Monday, July 13, 2015

The Face of Depression

Some years ago I was walking early in the morning with two incredible women that I both loved and admired. As we walked I described the way I had been feeling lately, talking to them about frustrations, feelings, and more. "You are depressed," they said. Almost prepared to dismiss their seemingly simple answer, they continued, "I have it too" one said. "And I do too," said the other. I looked at both of them with disbelief. How could it be? Two incredibly beautiful, amazing women and mothers had what I had always deemed as a "bad person's problem."

I had to learn more. So with a great deal of prayer and visits to my medical doctor I realized that I was indeed dealing with depression.

Over the years since that diagnosis, my depression has ebbed and flowed and taken many forms. Sometimes I am simply tired, so tired that I require ten hours of sleep at night plus a daily nap. Sometimes it has been a darkness that seems to follow me throughout the day. Other times it has been unusual thoughts that feed on low self-esteem or thoughts that I may not matter. In the early years it was disconcerting and more than a little frightening.

But thankfully my medical doctor helped me understand that depression is simply the brain not functioning the way that it's supposed to. It's not because I did anything wrong. It isn't because I'm a bad person. It's simply that somewhere along the line my brain stopped delivering messages to the other part of my brain the way that it needs to. As I began to understand the disfunction in my system, I could more easily recognize that my depression was simply a cycle. While I could go many years with little to no depression, there were other years in which I could not get my brain to jumpstart back to a healthy way of thinking. Knowing that it was something going on inside of me helped to take some of the difficulty out of the diagnosis. While oftentimes we catch a cold without doing anything reckless or misguided, the same is true of depression. You can wake up one morning with a doozy of a cold, and I can wake up some mornings with the onset of depression. And while sometimes I can pinpoint where the trigger might have been (much like you might know who gave you the cold), there are also times where I cannot see any connection.

I was raised in the era of disbelief of a depression diagnosis. It was difficult to accept that I was going to have it on and off for the rest of my life. Having been a vibrant child, it was a strange new existence for me. But accepting that it is simply something I have helps me understand that I didn't do anything wrong to get it--no more than someone who gets a cold that is diligent in their maintaining good health.

I have not openly shared that I have it with many people, but I realized that in not doing so I may be missing the opportunity to help someone else that is suffering with it. I would feel remiss if I didn't reach out the way my two lovely friends helped me. In many ways, they saved my life and helped put me on a path to a healthier way of living.

I don't have all the answers. But I have learned to cope with the way I feel, to recognize when it's coming or when I'm already in the throes of it; and I have learned to live a great life even when I am unhappy, tired, or feeling overwhelmed. In the future, I hope to share more of myself and how depression (and even a diagnosis of anxiety) affects but doesn't define my life.

If you are feeling any of these things, seek out help. Don't let it define you or keep you from doing what you want with your life. While it will affect your life, it doesn't have to be your whole life. And if you are dealing with a loved one that is suffering from depression, educate yourself. Be kind and gentle. Be supportive as they get help. Understand that you are not responsible for the way they feel but can be a ray of light in their dark days.

I have depression. But I am not a bad person because I have it. In fact, I'm a regular person who tries very hard to do good in the world and I STILL have depression. Understanding it and myself has made all the difference in my life. I hope that it can do the same for you.

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story Jen! You have summed up the feelings that I too have felt over the years. I was officially diagnosed after being in a car accident that I just couldn't seem to mentally recover from. My daughter suffers from severe anxiety, depression and PTSD. Together we have learned how important it is to share our story with others as there are so many people who are keeping quiet and struggling in the dark. Thank you very much for opening a line of conversation.

    We recently participated in the first annual Darkness to Light campaign to bring attention to mental illness. You can read our story here ... http://bit.ly/teamcourtney

    Sending huge hugs your way!

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    1. Thank you for sharing yours and Courtney's story!

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  2. Girl! Thanks so much for sharing this! I have admired you for many many years and watched you deal with some adversities no mom ever should. I think it's important to have open and candid discussions about it. I dealt with this very thing for waayyy too many years and now my teenagers do as well. I found something plant based and all natural that has literally turned my life around in this area though. I'm no longer putting harmful addictive chemicals in my body or my children. I don't want to go into details and take away from your post but if you or anyone else would like more info please message me at shannavineyard@gmail.com there is help out there! It's basically brain food. Love you girl!!! Thanks so much for sharing this!

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  3. Thank you for sharing. I think you are an amazing person and glad that you could find help for yourself! So nice to know you are not alone isn't it!

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    1. It is powerful knowing I'm not alone!

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  4. Thank you very much for sharing your experience. It takes someone who is comfortable with themselves to share an experience like this. I was diagnosed with depression in high school. It was determined then that I had been depressed even as a child. I have been on and off meds for years-like you said I can go through years without having an episode-and then have full onset. In college I even had a breakdown. I made myself go back and finish my degree and people called me "crazy Nora" behind my back. However, I think it was then that I learned not to be ashamed. My father was terribly disappointed in me at the time, and told me it would be a black mark against my name for the rest of my life. I actually see it as the opposite. It is something I have learned to live with but when I am having a bad day, I verbalize it and sometimes just by doing that, it makes the day better/week/time better. When you start to talk about it, you often find out others also suffer. I think many women do but like you said, they are afraid to admit it because they see themselves at fault for some reason. I think having a good support system is key and NOT giving in to that urge to not go to work, or go out with friends or to isolate. I find that if I MAKE myself, no matter how difficult it might be, I do feel a little bit better. I have had times when I congratulate myself just for taking a shower!! Anyway, thank you for sharing your story. I think talking more about this will help many people.

