It took me almost a year to realize I was clinically depressed. It started after I weaned my second baby. Fourteen years later, I probably can’t tell you exactly how the progression went. But I distinctly remember feeling rather hopeless, and not wanting to leave the house. Like, ever.
Even the simplest of things seemed so overwhelming. I would make plans and almost always cancel them. I’m normally a very upbeat, glass-half-full kind of girl. Even a happy-clappy kind of girl…usually looking for the bright side of things. So, it took a long time for me to finally realize that what I was feeling wasn’t going away. I just kept thinking if I prayed harder, read my Bible more, or said more positive things into my mirror in the morning, I would overcome this oppressive black cloud that seemed to be settling lower and lower.
After about ten months of trying to “tough it out” I was at a point where I was doing the bare minimum to take care of my two little ones and sleeping whenever I could. I was a new Mary Kay Sales Director at the time, which meant I was responsible for the training and encouragement of about sixty women and had to run a weekly sales meeting. It was a Ra-Ra kind of event (think PomPoms and synthesized drum beats). Recognizing accomplishments, giving prizes, being positive, positive, positive! Always a smile on your face. Don’t be negative. Don’t think negative thoughts…never let them see you down! You get the picture, right?
So I finally realized there was a problem when it took everything I had to be positive and upbeat for those three hours at my Sales Meeting and then I had nothing left for my family for the rest of the week. I would be a wreck until it was time to put on my Mary Kay lipstick for the meeting the following week. Three hours of acting and then back home to crash for the next week.
Something else you should know about me is that prior to this time, I was the one who was usually there for everyone else. I am the oldest of five and while growing up, I did my best to hold our family together through difficult times. I felt like I had to be strong for everyone in a dysfunctional situation. So, I never cried in front of my family. If I had to cry, I would go hide in our truck or walk down the road. I think I felt that if they saw me fall apart, they all would, too. I thought that crying or being vulnerable was the same thing as being weak. And I wanted to be strong for my family.
So, back to the depression thing; I can remember my mom coming over one day and I was lying on my living room floor, staring at the wall, while my two and four year old kids played around me (and even on top of me. I was very good at pretending to be a jungle gym.) I was aware of them. I did what I needed to do for them. But I didn’t even have the energy to get up off the floor, otherwise. And when she saw me, she knew something was very wrong. I told her how I was feeling and I started to cry. That was when I knew; I was not myself.
I talked to a friend, who was a psychiatrist (or a psychologist…I can’t remember which), told her my symptoms and asked her—as if it were highly unlikely— “Is it slightly possible that I might be, maybe, you know…experiencing a depression?” She laughed (I think at the fact that I was so clueless). And then she said she was quite certain that I was clinically depressed and I needed to make an appointment to talk to a professional.
I met with a counselor and I remember sitting in her office as we delved into my childhood, thinking…”I’ve dealt with all of this stuff.” (I had spent a few months in counseling after college and it was extremely helpful, by the way). “What I’m feeling right now is not related to issues I had as a kid. This is something different.”
But when I asked her if she thought medication would help me, she said we would set up weekly appointments and after a certain amount of time, we would determine if medication were an appropriate course of action. And I remember feeling completely panicked. That I couldn’t wait six weeks for something to change. I needed help, now.
I left that counselor’s office and called my doctor. He saw me the next day. I explained how I was feeling and he agreed that I was probably in a clinical depression and prescribed zoloft, at a starter dosage. After a few weeks I noticed that I was feeling a bit better every day. Life didn’t feel so hopeless anymore.
After two months on the smaller dosage, we went away for four days at Thanksgiving and I forgot my medication at home. I figured, it’s four days, I’m sure it will be fine. When we got home, I started back up again. But it didn’t seem to be helping me. I ignored the feeling that it wasn’t working for about a month. And then, one day, between Christmas and New Year’s, I was driving on an overpass and the thought went through my brain, “If I drove off this bridge, I bet I could land myself in the hospital for a while and then everyone would just leave me alone.“
Yeah, I know. Scary, right? I wasn’t exactly suicidal but I was definitely not in my right mind. Thankfully, I had enough of my right mind to know that I needed to do something about how I was feeling. I called my doctor back. He said I probably just needed the full dosage. And he was right. I started feeling better within a couple weeks.
I learned that being vulnerable is not the same as being weak and that clinical depression was not something you can usually just “get over.” People who are clinically depressed have different things going on in their brain chemistry than people who are not depressed. Anti-depressants are designed to level the playing field, so to speak. They aim to correct the chemical imbalance that causes a person to feel so hopeless.
Zoloft was not a band-aid for me. It was a life preserver. The way I’ve described it since, is that I felt like I’d been out in the middle of the ocean treading water, for a very long time, and I was so tired. I was slipping under the water more and more and if I didn’t get help soon, I was gonna go under for good. Taking medication was like someone throwing me a life preserver. It didn’t change my surroundings or take me out of the water. But it let me rest long enough to gain the strength and energy I needed to start swimming for the shore. (Swimming meant…praying, reading my Bible, asking for help, making positive choices, etc.)
I took Zoloft for a number of years and while it wasn’t a magic cure that made everything perfect, it was a tool that I could use to begin to feel healthy again. I eventually weaned myself off. I didn’t like the idea of having to be on a medication and I didn’t like some of the side effects. And I had been on it long enough, that it had done the trick and I was okay without it.
The rest of my depression story is really only several months old. If you haven’t already read it, you can check out my post about it here: Medication is Not Evil (or) Why I Take Drugs.
Thanks for taking time to read my story. Feel free to leave a comment below 🙂