Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Dark Side of Depression

In honor of Robin Williams, I am finally blogging about something that I've been meaning to do for a long time. The 'good' thing about his death, if there is such a thing, is that we are talking about it.

The whole world is taking notice. Someone in the U.S. dies from suicide every 15 minutes, according to the Center for Suicide Awareness. Depression is no respecter of persons, and I am one of those persons. I am sharing my story hoping that it will bring understanding to this serious mental health problem. If you are going through it yourself, I hope you can find the courage to get help. If you know someone that is suffering from depression, I can offer you something called hope.

I speak from years of experience.

My first bout with depression beyond just the" blues" was when I was a junior in high school. I did not know what it was called or how to treat it. No one knew what to do for me. My parents tried, my teachers tried.... I only knew that I could not stop crying no matter what I tried. I couldn't function. I couldn't think. I didn't even know "why" I was in such despair and hopelessness. I thought switching schools that year would help. It did in that it distracted me from it.

When I turned 18, I was able to start seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed me medication. It was a rough start, but the medication and therapy helped pull me out of that pit of hell. That is what I like to call it.

As the years went by, I had to stop the medication for a variety of  reasons. I continued with counseling, both secular and christian, to help me deal with the next episode, and then the next one, and the next one... I was also dealing with some deep emotional issues and trauma from my childhood, the devastating loss of  five children in one year and the loss of my mom to cancer in 2007.  

I managed to work through it while being diagnosed with diseases that were causing all of my symptoms: Lyme disease, Celiac disease, Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism, Addison's disease and heavy metal toxicity. The years of treatment for these diseases took a major toll on my mind, body and spirit. Even though I now had a "cause," I wasn't getting better from any of it. The 30+ doctors that I saw were spinning me in circles. I was just trying to get through each day. Depression was an ever present reality in my life once again.

It was hard to talk about because of the stigma behind just the 'word' depression. I felt like it was a secret I had to keep from others. I did not want to appear weak. I felt so misunderstood, ashamed and alone. I couldn't just 'snap out of it' like people would tell me to do.

In 2010, I began to fall deeper and deeper into that pit again. I began to lose interest in activities and friends. I wanted to be alone. I cried all of the time. I could not get out of bed. I could not sleep or eat. I lost a lot of weight. I lost all enjoyment of anything in my life.  I began to think about suicide, and then I began talking about it to the people closest to me. It was my cry for help. I didn't want to die, but I also didn't want to live. I just wanted my suffering to end. The people in my life who knew my struggle tried to do what they could for me, but they were left feeling helpless, too.

I got caught up in the roller coaster of trying to find the "right" anti-depressant medication, which is all too common. One stopped working and the next one caused terrible side effects. I was told to give each one at least 3 weeks to "work." That felt like an eternity to me. So when one didn't help, I'd move onto the next one. All in all, I spent six months trying five different medications. It was a long, agnonizing process.

Thankfully, and after many prayers, I knew which friend to call who had walked a similar road as I. I took his advice, and I asked Mark to take me to a psychiatric hospital. In hindsight, I know it took tremendous courage on my part to ask for help. I didn't feel courageous at the time. I only felt desperate. I needed some serious help.  It was not a good experience there; however, the doctors discovered that my thyroid was not functioning once again, and they got me on the right track with the right medications. For this, I am so thankful.

I remember a few weeks later, Mark saying to me, "Lori, you are finally back." It was that life changing. I felt like I had been looking at the world through a cloudy fog, and now I could see clearer. I felt lighter and free, all by God's grace.

Today, I am able to say without any shame or condemnation that, "Prozac saved my life," but in reality, it is God who I give the praise and glory to. Always. There are doctors and medications available for a reason. I like to call them gifts. If I had diabetes, and I needed insulin, no one would blink an eye. Why is our brain any different? Why does this subject have to be so difficult to talk about?

Medication doesn't always work for people and many times it stops working. It has happened to me. I've known many where this has been their truth, and they get stuck. It isn't the only answer. For me, I have to write, talk it out, be in nature, pray, listen to music, garden, express gratitude, hug my kids and animals. It is not easy keeping the depression at bay. For me, it is always lingering. I am always on the edge of being on that cliff once again. 

No one should be ashamed of walking into a counselor's office or have these stigmas blocking us from seeking help. For all you know, the person next to you who has a huge smile on their face is struggling beyond anything you can imagine. What they need is compassion, not judgment. 

No one has ever been changed by judgment.

I know there is help. I know there is healing. And I know that the journey isn't meant to walk alone. If you are in the throws of this mental illness or something similar, please know that you aren't alone. If you are trying to help someone through it, what they need to hear more than anything is, "I am here for you, and everything is going to be okay." 

Because it will be. I pray you find the strength. I pray you find the only One who can free you.

I will leave you with this powerful quote:

"What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we take the risk to speak it." ~Starhawk