So as I was driving to work today and I was thinking of what I would be blogging about tonight and I knew tonight would be the night that I shared yet another personal experience in this life; my experience with depression. In that same moment, I had a thought that the face of depression has a smile, a twinkle in an eye and an infectious laugh. Ironically, I get to work and as we are reviewing our companies social media pages I see this meme posted by my Aunt Susie. Talk about the universe, parallel energies, synergy; whatever the heck you call it I was floored and KNEW this would be the subject of tonight’s blog.
Yes, these are indeed the faces of depression. This is reality, a terrifying reality but it was as real for them as it now is for their loved ones left wondering what they could have done, what they missed and the ever-longing cry of WHY!!!! I hope tonight’s blog can shed light on depression for the sake of your understanding or empathy for those around you that suffer. I have too often heard, “I don’t know how anyone could kill themselves” and to that my friend I say “consider yourself lucky”. Ignorance is indeed bliss however before putting your head in the sand consider my stance, my experience, my transparency…I put this out there to promote understanding and acceptance and hope you will read WIDE OPEN.
I believe in mental health as an active practice to stave away mental illness. Mental health is as important as physical health and while more accepted today it continues to be a stigma in our society. You would no sooner tell someone struggling with high-blood pressure to ” get over it” then why would we suggest the same to someone who is experiencing a depression. (Yes “a depression” because we ARE not depression; just as we ARE not our elbows. It’s a state that we are passing through.)
There are many roads we can go down on this topic so let’s start down one lane and see where we run into a few guardrails, cross solid lines and fly through tolls before finally exiting this highway…just for today. Yes JUST for today because this is a subject I will continue to blog about as I have a responsibility to all of those that believe in mental health as much as those that do not to help explain the curse of feeling sheer desperation, anguish and exhaustion from this life.
I came to know depression as a 20-something. I may have known it earlier in my life but it did not have a name until my boss (and friend) inquired as she could see I was in pain. She asked me “Does it feel like you are standing in front of a window that you cannot see out of?”. “YES! it does” I replied. “How did you know?” I asked. She then told me the story of her sister’s depression and in that moment I felt understood. She knew exactly how I felt, she described the despair, the helplessness to a tee. “But what do I do now?” She helped me get an appointment and there began my initial introduction to Mental Health.
This first bout of depression would be a hell of a ride. I have never been to a therapist and found it CRAZY that she could ask questions that made me say things I didn’t even know I was thinking!!! WTH? But the thoughts, stories, feelings were true, they were real, they were simply so deep inside I could not reach them to deal with them on my own. After weeks, maybe months, of therapy I felt unwound, understood by both my therapist and MYSELF. Yes, I understood myself better and had amazing realizations about who I was and would become.
The next bout of depression would show itself in my 30’s. I was struggling with my weight and despite hundreds of diets and thousands of hours spent in the gym I was not winning the war with the scale. This time I went to the therapist to help me uncover what was eating me inside out while I was eating everything in sight. This was a larger revelation than I was prepared for; I didn’t know it then. I found a therapist that kept it very real. She was a Jewish New Yorker who reminded me of my mother but absolutely was not buying my “shit”. I loved the process, I needed to be called out for my excuses, the lies I was telling myself, it was time to get real. She and I started digging and digging until the issues started rising to the surface. It was too much, I couldn’t bear it, I ran scared and I didn’t go back for two years!
When I returned to that therapist ready to finish what we started, she told me that she always knew I would return on my own terms because you cannot pull all of that shit out and think you are going shove it back in…it never goes back in once it’s out. So we finished the work, she took me to the edges of my courage and got me to deal with the realities of my life that I had never dealt. it was truly doing the work, dealing with these issues that ultimately allowed me to now get to work on the “easy” stuff…but not until I confronted my past. Ugh…the joy!
I emerged from this experience dazed and confused. She told me I would feel a weight lifting off of me as soon as I confronted these realities. For the next year I would continue to question when that weight was going to lift because I felt no different, had I done it wrong? No, I had not…it just took longer than the act of confronting my realities for my subconscious to release the burden.
My last visit to the dark side of depression came after a bout with kidney failure which would prove to be the last ailment I would face before finally taking control of my weight. I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember telling Gary “I’m done”! I was at the end of the rope, the bottom of the barrel, I had finally hit the proverbial bottom and it was time to act. This time didn’t send me too far down the “rabbit hole”. The blessing this time was that I knew what was causing my despair and I not only knew exactly what do but had done the work all along and was easily able to act. I had the tools, every single one of them…well except for the one that would offer the final resolve…my decision to have gastric bypass.
The process of preparing for bypass is a scary journey because not only do you have to get cleared by a number of doctors to prove that you can physically withstand the surgery but you have to pass a Psych eval! Holy Shizzle…now that is SCARY! I met with the Psychologist who immediately questioned my intentions…WTH I don’t want to date your son, I just want to lose 100+ pounds! Ha! I then was taken to a desk where I had to complete a 100+ question exam that I guess would tell them if I was “bat shit crazy” or sane enough to be skinny. Double Ha! I have to admit I was nervous about the test, and worse waiting for the call that I had “passed”. I wasn’t as scared about my cardiac clearance as this psych clearance. I was cleared and so were 140 pounds from my 5’3″ frame. 🙂
The experience of going through depression is that you learn what it feels like before it gets to far, you know what to do about it and you ultimately can control the extent of it. Much like a flu that you feel coming on. The first time you get the flu you don’t know what to expect when it comes, nor how to deal with it, when it has set-in you are left at the mercy of that strain of flu. So it goes, the next time you feel the flu coming on you get to the doctor immediately to get a Tamiflu shot to reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration. Depression is much the same. Depression does not always feel exactly as it did before however when you are paying attention, which when practicing mental health you do, you can get in front of it and while you will inevitably walk through it, if caught and treated early enough the walk will be brief.
Let us return to the those bright and smiling faces at the top of the blog. Those smiling faces were in pain, they were at their bottom, they were beyond reach and while we will never know if this was their first bout or their tenth ultimately they chose a “long term solution to a short term problem” or so a therapist would recite. Those around them may have never known that they were mentally ill as mental illness does not show itself in the form of an infection that we can see but it as painful and as gut-wrenching as any physical pain you will ever know. It is a lonely disease, it is an isolating sickness and it can overwhelm the heart and soul with a profound deafening and blinding thud.
I say to you that if you have never experienced depression be grateful and to you I hope that I have offered a bit of insight that will allow you a greater and more accepting understanding of a disease affecting many.
I say to those of you that have experienced depression, you are not alone. I know you, I am you, I feel you and I will walk with you.
This is life as I see it through my experiences that have formed my beliefs and ultimately shaped who I am. This is me – L.