hugs and “oh, Sandra, you’re doing so well” and “Sandra you’re so strong” and all the coping skills I knew and all the things to live for and people to please and not disappoint and just focus on how I really was doing, horrible. I wanted to focus on my broken heart and broken life. I wanted to stop the pain in my heart by controlling my pain. Controlling where it hurt and how much it hurt. I knew better but I didn’t care, I just wanted to feel in control of my life for one second. So I cut my arm. Then I cut it again. And again. In that very moment, when all rationale has been lost, there is no outside of you. There is only what you feel and nothing else. I was not thinking of the consequences of these actions or how they would affect other people. I just wanted to be in control of my life for a moment. Then suddenly I realized that I didn’t want to be there. Dear God, I didn’t want to be there. I needed to live and thrive. Somewhere in those actions my world came back and I laughed at myself. Laughed because I knew it was so stupid. Deep inside I knew better and knew that there was a reason not to cut again, not to cut deeper. A reason, or maybe two, that I was still needed here.
This realization snapped me out of that dark place. Suddenly, I was everything I didn’t want to be, sitting in the middle of a mess that didn’t look like it could have possibly come from me. Ashamed of falling back into that self-hurting behavior and somehow feeling like an idiot in a room all by myself, I stood up, went in the house and wrapped my arm. I got a broom and a bag and started cleaning up the glass. I swept everything up and put all the pieces and the other two vases into the trash. I finally let go of the idea that by keeping Glen’s plants alive, I could somehow keep Glen alive. I began realizing that sometimes to move into the future we have to leave things in the past and accept new realities no matter how much they hurt. The bamboo was alive; me keeping the bamboo alive was not keeping Glen alive. I was done with the cutting. I am thankful for that, but this episode was not over yet.
I moved to the couch and I sat. Numb I suppose, not really knowing what to do next. I saw my long abandoned drink, so I continued drinking. I drank with a thirst that was unquenchable. The thirst of pain so alive and real and then I got this text from my friend:
Did you cut yourself?
— Scratched myself
— Not cut
— Like there’s a difference
I sat on my couch with my insecurities, my shame, my hurt, and my reality and then a knock at the door. My friend had come back. I showed him the cuts so he wouldn’t worry but the hurt in his eyes was so apparent.I am thankful that he came back. I am thankful for his grace and thankful that he was there to take care of the mess I had become that night. I was coming down and at some point I got sick. He helped me to the bathroom while I got sick. He then helped me into my bed and I slept. My bathroom and my house were clean the next morning for which I am eternally thankful. My house was clean but there was a heavy fog of shame and silence and regret.
I didn’t really talk for a few days after that. Thankfully, I went to counseling and the healing was able to begin. A few weeks ago, I felt myself going to that place again. I wrestled with the feelings for several hours, but this time I reached out. I reached out to the amazing friends and family who surround me. I have no idea what it is in us that makes it so difficult to ask for help when we need it most. Finally, though, a breakthrough. I swallowed my pride and admitted that the depression, with the grief and brain injury is more than I can handle. I have finally released myself of the stigma of mental illness and accept it’s realities because life is too short to try and fight myself. I have been living with depression for a long time. More than half my life. I accept me for who I am and in accepting me, I am free to be real with myself and with others.
I recently read the most beautiful blog entry, ” ‘Conceal Don’t Feel’ Disney’s “Frozen” and the stigma of mental illness” by Genevieve Simpson. She beautifully compares the stigmas of mental illness to Elsa’s “condition” in the movie.
“Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness creates shame in those suffering from it, which, in turn, creates silence, which perpetuates stigma because people are afraid to even talk about it (as I was, before hitting the “share” button on my first blog post.) As I have seen, with the overwhelmingly positive response to my own blog, as more and more people come forward and tell their stories about their struggles with mental illness, I do believe the stigma can and will (slowly) fade away.
The conversation needs to be ongoing. The silence needs to be continually broken.”
She makes several beautiful points, 2 of which I would like to highlight.
“4. ”Conceal. Don’t Feel” turns out to be Elsa’s mantra. (Um…yes. I could write a blog entirely on the subject of trying to “control” one’s condition in a society that doesn’t understand it.)
5. Elsa learns to shut everybody out of her life, even those who desperately want to connect with her. (That song “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” slays my soul!!! I can’t tell you how many times I have felt unlovable and incomprehensible so much so that I’ve locked myself away from the people that care about me. I honestly still do this. Everyone trying to love me deserves a trophy and a spa day.)”
My thoughts. First, number 5…
The hiding out. It happens and it’s true. I feel like there are people singing through the door of my life, looking through the keyhole and as much as I want to say “yes” to their invitations, I just crawl back into my bed. Leaving my bed, my house feels scary and uncertain and why would I leave where I am safe? So I sit, with my back against the door, longing for interaction but not feeling strong enough to breach the world outside.
Do you wanna build a snowman?
Come on lets go and play
I never see you anymore
Come out the door
It’s like you’ve gone away
Please, I know you’re in there,
People are asking where you’ve been
And now the beauty of number 4…I remember watching Frozen for the first time in the movie theater and crying during the Let it Go scene, yes shocking I know. I could so relate to the emotions she was expressing.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
And then the change…
Well now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway
It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway
Acceptance of your shortcoming and your imperfections, feels like this song. It’s invigorating and allows your self-awareness to flourish. I’m not advocating recklessness, rule breaking, or self-indulgence. I’m advocating, becoming self-aware, accepting who you really are and being unafraid.
Perhaps we are all a moment away from letting something go and living the life that is waiting for us. The question has to be, what are you holding on to and what would happen in your life if you let it go and started living?