Everyone tells me to write from my heart. Most of the time that’s what I’ve been doing, albeit the days where I try to “Fake it til I make it.” Isn’t that the way most of us are though? I know I’m not the only one who has just existed in a relationship, a job, a personal choice, or an obligation. It’s a little thing called life and responsibility that separates us from those who choose not to keep pushing themselves.
That’s why today I am going to talk about something that has affected me both personally and professionally. It’s called mental illness and it’s something that is finally coming to the forefront as a serious issue. I have suffered with depression and anxiety for years. I just didn’t want to own up to it. I thought that it made me look weak. I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem with it. After all, you can’t seem to be the glue around your peers if you look weak right? Nope. Wrong. In the last few years, I’ve learned what strength is.
Strength isn’t being able to just lift objects that are heavy. Oh no. Strength is something that comes from inside you. Just like everything else in your lives, strength has to be nurtured and cultivated. There has to be an inner exercise that allows you to live healthier and more productive lives. My depression started in a marriage that wasn’t healthy. Our relationship was based more off of physicality than anything else. In hindsight, I see that now. We should have stayed friends instead of getting more involved. He has his own demons to fight. I can’t answer for him. I can only answer for me. I truly loved him and respected him but he didn’t love me and respect me the way I should have been loved. Mentally, this took a toll on me. I didn’t understand what I had done to make him want to hurt me so badly. But as i looked on our relationship, I was just as guilty as he was. I didn’t have the backbone to stand up for myself. I let him win because I didn’t want the fighting. As a result, my depression worsened. I hid it for a very long time.
In fact, as our marriage was crumbling I wanted a child desperately. I did what so many others do, I got pregnant in hopes of saving our marriage. God knew that it wouldn’t have been healthy for the child or for us. He took the child through a miscarriage. Not a day goes by that I don’t long for that baby. Especially now that ‘i can no longer have children but the healthy part of me knows that my child would not have been happy. And frankly neither would I. A big part of me died with the death of that baby. There was a part of me that kept putting on a happy face for everyone around me but inside I was dead. I looked forward to seeing one person on a regular basis and even that had it’s drawbacks. It seemed like all I saw around me was sadness and despair. Even when I tried to “snap out of it”, I couldn’t. All I could do was keep going.
I think that’s why it was easier to blame so many others and even things for my depression. I refused to talk to the doctor about what was happening because the doctor I was seeing at the time liked to prescribe pills for just about everything. I don’t like taking medicine unless I have to because there are a ton of chemicals out there and if you mix them with other meds, sometimes it can have adverse effects. Fortuntately, my doctor left the practice and I was given another physician who took the time to listen to what I was dealing with and helped me to get back on the right track. It’s amazing what the right medicine and care can do to help you regain your life and your mental state of being.
For me, learning how to recognize my depression was the first step in getting treatment. One of the symptoms of depression is persistent sadness. This was definitely true in my case. I have a very analytical mind. I question things most people wouldn’t. I have a tendency to nit pick at information and drive my friends crazy with questions. When I was filled with sadness about my child and marriage crumbling, i put on a face in public. I would act as if nothing bothered me but inside I was weeping. My heart had been shattered into millions of pieces and nothing felt like it was ever going to be right again. I would go home and my cat would get on top of me at night and purr letting me know she was there. She was dying from kidney disease and in constant pain but she let me know she would be there until she couldn’t anymore. If it hadn’t been for her during that time, I don’t know that I would have been okay. She took my sadness and absorbed it in her body. She died a little over a year ago and while i miss her greatly, I’m very grateful to her. She showed me true unconditional love.
Self loathing is another symptom of depression. There’s a lot of people out there who will tell you that we are our own worst enemy. Some people take out their hatred of themselves by cutting themselves or inflicting pain on themselves or others. It’s not healthy to do this. Society has often made too light of situations where people are taking the loathing to an extreme. I was once anorexic. I wanted to be so skinny that I didn’t recognize the damage I was doing to my body. It took seeing some of my favorite performers like Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters in the 70’s and 80’s dying to make me understand the seriousness of what I was doing to my body. Then my parents sat me down and made me watch a series on anorexia. It shook me because everything that I saw on tv, was what I was dealing with. I was close to having been hospitalized. I got that part of my life under control but transferred other ways of handling my depression and stress into just as damaging issues.
