The Truth About Depression: An Honest Moms Speak Out essay

Editor’s note: I’m happy to bring back the Honest Moms Speak Out essay series. Every week, Honest Mom will feature a reader’s story about her mental health battles and triumphs. The goal of these essays is to give women who deal with similar challenges hope, and to help them to feel less alone. If you would like to contribute, read this (you do not have to be a blogger to participate). And you can read other HMSO essays here. Thanks to Marcia for sharing her story with us!

When the country first learned of Robin Williams’ suicide last year, people were scratching their heads, confused over what would have driven America’s favorite funny man to end his life so abruptly. On the surface, Williams he had everything: a unique brand of humor that brought him fame, a loving family and a multitude of adoring fans. How could he have been so unhappy as to take his own life?

Only those who have a personal experience with depression can understand the scope of pain from this form of mental illness. It is a debilitating disease that robs a person of the simplest joys in life. It carves a hole too deep to fill in the hearts of those who wrestle with the inner demons of this acute, medical condition.

Depression is a nondiscriminatory disease that strikes every age, race, gender and class. It manifests itself in the form of physical pain, lack of self-worth, shame, helplessness and hopelessness. It is an invisible wound that is often misdiagnosed and in some cases, difficult to treat.

Those suffering from depression view the world through a warped lens where everything is distorted and emotions are muted. Even when surrounded by a loving family, they feel utterly alone. And while others marvel at the sun’s glorious rays as it rises over the ocean, they can only feel the weight of their emptiness. It’s not as simple as choosing to be happy. Depression traps people under a numbing layer of ice and leaves them gasping for air.

How do I know this? Depression has been a part of my life since childhood. Growing up, I felt out of place, even in my own family, and lonely for reasons I never understood. I woke each day with a sense of foreboding, and at times, became panicky at the thought of leaving my house. It was a struggle for me to find the smile that seemed to come so easily to others. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I only knew that something inside was broken.

At the age of six, it was impossible for me to explain how I felt, and I was too ashamed to tell anyone for fear they would think I was abnormal. In my family, emotions were not easily expressed, and any show of anxiety or depression was frowned upon. It didn’t help that during that era of my childhood, there was a negative stigma attached to depression. Admissions of feeling isolated or extremely unhappy were viewed as a weakness of character and a lack of courage to overcome a difficult situation.

The shame I felt for having a disease I didn’t understand followed me well into my teens. I went through bouts of binge-eating, self-loathing and cutting. This type of behavior was the only release I had from the unexplainable, inner turmoil that plagued my life.

It took years of battling depression, phobias and suicidal thoughts before I realized I needed help in waging the war against losing my sanity. When I finally confided in my husband about my illness, it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Speaking openly about my anxiety and depression validated what I was feeling, and in turn, enabled me to open up to others who were struggling with the same disorders. In time, I found the courage to speak to my doctor, who then prescribed antidepressants after a long evaluation period. For me, it was the turning point that gave me a sense of control in my life, something that had been lacking inside me since I was a child.

There is no quick fix for depression, as each case is unique. It is a dark and frightening disease that cannot be cured with alcohol, drug abuse, or sex. In some cases, intense therapy and even love can’t save a patient from the inner demons that haunt them. Antidepressants work successfully for some, while for others, it functions as a temporary patch over a leaky valve that threatens to burst. Once the seal is broken, a storm of uncontrollable emotions is unleashed, driving many to the brink of desperation.

There are plenty of critics who view depression as a temporary state of “sadness”, and suicide as a selfish act of cowardice that inflicts unimaginable pain on the survivors. This is an unfair assessment of a disease that society still knows so little about. Depression is not a choice. It’s a mental illness associated with an immeasurable depth of despair and hopelessness that leads far too many people down the dark path to suicide.

It took the loss of a comedic genius last year to shed light on our country’s inability to recognize the difference between ordinary sadness and major depression. Society as a whole needs to erase all preconceived notions of depression and the stigmas attached to this debilitating disease.

Our job is not to judge or blame. It’s time we promote awareness and help those suffering from depression find the inner peace they deserve. Compassion and understanding are the gateway to hope and finding the courage to seek help. Only then can the people we love begin to heal.

photo credit: Alejandra thinking II via photopin (license)

The Truth About Depression: An Honest Moms Speak Out essay

My Right to Be a Mother: An Honest Moms Speak Out essay

Lauren Stevens from lo-wren.com

Editor’s note: I’m thrilled to present the first essay in a new series on Honest Mom: Honest Moms Speak Out. Every week, Honest Mom will feature a reader’s story about her mental health battles and triumphs. The goal of these essays is to give women who deal with similar challenges hope, and to help them to feel less alone. If you would like to contribute, read this (you do not have to be a blogger to participate). I want to give Lauren a special virtual hug for being our first HMSO essay. I’m honored to feature her!

