My Journey Through Depression and Back

I’ve wanted to share this post for a while now. I originally wrote it in May, but shortly after I did, my grandfather passed away and so my recovery took a pretty heavy hit. By now I’ve talked to a few of you about this, at least bits and pieces. I’ve even gotten closer to a few new friends who have or are going through similar things. I wrote this to cleanse my soul of the darkness, but I am sharing it so others can benefit from it. I want you to know that there is light at the end of it. It hasn’t been easy to get here, and I’m still working every day to stay in the light, but I’m here, and it’s beautiful.

I have depression. To be specific, I had a Major Depressive Episode in late February that tumbled me over the edge into darkness. There are a lot of factors that led to that episode—I am not going to discuss them all here.

I am going to start by telling you that I have had anxiety for several years. Mostly, I can deal with it, but around the holidays last year it started ramping up to uncontrollable levels. That was the first red flag that something was wrong, but I shrugged it off. It didn’t go away. It only got worse, and I started having some weird obsessive behaviors I’d never had before—racing thoughts that my body just couldn’t keep up with. If you’re a regular follower on this blog, you know that’s when I started pushing myself to read harder books, “study books,” I called them. That’s only a tip of the iceberg. I was trying to be better at everything. Full-on perfectionist mode. Lists EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t stop, and I was ramping up to a crash.

In February, my anxiety really hit a peak, along with a truck load of stress. And then, at the very end of the month, my cat Smokey, who I had raised from a kitten to 16, got very sick and I had to put her down. That was the tipping point. The grief of losing my best friend and furbaby just tore apart any last strength I had. As much as I love Dallas, I hadn’t built up much of a support system here yet, and without friends to reach out to, I just broke.

At first, it just felt like grief. I tried really hard to shrug it off. She was just a cat, right? Why do I feel this devastated? My husband and best friend (who lives several states away) tried to reassure me, but I couldn’t pull myself up. It just got worse instead of better. My motivation for work and yoga fell away. I slept a LOT. I work from home, so the obligation to get up and drag myself into the next room is all that kept me from calling in every day. Cleaning was impossible in any room but that one—where my almost contradictory manic anxiety kept me rearranging drawers and shelves daily. My normal multitasking focus was at a grinding halt—and I didn’t care. I was hardly even reading or blogging (even though my racing perfectionist brain was screaming FAILURE FAILURE!). I stared at my books and lists trying to find the motivation.

I read the first 20% of Moby-Dick three times. I watched a LOT of Gilmore Girls in bed eating pizza my friend ordered me (from Florida) so I would remember to eat something. I didn’t go to yoga for weeks at a time, or would skip classes regularly.

The thing was—there was still a part of me deep inside who wanted to be normal. She wanted to go to yoga with her favorite instructors. She wanted to read and review the books on the list she’d so carefully made for March. And since when is eating ever a problem? Not to mention the added stress of watching the problems at work and not being able to focus enough to fix them, and putting all the household duties on my husband.

But I couldn’t make myself care. And so the two parts of me were at war with each other. This fostered so much self-hatred and self-doubt that it consumed everything. This is the hardest part of my illness to conquer. Normal Haley is a fairly confident person. But I have been reduced to shreds of that now.

I was never actually suicidal. I am grateful that while the darkness consumed me, it could have been much worse. I did suffer from what I was told is “Passive Suicidal Thoughts”—which scared the living hell out of me, and is what led me to get help. These thoughts—like taking a couple of Advil for a headache and then thinking “What if I just took the whole bottle?”—were not a plan, and were never wanted. They popped into my head randomly and usually left me sobbing on the floor. I didn’t take that Advil by the way, headache be damned.

Scary as they were, I know those passive thoughts are a normal part of the monster. And those thoughts and feelings scared me into reaching out for help. With the encouragement and support of my husband, I contacted my work’s Employee Assistance Program for a counselor. My counselor was helpful in breaking down the cause of what I was going through and gave me the diagnosis of what is going on. She also included R in one of the sessions so he could more easily understand what I was going through.

We determined that medication would be helpful, both for my depression and anxiety. It took a couple of tries to find the right anti-depressant that worked for me, but thankfully I have a fantastic physician, and when we found the right one it was like turning on a light.

I still have a lot of work to do, and after several months most of my days are pretty great. Every once in a while I’ll have a few days where I wake up and go “oooooh no, ooooh no.” But for the most part, I’m doing much better. My yoga practice has strengthened again, and I’m reading enough that I can do blog posts most every day. I’m feeling much more organized, and I’m even taking a free psychology class online just because.


This is a very long post, I know, but I have just a few more things to say before I’m done.

I did leave some details out on purpose. I’m not going to disclose all of the original triggers for personal reasons, so please don’t ask. Keep in mind that while I am much stronger and am mostly out of depression, my anxiety is still a constant battle. Please be respectful of that.

