While I do not celebrate or recognize the myriad of National Awareness of everything listed in the United States, Mental Health Awareness is one I feel is important to raise awareness to the common illnesses under the broad term of Depression.
I have had problems with Depression and Anxiety since I was 26 years old. Beginning with postpartum depression, linked with Hypothyroidism and Metabolic disorder, I began a spiral into the dark places in my mind. While it made for great poetry and some interesting written stories, the way I felt was not a place to revisit. I was at my lowest when I looked at my beautiful one year old daughter, the light of my life, and wondered if she would be better off with any mother but me.
Some friends would say, “Oh, you just need to be more positive and be thankful for what you have!” Those friends, long gone now, did not understand that Depression is not just an attitude that you can wish away by positive thinking. You can work on therapies that help you approach those voices inside as not who you want to be, but the feelings do not vanish completely or forever. Everyone has had circumstantial depressive feelings following death of a loved one or a pet, but true Depression as a diagnosis is much worse. It is not circumstantial, but can be intensified by circumstances. It is a roller coaster really, with many ups and downs that never cease.
I have read where countless famous and talented people deal with serious depressive disorders (Johnny Carson, Calvin Coolidge, Woody Allen, Terry Bradshaw, Charles Darwin), and some do not survive it (Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain). Highly sensitive and creative people struggle routinely with Depression. Unfortunately, many did not address the issue and treated it with drugs and alcohol instead of therapies. Dealing with Depression and Anxiety is not a reason to be ashamed and as a society we should be as open with it publicly as we are with Aids and Cancer.
For those of you that strive on statistics, I have a few. Over 40 million adults suffer with Anxiety Disorders in the U.S. alone. Depression is found in over half of those diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. My diagnosis was Dysthymia, which is now called Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD). Overeating, sleeping to much, lethargy, poor appetite, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, generalized pessimism about life; these are all symptoms of Major Depression and PDD. The difference in Major Depression and PDD is that Major Depression has more serious highs and lows, with a higher risk for suicide than PDD. Either diagnosis makes your life dysfunctional at times. Be aware that people with PDD can suffer with a more dangerous form of Major Depression following a trauma in their lives such as death of family or friends.
My Experiences: In my lows, I rarely want to leave the house, and have a great deal of anxiety when I attempt to do so. I have cried all the way to work, exiting the car with puffy eyes and shaking before I try to pull it together in the employee bathroom. It is hard to explain that feeling to anyone not having had it. Here is the closest description I have:
You are at the dentist (or some other place you dread), you know the shot is coming and will hurt. Your heart races and your palms sweat as you grip the chair arms tightly. Instead of giving the shot and getting it over with, the dentist stops to take a phone call. He comes back twice more, holding the needle above you and hovering close until you feel the cold steel shaft of the needle against your skin. He backs off to restart the to process over and over, stopping right before the shot but warning it is coming.
This is only a small description of how I feel when going through that aura of doom and anxiousness. All the meditation, chanting, deep breathing exercises, and red ruby slipper tapping in the world can’t make it go away completely. These are but glimpses of the actual experiences some people with depression and anxiety go through. Many have darker demons that I cannot imagine experiencing.
On my best days, I still have anxiety about things that I know will occur in a normal day. Driving on a busy highway, talking to people by phone during the work day, or just going to a DMV for a driver’s license makes me incredibly anxious.
Treatment: Medication has side effects, but at least I am able to function like a normal person by getting up, dressed, leaving for work, going out in public, and talking civil to people. I become more engaged, enjoy normal activities, and embrace the ability to give to others and put other people first in my life. While medication does not cure the depressive tendencies, I can tell when I am dropping out. I am aware that therapy helps to deal with depression, but cannot afford to go often. Most doctors in therapy want to see you every month at first then every three to manage medication. At the cost of $500 for the first visit and $175 to $200 every visit to follow, it becomes difficult to afford. Most insurances do not cover mental health, and I can only hope that this will change in the future.
Medications: I have been on the following medications over the past 25 years: Prozac, Buspar, Lexapro, Valium, Xanax, Luvox, Trazadone, Zoloft, Celexa, Cymbalta, Effexor, and now I take a new medication that is working well with fewer side effects. Discontinuation syndrome occurs when you stop taking SSRI’s and I have had that experience several times over the years – not fun. You feel a little “off”, shaky and a lot disorganized in every day activities. Once upon stopping a med to begin another, I had problems talking correctly. I couldn’t get my words out without sounding a little drunk. It subsided after a few days, but was quite disturbing. It is not unusual to have to change depressive meds to find one with the least side effects, allergic reactions, and still control your symptoms.
Off medications, I return to a state of dysfunction. I feel flu-like with no energy, no want to communicate, no desire to leave my bed. I eat, sleep, have nightmares, panic attacks, and generally lose interest in leaving the house. Off medication, I dread talking to anyone and feel annoyed when I have to do so. Being physically touched over stimulates me and makes me feel threatened even when it is someone giving a kind hug. My skin crawls, and high pitched noises make me feel like ripping my ears off my head. The only think I do still like to do is read in a quiet room when I am off medication. Otherwise, I become the ugly Ogre under the bridge. These symptoms creep up on me when my current meds are no longer working. That is the signal to see my doctor immediately.
I have learned to hide it all well, and those who have known me all of my life don’t know some of the details I have shared in this article. I know that I will deal with depression and anxiety for the rest of my life, but won’t hide it because denial or good thoughts won’t make it go away. It is not a state of mind but an illness that is very real and manageable with treatment.
Take the time to find out more about Mental Illness today. The National Institute for Mental Health website (nimh.nih.com) has questionnaires and information that could help you and your family if you suspect someone has depression or anxiety!