Saturday October 10th was World Mental Health Day, which got me reflecting on my recent journey through a mental health crisis, so I thought I would share my experience with all of you as a friendly reminder that it’s ok to ask for help when you need it. I suffered several personal losses in 2018 that, taken alone, would have been hard to deal with for many reasons, but the fact that they all happened within a few months of each other only made it worse. I was in denial and didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s holidays with what I thought of as just a bad mood, so I didn’t deal with what happened. I pushed everything to the side and ignored what I was feeling. Not a good thing to do at all. Even if you’re skilled at ignoring the bad stuff, nature will find a way to remind you that you can’t sustain that forever. 2019 started and I wasn’t feeling like myself, but I figured the feelings of unease and discomfort would go away by themselves. What I didn’t realize at the time is what clinical depression actually feels like – it’s different for everyone. For me, it started with extreme anger, to the point where I was having emotional outbursts in public that I’m sure embarrassed and angered my husband, but I couldn’t control myself. I was just pissed off at the world. It was bad enough that if you’d met me back then without knowing what I was going through, you’d have thought I was a total bitch. And you wouldn’t have been wrong. Depression changes you completely, in the worst way possible. Together with the anger was anxiety, the constant feeling that I was going to jump out of my skin if someone so much as said hello to me. I was a mess, to say the least.
As things started getting worse, I started losing interest in the things I loved to do. I began what I call “ugly crying” for no apparent reason – I’d just sob my eyes out and when Bill would ask what was wrong, I couldn’t tell him. Something was so out of kilter that I couldn’t even articulate what I was feeling. My words came out as tears, but even that didn’t help me realize what was going on.
Finally, about seven months or so into this painful journey, I stopped feeling anything. In my mind, I rationalized my dissociation with “well at least I’m not crying anymore, and I’m not constantly sad”. If being that disconnected from everything was my new normal, I was ready to just say “Ok, whatever. This is my life now.” But even as appealing as not feeling angry and sad all the time was, it was awful to think I wouldn’t feel good things anymore.
The turning point for me came when my sweet husband, who was as scared as I was, started trying to figure out what was wrong with me on his own. I came across his internet history where he had been researching depression, and I’ll never forget his first words when I asked him about it: “are you mad at me?” I wasn’t mad at all. In fact, I felt a profound sense of relief because it was as if a safety valve had been released and I finally had a way to talk with him about something that had been tormenting me for months. It took a little time even at that point for me to decide to go to the doctor, but when I did, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Thankfully, I was never suicidal, but I was as close to a breakdown as I want to be ever again. What I experienced made me realize why people who have lost loved ones to suicide often say they had no idea what was going on until the worst happened. You can hide pretty much anything from anyone until you can’t. It’s not the fault of the person suffering from depression, and it’s not the survivor’s fault either. Depression is probably one of the worst diseases out there because it fundamentally changes who you are at your most basic emotional level. I know I wasn’t myself, and I probably didn’t even hide that very well from Bill, but it took his love to help me find my way back.
I was resistant to therapy at first because I thought it meant I was weak, but the true weakness would have been in letting my pride keep me from getting help. We all go through shit at some point in our lives, and we all need each other. If we didn’t humans would be solitary animals. Therapy required me to change my lifelong mindset of not wanting to burden others by talking about my problems, and to be honest, that’s something I’m still working on, even though I’m fine now. There’s no shame in talking and in seeking help. That’s why I’ve chosen to tell my story. My struggle with depression was bad, and it’s a part of who I am (and who I always will be, as I’ll constantly have to be on guard against it) but it doesn’t define me. And it doesn’t define anyone else either. There is always hope. The solution to conquering depression lies in speaking two of the most powerful words in the English language “help me.” We’ve all been through bad stuff and we’re all able to help each other navigate life. Reach out, even if it feels bad or like it won’t help. That’s the first step to recovery. You are not alone.