I am not going to list the names of my medications, mostly because different meds work for different people. I don’t want you to make decisions based on what works for me—I think part of our problem today is everything is advertised now. Don’t just try what you see. Talk to your doctor, he/she may have ideas of what is best for your situation. Also, if something isn’t working for you after a few weeks, tell them. Don’t stay on a medication that makes you feel worse! My first AD made me want to sleep for 18+ hours a day, and the minute I walked in to my doctor’s office, he knew we needed to change it. When we did, suddenly the lights came on, almost to the point where I was disoriented because I didn’t know where all the energy came from and I overcorrected a bit. Things have levelled off now.

I have done a lot of reading on mental illness over the years—it is a personal interest/passion of mine. I have also had depression before, although I did not seek help at the time. Self-diagnosis can be a helpful thing when the symptoms are mild—you can find all sorts of resources online now. But there came a point when I couldn’t combat the monster myself anymore. Sometimes it’s just too big. And that is OK! Depression is an illness, just like the flu. Sometimes, we can defend ourselves. But other times, we need a doctor’s care and medicine, before we can fight it off. That doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.


 

How can you get help? There’s so many different ways!

I went through my Employee Assistance Program. Most larger companies have some sort of system like this through their benefits program, and usually they are set up so employees can get help without the HR and managers knowing about it.

Colleges also have similar programs set up. Depression and anxiety are so common where students are in unstructured, stressful environments away from home. I know mine had a whole counseling center for that purpose.

For those younger people, talk to your parents if you can. If not—find a mentor. Guys, I PROMISE there is an adult out there who has noticed a change in you, even if you don’t realize it. A teacher, a religious leader, your favorite librarian. Someone. Reach out to them. They can help.

Depression is SO hard. And everyone has their own monster to fight. There is pain, there is apathy, there is self-hatred, and there is all consuming darkness. But I promise, at the end, there is light. I know because I can see it. I’m not all the way out standing in it yet, but it’s there, and it’s getting closer. And so I reach for it, every day.

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I can’t do a post about depression without giving you the most important resources–where to go if you REALLY need help right away. Guys, there is absolutely no shame in admitting that you cannot do it alone anymore. *raises hand* I had to admit it. Below are some hotlines if you are in crisis, or know someone in crisis.

I’ve listed a lot of numbers below, but did you know there’s also now a chat set up? For people with anxiety, it’s pretty great. I don’t know about you, but I really hate calling people (pretty ironic for someone who talks on the phone all day, huh?)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

 

You Can’t Just “Shake Off” Depression

A link was shared with me today that raised my blood to full boiling point. You can check out the article by clicking HERE. (Oh, and the IUPUI’s Press Release, because it is being endorsed by the school:  HERE). Trust me, it’s not pretty.

A freshman at IUPUI decided it would be a fantastic project to pop a video camera in the schoolyard, play Taylor Swift’s peppy new song “Shake it Off,” and let people dance with clown hair and other props. All with the tag for suicide prevention.

Because people with depression can absolutely SHAKE OFF their sadness, emotions, and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.

 

 

My initial reaction when I saw who made the project was the typical excuse. “Oh, he’s a freshman, he has no maturity. He’s just some dumb kid with a video camera.” But you know what, no. That’s not an excuse. I have had brilliant conversations with 15 year olds who know exactly what depression is. They feel it. Every single day they battle with it. They know what it is like, to sit in a dark room, hiding under blankets, afraid to talk to anyone, not really caring even to open a book or turn on the TV, because nothing feels. Not even feels right, just nothing feels like…anything. They go to school because they have to, and no one understands why their work is “half-assed,” when they are really intelligent kids. It’s not because they aren’t trying on purpose, it’s because their brains just have no energy left. They have essentially run out of gas.

So all those excited, happy people dancing on the video? What we aren’t seeing are the depressed people sneaking by behind the camera. “Please don’t see me, I can’t dance today.” And that’s just those who are even walking on campus, trying to make it to class in the sunshine.

Sunshine. What a curse it is sometimes. Like dancing, it is a sign of happiness, joy, life. And for some, it’s the devil, nosing in the window to see if you’re ready to come out yet. Why can’t the world just leave well enough alone?

 

My depression was situational, not clinical, thankfully. There was a period of about 2 years where the darkness closed in and I really just didn’t know what to do. My life was broken, and so I felt erased, worthless, and so completely emotionally damaged that most of my strength was just gone. I didn’t ask for help, I was too proud, too ashamed. I was never suicidal, thankfully my world never got that black. But the monster that attacked was a very real thing.

That’s over now, and looking back, it’s so frightening to see the pit I had dug for myself. Sometimes you don’t realize how far down you have gone until you’re out of it. And mine was only one long moment. One chunk of life. My heart crushes at the thought of my friends who suffer from clinical depression–those that feel this way on a periodic or cyclical basis. I’ve had people close to me snuffed out too soon, and while their pain ends, it’s devastating to the family and friends who cared for them. We never really know the depth of the pain people are in.

