Like so many people, I felt extremely saddened by the death of Robin Williams earlier this week. Everyone thought "How can someone who seemed so happy, and made so many people laugh, have been that sad??" Fox News anchor Shepard Smith went as far as to call him a coward. A comment from which Smith has been back peddling from ever since. Looking at social media, I noticed the people who seem to be affected the most this week, are the people who suffer themselves from depression, or know someone who does. All week I have read personal accounts of people trying hopelessly to explain depression. I saved a few of them, and my original intent was to share excerpts of them today.
The fact is, depression is nearly impossible to explain to someone who has never experienced it. Often when you try, people look at you like you're stupid. Or weak (a coward). Or lying for attention. So often, people just push it back. They only share the truth with a select group of people who get it. Or at least with people who try to get it.
As this week came to a close, I changed my writing strategy. I decided I would write my own account of life with depression. If you follow my blog you've likely heard it before, and as it happened, in real time. But this Sunday morning I choose to write about it again. Just know that for every story you may have read about, there were ten you probably never heard. Like Robin Williams, and many other people who suffer from depression, much of my story has been kept to myself, or limited to a very small group of people. Anyway, here goes.
Therapists and doctors first started trying to diagnose me with depression sometime around 1989, when my first marriage began to fall apart, after confirmation that my first husband had been cheating on me for years. My dermatologist (yes you read that right) prescribed some Xanax for me. My friend Old Beth had suggested counseling, and I was seeing a therapist for the first time. Scott gave me a book to read called "Feeling Good". Shortly after that, my family doctor put me on Prozac. I could not understand this at all. My problem was horrific anxiety, not depression. At least that's what I thought. Yes I was sad, even devastated at the loss of my husband, but also relieved. All of the lies, betrayals, and the mind games would finally be over. I just didn't see myself as depressed.
As the years went on, and life became even more complicated, I got worse. My anxiety began to interrupt my life; particularly in the days preceding my period. I was prescribed Zoloft, Effexor, and Sarafem. None of these drugs worked for me, and I could only bear to take them for a few weeks, as they magnified my symptoms significantly. My only relief came from Xanax, which was now being prescribed to me by my family doctor. My fear of being addicted to it was so powerful that I only took it (and still do) as a last resort.
I was in and out of counseling. It would help for awhile, but my overall state of mind was worsening. My thoughts were becoming more and more irrational and harder to control. Life itself was becoming so complicated that I felt like I was losing my mind. I was hanging on by a thread, working, raising two small children, and dealing with an alcoholic husband. I felt as though I was in a constant state of fighting to keep my head above water. This was daily, but magnified tenfold during PMS time, which was now upgraded to something called PMDD.
Then on April 20, 2008 my mother died.
Most days my world felt like it was falling apart. During the next three years I would fall into a depression that often left me laying paralyzed in my bed--tears streaming down my face. Not sobbing out of control though. It was more of a slow stream of sadness. I developed "safe places". In the mornings, I would think "if I can just get to my desk at work, get my coffee, and be still and quiet for a minute, I'll be okay". By the afternoon, all I could do was fantasize about getting home, eating, and getting under a blanket on my couch with my cats on my lap. If it was October thru March, I needed a fire in the fireplace. On particularly bad days, my bed was the only place I could tolerate.
During my annual visit to the gynecologist in the spring of 2011, I had a meltdown. I was fine until she said "You're weight is really up--what's going on?" Then I started crying so hard that she was actually holding me in her arms until I got myself together enough to attempt yet again, to explain how I was feeling to yet again, another medical professional. She asked if I'd ever been on medication for depression. I told her yes, many times, and nothing worked. But instead of trying to write me a new prescription, my gynecologist told me I needed to see a psychiatrist. In fact, she insisted. She even gave me the name of a woman who's practice was within walking distance of my office. She said I needed a doctor who was specifically trained to properly diagnose and treat me.
April 14, 2011, I wrote in my journal that I had seen the psychiatrist. After a 12 page questionnaire and an in depth interview, I was diagnosed with severe depression accompanied by generalized anxiety disorder. I discovered that every antidepressant I'd been given over the years (decades now), was a serotonin inhibitor (SSRI). Clearly I don't respond to them well, so she gave me something different for depression. An anti seizure drug called Lamictal. She also put me on a daily anti anxiety drug.
Since then I have seen her every few months to discuss how my meds are working. Additionally, I began counseling with the wonderful Kate. I now see her once a month. As I mentioned just the other day, I'm now off of Lamictal. I still have out of control days. I had one very recently. And just about every day I have irrational thoughts and periods of high anxiety. They seem to peak in the late afternoon. But most days I can use the tools Kate has given me to get them under control, or at least manage them. Some days it's still just too much and I find myself back in bed. Slow wet giant tears streaming down like a bathtub faucet with a slow steady drip.
There aren't many people I've been totally open with about the severity of my anxiety and depression. I've written about it to a degree in this blog, but it's very hard to express these feelings. I often refer to it as a tornado in my head. I know that people who've never experienced it will never get it, so I reserve a lot of my feelings, especially my irrational thoughts to those who may have experienced something similar, or those who have loved ones going through the same thing, so that I may help them understand. Just know that for those who have this, it's daily. It never goes away. With proper therapy it can be managed, but there are days it wins. In the case of Robin Williams, it clearly won. It wins every day, with people much less famous. It wins with people like me.
If you secretly have these feelings or suffer from anxiety and/or depression, get help. But not from your dermatologist or your gynecologist. Not even from your general practitioner. They are not trained to specialize in psychological disorders. It's like asking your dermatologist to give you a Pap smear. It's not their area of expertise. Everyone is different. Every psychological disorder is different. We can't all benefit from the same medications or treatments. See someone who has been trained and specializes in this field.
Sally has asked me to also stress the importance of spotting signs in your children. No one knows them better than you. Don't simply think that they will outgrow their problems. And I don't mean the typical moodiness associated with adolescence. I mean signs of ongoing depression. Ongoing anxiety. Hurting themselves. Withdrawing. Acting out. Find out what you need to do to get your child the help they need. Because I promise, with anyone suffering from depression, including Robin Williams, including me....what you are seeing on the outside is a small, small fraction of what's going on inside.
Just know, there's help out there and you're not alone. You're not a coward. And the best news--you're not crazy!!!
I feel a lot better after writing this. Peace.