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I am here to tell you that Depression is REAL

Today’s guest blog is from a friend of mine.  I have know her for many years and she is an amazing person.  She doesn’t want to have this disease but the reality is that she does.  She shares her story so that other people can become aware of this disease.

Last year when Robin Williams committed suicide, it put depression and how real it is temporarily in the limelight. Depression impacts every socio economic level, even famous stars who we believe to have it all. After a few weeks, though, it was once again swept under the rug.  We have come a long way over the past couple of decades when it comes to education and the social stigma associated with mental illnesses, but not nearly as far as we need to.  Unfortunately, in our society, most people still don’t talk about mental illness the same way they do as other major diseases like cancer or arthritis.  People who suffer with this disease still feel some level of shame and embarrassment for having the disease. Others are uncomfortable talking about depression and many of times think that people “should just get over it.” ….ah…if it really were that simple.

As a person who suffers with depression, I’m here to tell it is absolutely a real disease that affects not only me, but all of my loved ones, sometimes even more than other diseases.

I was first diagnosed with this disease when I was 19 and a sophomore in college. I had no idea what wad going on when it hit me.  I just knew I didn’t feel like myself and luckily my parents knew something was wrong and got me help. We had all kinds of tests done to rule out physical illnesses and finally I saw a psychiatrist who said I had depression and prescribed medication.  It worked and once I felt better I came off the medication and was fine about five years with no other episodes. I proudly made it through 4 1/2 years of college, moved to Houston, got a job and started my “adult life.” When it happened again I had a better idea what was going on, but I still wasn’t sure.

Fast forward several years to the time when I met the man of my dreams.  As we begin getting more serious I felt it was only right for me to disclose to him that I had this disease that I took medication for. He was absolutely SHOCKED, but had no problem with it.

A few years later, I became pregnant with our first daughter. It took us a while and a lot of effort and medical assistance to get to this point so of course we wanted to make sure I stayed healthy throughout my pregnancy. I was able to find a doctor who was comfortable with me staying on my medication as long as possible because we figured it was better to have a mom on medication than one who was in depression and not taking care of herself which could negatively impact the baby. We were worried with my history that postpartum depression would be an issue for me so we watched it closely and everything was great. Things changed, however, when I went back to work.  I had another episode, far worse than I had ever had. I actually had to take a leave of absence from work which had never happened before. I recovered and went back to work.

After two years we were delighted to find out we were expecting our second daughter and things were going great…..until they weren’t. When it was time to go back to work I just couldn’t do it, so had to take another leave of absence. I was very fortunate to work for a company that had a good disability program and bosses who were understanding. Luckily I was always able to come back to work. Again, things were good until last August when I got laid off. Once again, I found myself in a deep depression. With the help of my doctors and family, I am finally good but this time it took longer to get to this place.

I would like to tell you I will never suffer another episode, but history tells me that’s not the case and the best thing I can do is to recognize the signs early and get help as fast as I can.  I’ve learned all kinds of tools over the years, but the reality is that when it hits, it feels like I am being hit with a ton of bricks none of it matters. You feel so helpless and lost that you can’t access the part of your brain that has these tools. My close friends and family are aware that I have this awful disease, but there are a few of them that don’t like to talk about it. Maybe I didn’t need to give you the history to tell this story, but I wanted to paint the picture that depression is a real disease that impacts real people that you all probably know and love and you may not know about it because they are ashamed to talk to you about it.

When someone looks at my life on paper they would say “she has no reason to be depressed” and I would agree. I have an amazing family, the best husband in the world,  two wonderful daughters, and great friends.  I haven’t suffered any traumatic events in my life that would cause depression, so for me it truly is a chemical imbalance. It seems to have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and more frequent since I had children. We’ve also noticed a pattern over the last several years that it seems to occur shortly after daylight savings time changes so there be that aspect to it as well. It doesn’t seem to be situational for me either because there have been times that situations occurred that you would think would throw me into depression and they didn’t and episodes have occurred when things are going great in my life and I have everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

One thing people always tell me when I am in an episode is that I don’t seem sad and the truth is that I’m not. I am more numb than anything else.  I would love to tell you that it’s never gotten bad enough that I contemplated killing myself, but that’s not the case.  It’s scary to actually put it in writing but I want people to know because the only way suicides can be prevented is if we talk about it. Luckily I have never made an attempt on my life or even developed a plan, but I have wanted it to happen. I absolutely hate saying that, but it’s the truth.  I will tell you though, that the thing that keeps me going is knowing how much it would hurt my family if I did do something. When I look back after an episode I can’t believe I ever thought those thoughts because when I’m myself I love life and everything about it, but it s what it is and unfortunately that’s my reality. I feel very fortunate that I have the most understanding husband and parents because if I didn’t I’m not sure I would still be here. I can absolutely sympathize with people who have come to a point where they take their life. There are all kinds of situations, but I can tell you that to the person who actually does it is not selfish or taking the easy way out,,, it’s their only way out. For me, the thing that keeps me going is knowing that my girls would be much better off having a sick mother than no mom at all and my husband and I have a lot of life left to live together. 

You may wonder what a day in the life of a depressed person is like, so here is a typical one for me:  Wake up and get family ready,  go back to sleep for a little while,  watch TV and try to get myself to go for a walk or exercise,  watch more TV and then maybe eat lunch,  take a shower and get dressed (even though I can’t stand how I look), go to appointment if I have one, watch more TV, cook dinner,  spend time with family before they go to sleep and then watch more TV. During this time I constantly “think” I should be doing other things,  but can’t make myself do them and I’m usually texting my husband or friends about how I’m feeling. 

Depression is a much more common disease than people realize.  I guarantee anyone you talk to knows someone who has it. Of course there are different levels of it just like any other disease, but it impacts tons of families and it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor,  educated or not,  married or single, employed or unemployed,  etc. So…..let’s start talking about it and stop being a shame of it. Maybe more lives could be saved if people who suffer in silence realized they aren’t alone and they don’t need to be ashamed. I can tell you though,  no matter how many times I have episodes,  when I’m in the middle of one I still feel like I’m alone and it’s all my fault that I have this disease and still need to take medication. Every time I tell someone new that I suffer from this disease I find out something about them I would have never known if I didn’t share this information. One of my biggest concerns as a mother is that this could be something I pass on to my children., but I know that’s not something I can control so I shouldn’t worry about it. At least if they do have it, I’ll know what to look for and how to get them help. 

I have depression and I’m doing my best not to be ashamed of that fact (yes it’s a fact). Unfortunately it’s a disease that can’t be diagnosed with a test or x-ray or scan so it’s much less understood than other diseases, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just as real and scary as many other diseases out there. Please talk to your friends and family and know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you or someone you love suffers from this disease and it’s very treatable.

If you think someone you care about is going through depression here are some of the signs you can look for:

– Withdraws from their normal activities

– Asks lots of silly questions about everyday life that make no sense

– Compares themselves to other people and never measures up

– Sleeps more or less than usual

– Doesn’t want to interact with their friends and family

– Completely loses their self confidence

– Becomes obsessed with the fact that they don’t feel like themselves

My question for you is this:  Do you know someone who suffers with this disease or someone who now you think may have it?

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