Depression is a beast.  Sometimes, it grabs you all at once and sucks you under. Other times, it takes you like that frog in the slowly heating pot of water, warming you until you boil. And what is really, truly scary about it, is the entire time it’s taking you….you stop caring. It steals your feelings, it steals your ability to choose what happens to you. It becomes this big dark blanket that wraps around you, at first it is comfortable, soft, warm. Ok, it’s nice to be alone and quiet for a bit. And slowly, slowly, slowly…you suffocate. And by that point, you’ve isolate yourself so well, that no one recognizes that you’re drowning. And that is why everyone is always so surprised when someone commits suicide.

 

This is why the video and the article upset me so much. You can’t just “shake off” depression. It’s not just a bad day or an attitude that you can dance away. Even if there are depressed people in that video, and there might very well be–I don’t know their story–chances are…it’s a mask. We are really good at masks (another reason people get surprised).

I am sure Harris’s point was to raise awareness. I see that at it’s base, and I am sure that is why IUPUI is endorsing it. These things go viral so quickly. We saw what happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge. And while a lot of great awareness and money raising came out of that…I just don’t see a real benefit to this specific video. All I see is a really terrible catch phrase, and a whole bunch of hurting people being pushed further into the dark. I hope I am wrong. Or, that someone comes up with a twist to this that actually promotes suicide awareness in a different, more helpful light. It is so needed.

 


 

A Disclaimer, and some information:

  • I am clearly not an expert on depression and mental illness but it is something that interests me and is near to my heart, so I spend a lot of focus on it personally. I experienced it myself, and I’ve had a lot of discussions with my friends who have seen and experienced this. I’ve also done a lot of reading on the subject…because that’s what I do when I’m passionate about something.

If you need help, please please please, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed or scared to ask for help. There are SOOOOO many people out there who have gone through what you have gone through, or have been trained to help you. Tumblr now will even pop up and check on you if you type Suicide in the search box. Reach out to your people. Even online people. We are here. And there are more of us who love you than you think. Don’t let that monster take you under. We will notice. You will be missed, I promise you that.

 

Trees of Reverie September Readathon Daily Bookish Challenges Day Thirteen

If you could choose one relatively unknown, underrated or under appreciated book to share with others, which book would you recommend to others?

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Another one of my favorite books is The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I watched the movie before reading the book, and I watched this movie over and over again. I was in love with the characters long before picking up the book, and so I instantly fell in love with the writing.

Cunningham hosts three women in parallel–along the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan all live very different lives, separated by time and culture, but their worlds are so similar in many ways, and they all circle back around each other.

I love the darkness that hides in the corners of this book. Depression and madness were like a shawl that Woolf wore every day, and the other two women constantly try to shrug it off.

What really causes me to recommend this book though, are what Cunningham writes about Woolf. I always tell people who want to read Virginia Woolf’s work to read this first, and then read Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf’s work is really jarring to read sometimes, but this will give you a (admittedly dramatized) look into the end of her life and you will understand more of where she comes from. Her work is so personal, and I think it’s important to understand her state of mind to really appreciate her writing. Reading her journals are another step as well. Woolf’s mind was incredibly brilliant, and incredibly tortured. She’s one person I would really love to discuss the world with. And I know she would find me absolutely ridiculous.

The Innocent Man

My husband has about a bazillion John Grisham books, so they make their way into my TBR list every now and then. I had expected fiction when The Innocent Man appeared next on the list, but nope. This was nonfiction.

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And the fact that this is a true story just royally pisses me off.

This is a story about two men, actually, who were tried AND CONVICTED, for a murder they did not commit. One was sentenced to life in prison, and the other, a man who was severely mentally ill, sentenced to the death penalty.

That’s horrible in itself, but that’s not even what made me so angry. Just the horrendous treatment of Ron, the abuse, the neglect. All of it. You have this bipolar, schizophrenic man in need of daily monitoring and he is repeatedly left to his own devices and constantly broken down and ridiculed. Grisham points out in almost every chapter where Ron will stop taking his medicine because he’s depressed or doesn’t understand what the medicine does (which is a symptom of his disease). And then he was in prison, the absolute abuse from the guards who knew how to push his buttons and make him collapse into a psychotic mess. Ugh. I just wanted to scream for someone to help him.

As far as writing style goes, I wasn’t a big fan. This was very reportish, not so much a story. There wasn’t much dialogue or live action, it was all very journalistic. Obviously I had very strong opinions about what I was reading, but it was a very boring read really. Also, Grisham kept going off on tangents about other cases and people out of nowhere. Unless you have a strong law background, those aren’t going to make a lot of sense.

This is probably a 2 star book for me. I have strong feelings about Ron for a few different reasons, but I didn’t really enjoy the book itself at all.