Lauren Stevens from lo-wren.com

This is a beautiful photograph of my son and myself, our smiles caught on camera during a candid moment together. I love this photo because it captures a good moment, one that betrayed how I really felt at that time. Taken just weeks after suffering my second miscarriage, I was in a horrible state of depression and well on my way to feeling suicidal. This isn’t something too many people outside of my immediate family know, but now I’m sharing it with the world.

My first miscarriage was devastating, and I was traumatized by the succession of medical mishaps that followed; but sadness turned to optimism when I found myself pregnant again three months later. Pregnancy is never the same for a woman who has suffered a miscarriage; there is always doubt and fear lurking when a woman, who’s suffered a loss, discovers she is pregnant again. I remember the mix of emotions I experienced, after the pregnancy test confirmed what I had already known: happiness (I could, indeed, get pregnant again!), anticipation (we were going to be expecting another baby!), and apprehension (would this pregnancy stick?).

I remember telling my husband that I wasn’t going to allow myself to get excited, or fully accept this pregnancy, until I hit the 14-week mark. If I have to be completely honest, the depression I was suffering, combined with the apprehension I felt, did not allow me to accept this pregnancy as a truth. Sure, I felt pregnant, but I had felt pregnant before — and had lost the baby.

I’m sure you know how this story ends. Sometime during my ninth week I began to bleed; days later, I stocked-up on prenatal vitamins during a buy one, get one free sale, and I lost the baby at home the following day. Oh, the irony. I was alone when it happened, holding my baby in my hand and wondering what the hell I was supposed to do now.

Devastation doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I was in shock, and quickly spiraled to depths so dark it rocked me to the core of my being; the only way to describe how I felt was that my mind was constantly sabotaging and betraying me. I was afraid to leave my house, my mind concocting nightmarish scenarios, the worst of which was being broadsided by a train when driving across train tracks. I had no energy, and spent each day counting down the minutes until my son’s nap times. Those times, between naps and bedtime, I spent on the couch, alternating between staring into space and crying uncontrollably. Those were the most difficult months of my life.

I had spiraled so far down that I was a miserable person to be around; I made life a living hell for my family. My husband worked long hours with a four-hour commute, and he bore the brunt of my abuse. My son; oh, my poor son. Not yet a year-and-a-half old, and definitely not understanding why mommy was crying all of the time, my son was a typical toddler. My throat was often hoarse from yelling, as my toddler wouldn’t follow any directions (as toddlers are wont to do), and I found myself having to fight the urge to slap my son when he didn’t listen. At some point, maybe after the first time I spanked him, while tussling during a diaper change, I realized that things were not okay. I was not okay.

In my grief over losing two babies, I had forgotten to cherish my son. I dreamed of going to sleep and never waking up; I asked my husband for a divorce, and told him that I understood why women abandoned their families. A constant struggle was taking place in my mind, knowing that it was wrong for me to lash out so quickly, but still wanting to walk away from it all. I questioned my right to be a mother.

If you had asked me about postpartum depression (PPD) before my losses, I would have told you that I thought that it was something women experienced after giving birth; something experienced by a woman in the throes of parenting a newborn and making do with only precious few hours of sleep a day. It wasn’t until I suffered my second miscarriage, the second in seven months, and found myself in an increasingly downward spiral, that I hit the internet in search of answers. To my surprise, I found that many women suffer from PPD after miscarriage, even with first trimester losses. I became certain that the abyss in which I was living was much, much more than grief in response to losing two babies.

Thankfully, my husband wasn’t too afraid to suggest that I get help, even looking into in-patient behavioral help facilities out of desperation. I found it difficult to get proper care with any immediacy, as I wasn’t necessarily in need of institutionalization. After going through the ridiculous intake process, I finally met with a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me in twenty minutes, and I left with a prescription in hand. I re-established ties with my former therapist, and began the difficult work necessary to begin to reach a state of emotional health.

Within two weeks of starting medication, my daily panic attacks ceased. After one month, my outlook had become increasingly positive, and after two months I had stopped imagining horrible accidents happening with my son (those thoughts and dreams were the worst, leaving me shaking in cold sweats and fighting to catch my breath). I began to find joy in the unlikeliest places, and also came to the realization that I had been suffering from depression long before I suffered my miscarriages.

I have been blessed to have found a wonderful mental health team, with my therapist and new psychiatrist working together to guide me to achieving my mental health goals. With help from talk therapy, I’ve been able to find acceptance. I now respond to life with gratitude and perhaps an even disgustingly positive outlook, and I am enthusiastic about my future.

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of healing is the patience I now have in all aspects of life, and the ability to empathize with the people I encounter daily. While I will always be saddened by my miscarriages (now numbering three), I am able to focus on all of the gifts my life holds, the greatest of which is my healthy little boy.

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