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    1. Nora, you must be an incredibly STRONG person to have fought so hard to come back to yourself and go back to college. I can't even imagine the strength that took!

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  5. I'm starting to wonder if I know anyone who doesn't have depression. It seems to have touched everyone in my life these days. Thanks for sharing. :-)

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    1. It does seem way too many of us are suffering.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this, Jen. I suffer from depression too, as does my father. It's so good to hear other people sharing their thoughts and feelings about it. It's so common, and as you talk to more people you realize that so many people are affected. Thank you for sharing. Take care, Kim (raeraesma) :)

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  7. I was just about to say like Laura, for me depression is so normal that I am wondering if anybody could NOT have it. :) and you know I think that he ones dealing with depression are the heartfelt ones, the sensitive ones. Maybe we are the best ones after all.I am so happy you are in my life (in some way). I told you many many times. :) xox

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    1. I feel the same way about you. You are always a light wherever you go. :)

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  8. Jen,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this, something that most people hide.

    I don't (yet) suffer from depression, but it runs in my family and I recently lost a cousin to suicide as a result of his depression.

    I have "lived with depression" most of my life, not personally, but as a child of a mom who was severely depressed for many years. She still suffers from it, but she now takes medication that's been hugely helpful, lifesaving you might say.

    I so wish we had had a conversation about how she was feeling so I could have understood what she was going through (even as a very young child I knew something was wrong and, as kids might, I thought it was because of me that she was so unhappy). As it turns out, I was often the one bright spot in her life (according to my mom).

    I believe that hopelessness is the most dangerous thing for those struggling with depression and hopelessness is created when a depressed person doesn't see a way out of the sadness. Thank goodness it's more acceptable to talk about it now - that was not always the case.

    Again, kudos to you for speaking out and sharing this about yourself - it takes strength and courage to do so and many may profit from your story.

    Wishing happiness for you today,

    Steph

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    1. Steph, I have started talking more openly with my kids about it in case they have their own struggle with it. I certainly would never want them to think they did anything to cause it. As you're right, they are the lights in my life. :)

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  9. Jen,
    Thank you for your honesty. In reading your post, I believe you have pried open my eyes and described what I have been ignoring yet feeling for the past several years after caring for my aging parents (both now gone) and the deep sense of loneliness that comes from being the single parent of a now empty nest. I have not been to a doctor to be officially diagnosed, but maybe I need to take the time to do so. Hopefully, recognizing I cannot deal with it without some outside help is the first step.

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    1. Sue, I hope you find something that works for you. Dealing with all that you have on your plate I can imagine you're going to feel overwhelmed and sad. May you be led to someone who hears you and helps you through this.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing! You are brave, there is still a stigma around mental health but I think we are slowly turning it around. More people speaking out and sharing like you just did helps everyone. I remember when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I made a conscience decision to speak openly about it. I never wanted him to feel that stigma and if I didn't speak openly about it, he might pick up on that. I never wanted him to be ashamed. And you and anyone suffering with any mental health condition should never feel any less than perfect.

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    1. Love that you've been such an advocate for your son. He is a lucky boy!

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  11. I'm so glad that you have answers and an explanation for your thoughts and feelings that allow you to understand yourself. It makes me sad to think that you would think you were a bad person because of something you have no control over and is itself a struggle. I've dealt with my mother's depression when I was young and now I'm needing to get help for my daughter (it might just be anxiety, but I see similar issues with any decisions being nearly impossible for her which was one the things that I saw a LOT of in my mom.) As for me, I don't know how much help I might need, but I do have a very close friend who is a psychologist who I can go to if I'm feeling overwhelmed.
    Thank you for sharing. I'm praying for you for healing as well as continued self-acceptance. You are a wonderful, caring person who gives so much and deserves to have a wide variety of feelings be they happy or sad. Take care. You've helped wake me up to the fact that I need to get my act together to get an appointment for my daughter.

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    1. I suffer from anxiety as well. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I hope you are able to make things better for your daughter. :)

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  12. I suffer from a bit of depression from time to time too. Lack of sleep and gray days seems to make it worse for me, but there are definitely periods of loneliness and self doubt off and on throughout the year. Sometimes I catch myself feeling blue at times when I should be my happiest and I can't quite understand why that is, but like you I realize it comes and goes and eventually I will feel like my old self... Thanks for sharing your heart and soul with us. :)

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  13. Thank you for writing this post, Jennifer! I was diagnosed with depression in 1995, stemming from childhood trauma. I can't believe it's been 20 years! I've learned in those years that a supportive family environment, exercise, good diet and plenty of rest has helps me to manage it. I've kept my need for daily naps a dirty little secret because I feel like people will thing I'm terribly lazy. It was so nice to hear you say that's what you mention that. Maybe I'm not so 'lazy' after all! :)

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