Loss of interest was becoming common place for me. I used to love my walks in the park. I would make a point of exercising even in the worst weather possible. That ended when my depression escalated. I lost a lot in a very short amount of time. My dad had a heart attack, my job was laying me off, my marriage and child were lost, Then not long after that, my father was diagnosed with cancer and was dead within a year. My whole world was turned upside down. A man I loved and thought I could trust had thrown in the towel on our marriage and said repeatedly he would get me back but had he put as much effort into our relationship as he did to creating an illusion, then we might have at least been honest with each other much sooner than we had been. Once my trust was broken in my marriage, I noticed that trust was broken in friendships too. While I refuse to accept the blame for all the friendships ending, I acknowledge I could have handled things better. What I’ve learned from all of this is that true friends will talk to you about why they are upset with you, whereas people who are users only talk to you when they want something. I think this is one of the reasons that I just didn’t really want to do anything with anyone. I couldn’t trust people and my interest just dissipated. Plus, money was getting short and if you ever wonder who your friends truly are, then look for the ones who stick around even when your money is in short supply.
These kinds of scenarios caused a lot of irritability and isolation. I’m really grateful for the friends who pulled me out of the isolation and allowed me to be irritable. They are my rock and foundation because let me tell you all, it wasn’t pretty. When you get into a bitch mode and won’t get out of it for a long while, it gets old. But when you have friends who let you deal with the anger, the bitterness, the rejection, the isolation, the frustration and confusion, and still love you for who you are, you better hold onto those friendships. Because those are the people who will walk with you through hell and back and be the true angels on earth. There are no perfect people in this world. We all go through various types of emotions and stages but there are good people who have your back. They are the ones that I can truly attest understand what real friendship is. So to them, Debbie, Darla, Ken, Renee, Shari, and any of the others I didn’t name but who were there, I love every one of you. You all understand what friendship really means.
Anxiety is another beast that I’ve dealt with my whole life. I always felt I never measured up. I spent more time comparing myself to others and hating myself for not being what I thought I should be. It took me a long time to understand that I needed to be Gibbs slapped. If any of you watch NCIS, you’ll understand that meaning. It’s not about what we fail or succeed at in life. It’s about trying your best but as a society, expectations are placed on people to not fail. The most popular boys and girls in the schools are usually the ones who make everything look so easy. The truth is that they have just as much riding on them if not more than others. Anxiety is a real issue. It’s a beast that with therapy and the right meds, can be controlled. Sometimes it takes both therapy and meds. Sometimes it just takes one of those things but the truth is that we have got to stop berating ourselves. Look, if I fail, at least I know what not to do the next time. If I succeed, great. But I am the one who has to be able to say that I tried. I can’t do that if I just give up or let my own fears and anxiety win and neither should anyone else.
Loss of energy and lack of sleep go hand in hand. Over the years I’ve developed sleep apnea. My energy level gets zapped because I don’t get great rest. While I am in the process of getting this corrected, it’s really frustrating because first no one likes to think that they have a problem with snoring or with their sleep and second, it’s not something that most people like to discuss. Me? I’m pretty much an open book. I’ve learned that there are some things that I can and can not control. Right now I’m in the process of getting this under control but there are many people who don’t have the ability or the resources to do this. Sleep Apnea can kill you. It’s a lot like depression. It’s a silent killer just like stress and all these factors play into a very dangerous situation.
Changes in your appetite can also be red flags. If you have always been hungry and then all of a sudden not want to eat there could be something wrong. The same is true if you are not usually hungry and then start binge eating a lot. The truth is that we all handle things differently. If I were a lot younger, I guarantee you that I would be exhibiting reckless behaviour. The reason? I enjoyed doing things with adrenaline when it was just me but when someone else was with me, that changed the schematic. I’m glad that I let fear ground me in those cases but not everyone does.
I never really considered suicide much but there are too many people who do. Suicide is not a joke. It’s not something that you generally get a do over on. What people who commit suicide don’t think about are the people that they are affecting by committing this final act. But when the depression takes over, often times those things never enter a person’s mind. This is why suicide prevention programs are critical. Life is so precious. Please. I beg you. Never let anyone or anything make you feel that suicide is an option. You are worth so much. Each one of you is special and the world needs you. If you are fighting severe bouts of depression, please, please, please, get help. I’ve lost too many people I care for greatly to not beg each of you struggling to reach out to programs that can help. Here is the number for
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255
No matter what we do in life, we all matter. We all have struggles, tears, joys, heartbreak, jubilation and journeys. My journey with mental health will be ongoing for life. Many of you are fighting similar battles but we don’t have to do it alone. We have a network of people who understand and we have each other.