Depression. It is a word that you hear a lot lately. As the stigmatism of having some kind of mental health issue fades more and more people are willing to discuss the subject, particularly on the internet where we find some degree of anonymity. There is a chance that some friends and family members will read what you have written but chances are that they are well aware of what your issues are, long before they read about them online. If they don’t have a good grasp on it yet then reading about your difficulties and journey can be helpful in assisting them to understand how it is to be you. This is true of every person, mental health issues or no. The majority of people who are online searching for answers to their own inner demons and stumble across your blog will be complete strangers and if they can take at least some comfort out of not being alone in the world then your words have provided both a cathartic release for yourself and possibly a lifeline for someone else.
My own struggle has been going on as long as I can remember, definitely since my early 20’s, probably long before that. Even now saying the word ‘struggle’ does not seem to comfortably fit with my experience. I have a wonderful life. It hasn’t been a day to day struggle, although there were times when I was making other plans and life came and kicked me in the bum. There were moments when I thought ‘how did it come to this?’ but all in all, life has been fairly good to me. I have had my share of joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain, just like everyone else in this world. I was lucky to be born in a country free of war zones or strife, I have never known what it is really like to go hungry or be homeless. In comparison with a large part of the world, I have nothing to complain about.
That said, the fact that many people have a harder, in fact a terrible life does not make the suffering and pain of any other being less valid. We should be grateful each day for the blessings in our lives but learn to live without the guilt in knowing that we are fortunate when so many others are not. We should strive to be kind and generous, to help and assist where we can and offer support and friendship to as many people as possible but we also need to realise that our own feelings are valid at the same time regardless of the situation of others.
For more years than I care to remember I struggled with my issues, call it extreme empathy, depression or whatever box it fits comfortably in. I went through the gamut of emotions, questioning myself and my right to feel this way when my life was so normal, so easy. I considered talking to my doctor so many times and then second guessed myself, telling myself to’ get over it’, ‘suck it up’, ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’. There was no reason to feel the way I felt, no reason to break down emotionally in random situations, no reason for these breakdowns to get worse and more frequent as the years went by. I am lucky in that I don’t have to go out much so most of my breakdowns were confined to home but the concern on my husband’s face as I cried like my life was over for days in a row with no explanation except a wailed ‘I don’t know what is wrong’ in between sobs showed me that he wasn’t sure if he believed me. I hated my breakdowns, I hated myself for worrying the people I loved, I didn’t understand it but I couldn’t help it, I had no control.
The crunch came for me when I broke down in a restaurant one day, out of the blue, no reason needed. I burst into loud sobbing wails and ran from the restaurant with my bewildered kids and husband trailing behind me. Holding my hand over my face to try to block the staring views of strangers and stood on the curb crying like my childhood pet had been run over, right there, in front of me. I was embarrassed for myself and doubly so for my children and husband who were most likely now the subject of some speculation ‘just what did they do to her?’. I thought again about seeing my doctor but again I put it off, telling myself that it was nothing, that I just had to learn to control myself. Considering that I am over 40 and my level of control has been decreasing steadily over the past few years, this was a ridiculous position to take but that was my somewhat wonky reasoning.
2 weeks later I was sitting at my computer reading the news. There was a story there that just by the headline, I knew I should avoid. I did, I ignored that story for 2 full days, then they had an update on the story and I clicked and read and immediately knew that this was one of those things that was going to set me off. I cried for almost a week about that news story. A story about something I had never experienced and that I didn’t relate to personally but the grief I felt was no less real for all that. Every time I thought about it I would break down again, I couldn’t go to sleep, my husband was beside himself. I couldn’t explain myself, I didn’t understand myself…
I went to the doctor, about something unrelated and found myself not wanting to leave once I had finished discussing the issue I had come for. I suddenly blurted ‘I am not coping’ and ‘I need help’ and sat with my hands clenched in my lap waiting for his patient ridicule of my situation. Instead I got questions, calm, thoughtful, considered questions. We discussed my problems, my home life, my health and in the end, satisfied that my emotional outbursts were indeed negatively affecting my life, he offered to write me a prescription if I thought it would help. I said I would think about it and went home again to discuss this idea with my family. I wanted them all to know and see what they thought. If I had been offered treatment for being diabetic then I would have accepted right away and thoroughly discussed it with my family after I got home but with a metal health issue and all of the stigmatism surrounding it, I wasn’t happy to accept help, I wasn’t ready to admit that a tablet might make my quality of life better by adjusting my brain chemistry, not without the support of my family.
I returned to the doctor the next week and got my prescription. I went straight to the chemist and filled it. The lovely lady behind the counter tried to be discreet while talking to me in front of a crowd of strangers and whispered ‘is it for depression?’ I held my head up and answered ‘yes’ admitting it out loud for the first time. I drove home with the little bag on the seat next to me. I sat it on the kitchen bench and looked at it in passing for the rest of the day. That evening I opened the bag and took out the box of tablets, I opened it and was surprised at how tiny they were. I popped one out on the bench and looked at it for a while and went to get a glass of water. It took some time for me to decide to take it, even then I was almost sure that I would find that nothing changed, this couldn’t fix something that wasn’t broken, I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t…broken.
That was 3 months ago now. The tablets made me a bit nauseous for the first few weeks and I yawned a lot, both side effects that I was told about. I was fortunate not to experience any other side effects. My life is pretty much the same today as it was 4 months ago, I am still in love with my husband, I have wonderful kids who drive me a little crazy at times, I have a job and a mortgage and bills to worry about but I don’t cry all the time and I get a lot less migraines than I used to. I cannot explain how much these little white tablets have changed my life, most outsiders who never saw the dark days wouldn’t see any difference. I have cried once since beginning to take my tablets but I cried for a reason, I had a reason to explain my sadness, it didn’t just burst out of me like some alien that had been incubating undetected in my chest, suddenly terrifying both myself and the people around me. Once in 3 months. I can’t believe it myself.
I am not sure if I will take these tablets forever, I am getting older and my hormones are beginning to run riot in my body, changing things forever. Maybe one day I won’t need them anymore, but I am happy to accept their help until that time. I could beat myself up about not talking to my doctor 20 years ago but I no longer have the desire to do that either, it isn’t productive or helpful. It wasn’t productive or helpful for the 20 years that I did do it to myself but at least now I can stop if I start. Being angry and sad and frustrated with yourself for being angry and sad and frustrated is something that just becomes a self-perpetuating spiral of misery.
It isn’t always easy to admit that you need help and it isn’t always easy to see that you really do need help. I am glad I finally did both.