It has been a rough week. Someone very dear to me, somebody I have known for more than a decade and love deeply, has just acknowledged to herself, and to me, that she is suffering from depression. She has been living with sadness in her heart for a while now, but was too ashamed to admit it less she be painted with that dreaded ‘mental illness’ brush. That was until she began to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by a recent trauma. While the pain she has suffered as a result of this trauma breaks my heart, I take comfort in the fact that it has prompted her to seek help. Still, I wonder, why must we wait until we feel completely broken before deeming ourselves worthy of joy?
Despite the prevalence of depression, denial still prevails.
And so it is that I find myself wanting to add my story to the millions of others out there. Every story is different. If just one person recognizes himself or herself in my story and is inspired to seek help, I will be glad I took the time to share my experience.
This is my story.
I have shed a lot of tears over the years. And by a lot, I mean rivers. But then, don’t we all cry? Crying is healthy, we’re told. It releases our negative emotions. But what about when we can’t identify the source of these emotions? When there’s no cause for grief, no ongoing crisis? When life appears to be tickety-boo, all ducks in a row, relationships happy, health good, friends plenty? Through good times and bad, I cried at least once every 2 or 3 days until my mid-40s, when I finally raised the issue with my doctor. With no hesitation, she handed me a prescription for anti-depressants and then my life began to turn around.
Until that doctor’s visit, I had never considered that I might be depressed. Looking back, it is hard to believe that I didn’t see it and that nobody around me ever raised it. In fact, there are people close to me who still try to tell me I wasn’t suffering from depression, despite my excess tears and despite what I’m about to tell you.
When I was 16, I took an overdose. When I told my friends about it, we laughed together at my suicide fail; I had taken 32 iron supplements. I got a tummy ache and resumed life the next day. Nobody, including me, took it seriously. When I was 18, I did it again, but this time I consumed an entire bottle of paracetamol. I lay in bed and waited for IT to happen but the pain was too much. I woke my parents up and told them what I’d done.
Before I knew it, I was in the car with my father, racing through North London’s sleepy streets. He approached the hospital with such fury, his tires set off the automatic doors. He stood beside me while they pumped my stomach. I stayed for a night, went home the next day, and shortly after began to see a therapist.
The therapist wanted to talk about my early childhood, about losing my birth mom at the age of four and the giant hole that must have remained after she died. I couldn’t relate. I remember sitting there thinking, “in a minute you’re going to ask me what I’m thinking about and I’m going to have nothing to say.” Over time, I stopped going. Life continued. Nobody said the word ‘depression.’ No more suicide attempts but still plenty of tears. I was labelled “oversensitive,” by people close to me, and I guess that over time I just came to believe that’s what I was. A needy, oversensitive drain on everyone around me, despite my capacity to also be the life of the party. That’s how I lived my life for close to three decades.
I might have identified depression sooner if it weren’t for the stigma.
After giving birth to my daughter, I found myself struggling from the post-baby blues. My newborn had colic. I was overwhelmed and I wasn’t coping. I discussed it with my doctor and she gave me a prescription for postpartum depression. I didn’t end up exchanging the prescription for pills. Still, soon after, when attempting to purchase disability insurance, my application was denied because the prescription she had given me came up in my medical history. In the 10 or so years that followed, I sometimes thought about seeking help again but didn’t. I was afraid to tell my doctor because I didn’t want any further strikes on my mental health record. And then I finally said ‘fuck it.’
At the time, I was actually in a pretty good place. At least, it looked that way on my Facebook profile. About a year after separating from my husband, my daughter and I had moved from a large house in the suburbs to a cosy condo in a vibrant part of Toronto. I was making a decent living as a copywriter in an uptown agency. I was in a long-distance relationship with a man I adored (now my husband) and making frequent weekend visits to New York where he was then living. But still, the crying continued.
Frustrated with feeling sadness despite the blessings in my life, I abandoned my concerns about being branded unstable. The chances of me ever having to make an insurance claim were slim. Meanwhile, the chances of me waking up to joy two days in a row were zero. It was time to take action based on the here and now, not on the ‘what if someone denies me insurance again in the future.’ And so I went back to see my doctor.
I wasn’t looking for anti-depressants. I was simply looking for help.
My doctor and I talked for a while. I told her about my relentless tears and about the sadness that persisted despite the positive things that were happening in my life. I told her that I didn’t think I was depressed, despite her having checked all the boxes. “Yes, I feel all of those things but I’m still able to function on a day-to-day basis,” I said. She responded by telling me that functioning isn’t enough; that life is about feeling joy, too. I left with a prescription for anti-depressants in-hand.
Side note: I should clarify that my doctor didn’t prescribe medication flippantly. She was aware that I had tried, through various means, to overcome my sadness. Over the years, I had attended therapy, worked with a life coach, read numerous self-help books, and practiced yoga, but I had never been able to shake it.
Despite being told that anti-depressants can take two or so weeks to kick in, I felt the cloud begin to lift within hours of taking my first pill. I don’t want to set false expectations. I was extremely lucky that those prescribed to me were such a perfect match, and that I didn’t have to try multiple drugs or suffer through any unpleasant side effects. That said, if I’d had to experiment with six drugs for six months to get where I am today, it would have been worth it.
Yes, I still cry, but never without tangible cause. I wake up every day with hope and gratitude for all I have. I am not oversensitive. I am just sensitive, plain and simple, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I walk the same beach every day, and every day the view opens up my heart to possibility. I am happy. I am hopeful. I am human.
Please, if you are feeling overwhelmed by sadness, seek help.
When I say ‘seek help,’ I don’t simply mean talk to a friend. Yes, share your feelings with others, seek comfort in your friends and family, but understand they may not be qualified to truly understand what’s going on inside you. I have always been loved, but even those with my greatest interests at heart were unable to comprehend my struggle, despite my suicide attempts, my perpetually broken heart, and my endless tear-stained phone calls.
Do not wait until you are completely broken. With help, you can turn your sadness around. Joy is yours for the taking.