Saturday, 29 September 2012
"Depression's Many Faces"
The Incarnations of Depression
I am Kristin’s mom, and she asked if I would share my varying experiences with depression. At first I thought, “Do I want to expose my story?”, and “If I do, should it be anonymously?” Then, I thought that would go against all that Kristin stands for in her fight to remove the stigma still associated with mental illness. So, here is my story that I have never shared in such detail before.
Trying to Bloom
My first brush with depression came in 1974 – it was what I assumed was post-partum depression (or the Baby Blues which people called it then, diminishing its importance). I was 26 years old with a baby and a five-year old. The depression didn’t start right after my son’s birth, but a few months later. And, it seemed to creep up on me. I don’t remember falling into the black hole that accompanied later bouts of depression, but there was a continual grey cloud in my life. A woman should feel nothing but happiness after a baby is born, right? I loved my kids above all else. But, something was definitely wrong.
At first, I tried to deal with it on my own, hearing my mother’s mantra from my childhood ringing in my ears: “Be Happy. Don’t be sad. There are so many pleasant things, so many things to make us glad.” Bless her heart, but try as I could, I couldn’t make that work for me, so I finally sought help from my family doctor, hoping he would give me a magic pill to make me feel good again. But, that wasn’t his way. He told me to get out and get active. At the time, we were living in a new home on a large sloped lot that needed landscaping. So, I bought some steel-toed work boots, found an old quarry near our home, loaded rocks into the back of our truck, and brought them home to begin building a series of rock terraces. This kept me busy for a few weeks, and got me in great physical shape. But then the discontent raised its ugly head again. Being one who has always tried to “Bloom where I have been planted”, I became obsessed with having the cleanest and most organized home ever, thinking that my identity was tied to that. I scrubbed constantly. The unhappier I was, the harder I scrubbed. We had white shag carpet (remember: this was mid-70s!) which I would get on my hands and knees to clean with a brush.
I was so unhappy and feeling trapped trying to be the perfect mom and wife. I was losing my sense of self-esteem and self-worth and not feeling fulfilled. This time when I consulted my doctor, he told me that perhaps I should consider rejoining the workforce and that I shouldn’t feel bad about it as not all women are meant to be full time homemakers. My son was now two, and that’s what I did – went back “to work”. Having a renewed sense of self worked and depression lifted and didn’t rear its ugly head again until my 30s.
Falling Into the First Black Hole
Ever since puberty, I had major problems with hormonal fluctuations, usually with just physical symptoms, not mental ones. But, at age 32, I was struck with depression again, losing myself along the way, and making some major changes in my life, not realizing my moods were directly related to my monthly hormonal turmoil. During one bad month, I experienced for the first time the feeling of falling into the black hole. I remember trembling on the floor of my bathroom, in a fetal position in the corner, wanting to just disappear from this life. It wasn’t suicidal thoughts, but wanting to end the anguish. I’ll never forget that day. The doctors recognized my health problem, and once I had a hysterectomy at 34, I started to feel renewed and in control of my life again. I had a great family, a great job, and felt good about myself.
To steal my grandson’s comment from his 7th birthday party when he had a minor meltdown, “7 is the worst number.” Well, 40 was my worst number. By then, I had once again lost my sense of self. This time though it had more to do with circumstance and events than hormones. When I was 38, our family moved from Kamloops to Burnaby, full of anticipation for the changes in our life. It was great for my husband who was beginning a new and exciting chapter in his career, but I left behind a great job and entered a totally different employment market. I thought my move would be totally seamless and that I would easily find a great, new job. Little did I know. On my job hunt, I encountered discrimination (“Are you planning to have more children?” “Do you have to miss work once a month?”), and job offers with wages far lower than what I had left behind. It was demoralizing to say the least. I had become “the girl” in an office – and for someone who has always been a feminist at heart, this was the lowest of the low. After one particularly bad day, I decided to strike out on my own and become self-employed. It started with just one small client, but slowly grew. But, self-employment is also lonely, and this didn’t help the unhappiness. I gained weight, and totally lost my self-confidence. The unhappiness continued through most of my 40’s; I felt invisible behind my husband’s success, always in the shadows, feeling my identity was totally tied to my husband’s. Being shy and introverted didn’t help matters – I just retreated even more. Through all those years in my 40s, I never sought medical help, and in 1995, my chronic unhappiness developed into full depression. This time, the black hole was deep, and on one particularly bad day, I started to think of ways to end the suffering. That’s when I decided to see my doctor – but, I also felt instinctively there was something more than depression wrong with me. Turns out, Type II Diabetes had snuck up on me, thanks to the weight gain and lack of physical activity, as well as a strong family link to the disease. I have always been one to tackle challenges head on, so once I got the diagnosis, that’s what I did. After a few days of feeling sorry for myself for having a chronic illness, I learned everything I could about diabetes and became determined to do what I could to live with it as best I could. Through this new-found focus, I lost weight and started to feel good about myself again. Thanks to my sister, I also began to really investigate what being an introvert is all about. I always knew I was “different” from the majority of people, but didn’t realize there was a scientific basis to it. This definitely helped me regain my sense of self and to understand the connection between introversion and depression.
Facing the Future
From 2000 – 2006, there were a number of life-changing events in our family, which as the wife and mother in the family, I thought I had handled well and been strong through it all. But, after the storms had passed and I thought I could start to relax and breathe easier again, I started to suffer severe insomnia which then affected my energy levels and my view of life. I had shut out the creative side of my life, and wasn’t reading like I used to. I would have the radio on all night so that when I woke up I wouldn’t have to face my own thoughts. I knew I was falling into the grey area again. This is what sent me to see the doctor in 2009 – thinking I only needed help with sleeping. But, my wonderful and wise doctor, who knows everything about our family (and I mean everything!), looked at me and said, “What took you so long to ask for help?” He described what I was going through as a form of post traumatic stress syndrome, and that I was actually suffering from depression, not just insomnia. Since that day, I have been taking an anti-depressant (Celexa) that has brought me back to my old self with a renewed sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Sure, like most people, I have some mornings when I’d rather pull the covers over my head for a while. But, that never lasts long.
These days, as I approach 65 in 2013, I am attempting to make more positive changes in my life, a lot of these inspired by watching my strong daughter fight and win her battles. In the words of an old song, “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.” Those words keep playing in my mind as I write this. Well, I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, but I am finally focused on finding me. I have recently sought psychological counseling – SRT (Self Regulation Therapy - an amazingly positive experience) , am re-thinking my life’s priorities and cutting back on some of my workload, thinking about my bucket list, trying to get more physical exercise, spending more time in my garden, and surrounding myself with amazingly positive people who fill my soul. I have also learned that I can’t be a good wife, mother, grand-mother, or friend if I don’t feel good about myself. And, I have also learned that I can’t solve everyone’s problems – perhaps the hardest thing for a woman to learn!
I am so grateful for my family – we’re far from perfect but we have deep love that keeps us together through thick and thin. And, I am forever grateful to a very special friend who has been with me through all these stages of my life. You all know how much I love you!
Thank you to my mother for sharing her stories - I eternally grateful for this and for everything!
P.S. For more information about Self Regulation Therapy (SRT) please visit this site: http://www.cftre.com/courses-seminars/what-is-self-regulation-therapy/#whatis
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