Please read my blog of February 8th for part one of the story. Thank you to those who have given me their love and support, your words mean a great deal to me. I am neither strong nor brave…in fact, I am writing the next part in the 2nd person because it is still very difficult to talk about and somehow saying “you” instead of “I” makes it more bearable to share to the world as I am doing, however silly that may be. I still feel the stigma and the guilt and shame. But because I truely believe that talking about it is the only way we can remove that stigma and help each other, here is part two of my story. Part three will come another day.
Imagine yourself wandering blissfully through a field. Grasses are waving, the air is warm and scented, and butterflies flit around. You know where you are going; you’re open to challenges and capable of meeting them. You love your life. You love your job and your home and your family. There are a myriad of little things that you do every day that you don’t even think about. You get out of bed in the morning. You brush your teeth. You take your vitamins. You look forward to the day. You sing and you dance. You describe yourself as a happy person, a content person.
That’s your life before depression. When depression hits, you don’t notice at first. You go along, but you just aren’t your “old self”. People might notice that you are less patient than you used to be. Maybe you start to make errors at work, drop balls you used to juggle effortlessly. You probably don’t notice this is happening, though others will. What you do notice is that it is harder to concentrate, harder to juggle more than one thing at a time. Things you used to love doing have become chores. Things that used to be hard become impossible. You know you’re going through menopause, so you attribute your mental state to that. After a while, the green grass in your meadow starts to dry out and get prickly. The nice smell goes away and the pretty butterflies turn into annoying gnats. Instead of dancing along cheerfully, you begin trudging up a hill and the sun gradually goes behind some pretty nasty-looking black clouds.
You used to get out of bed and spend time with your home yoga practice or walk on the treadmill every morning. Maybe you always complained about getting up early (who doesn’t?), but you did it, and once you were out of bed, you enjoyed it. Now, you only get up when you absolutely have to. Now you get up at the last minute and rush through getting ready. You don’t even think about yoga or exercise. It’s all you can do just to get out the door. You used to bounce your shoulders and nod you head to the music on the radio as you drove to work. Now, you start crying before you’re half-way there. The world is flat and uninteresting. You feel hollow. You start to eat comfort food to fill the empty space, but of course what you gain is weight, not happiness.
You know something is seriously wrong, but you don’t know what and you are unable to do anything about it. And then you tell yourself that maybe it isn’t so bad, really – you’re still doing your job, you’re still teaching your classes, you’re still cooking dinner at night. So what if the joy is gone, that’s just life. You tell yourself you’re just tired. You’ll get over it. And you know that’s crazy. You start listening to the dark voices in your head. You are exhausted at the end of the day because you’ve been wearing a mask to fool everyone around you into thinking you are fine, and that mask takes every ounce to maintain. And you think you’ve done a pretty good job of it, too, because nobody says anything to you or appears to notice anything amiss. Which means you must be fine and these feelings (or lack of them) are normal.
You start to wish things weren’t always so hard. Wouldn’t it be nice to get into a nice little car crash – just bad enough to put you in the hospital for a few weeks? People would take care of you, make you tea, bring you books and presents, show they cared. You wouldn’t have to do anything but sleep. Then you cry because you know that is a seriously bad thing to think about. How selfish you are, wanting to be taken care of! People like that are weak. You are weak. You are useless. This is it. This is your life.
One day you are walking along the river with your husband and your dog. The ice is in. You don’t remember the last time you laughed. You don’t remember it being this hard to walk. You feel like you weigh 500 pounds, just lifting your feet and putting them down one after the other. You watch the ice in the river and wonder what it would be like to go under it. You think about it all week. You don’t want to do it, not really – but you wonder what it would be like. One night it is -40 and your husband is out of town. You wonder what it would be like to go outside in your nightgown and just go to sleep. You don’t have any intention of really doing it, but never-the-less, just having these thoughts invade your mind scares you. Scares you into action.
You’ve been seeing the “Depression Hurts” ads on TV. You begin paying attention to them. When your husband gets home you tell him that you think you might have depression and then, with his encouragement, you make an appointment with your doctor.
You are so ashamed to even say the word “depression” about yourself. You research it on the web. You print off a depression checklist and take the test. You don’t like the result, so you take it again, moving your answers all one place to the left on the checklist. You still don’t like the result. You do it again. Eventually you’ve moved all your answers to a place that don’t reflect how you really feel anymore. You throw them away and take the original checked off list to the doctor. He spends a good amount of time talking with you and asking questions. He reads your check list. Then he says you have severe menopausal depression and tells you about how brain chemicals and hormones work. He tells you that some women need a little help getting through menopause, and he writes you a prescription.
You are not happy with the diagnosis. No way are you going to admit to anybody that you have a mental illness. No way are you going to take an antidepressant, for god’s sake! So you make an appointment with a therapist. You want a second opinion. The therapist spends an hour with you. She reads your checklist. She talks and asks questions. Then she says you have acute depression.
So okay. The doctor was a good doctor. He looked at you when he talked to you. The therapist was a good therapist. She listened and confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis. So you go to the pharmacy and you get the prescription filled. You can’t look the pharmasist in the eye. You feel as fragile as glass. You really hate taking medication, but you know you need help. And to prove you aren’t weak and because you are a stubborn person, you’re going to take that help in the form of a little white pill every day for probably 6 months.
You are relieved. Something really was wrong with you, and you can do something about it.
If you think you or a loved one is ill with depression, menopausal or otherwise, please see your doctor. There is help. The grass does turn green again.