Editor’s note: The individual who submitted this piece asked that her name not be used in order to protect the privacy of her family. As we come to the end of this month’s focus on mental health on the blog, we’re honored to share her story of what it is like to live with two different diagnoses.
I need to write this anonymously. Personally, I feel no shame or any kind of particular negative self-talk because I fall into clear categories of mental health conditions listed in the DSM, the manual used to classify mental health issues. I write anonymously because if certain people I know were to know these things about me I’d hear one of the following:
“Are you taking your B vitamins? Because I struggled with depression and ever since starting my new health regimen/diet restriction/healed my gut/saw a naturopathic/functional medicine doctor, I am completely free of all my symptoms!” (And I say, ‘Yay, good for you.’)
“People on psychotropic medications are just frying their brains. So-and-so has been on and off medications and she is kind of out of it. I hope you aren’t taking anything. You just need to pour yourself into serving others and focus on helping people and that is the best cure for depression.”
“Well, I think it’s genetic. So-and-so has it terribly bad and her Dad had it and I’m just so glad I don’t have to deal with that.”
I hear these kinds of remarks regularly, so I remain anonymous here because I’m not willing to invite more judgement or criticism into my life. At this point of my life, I’ve maxed my capacity for hearing these kinds of statements.
The fact that I sat down to write these words today means I surmounted hurdles and abandoned my default setting which is: ‘I don’t think I can do this!’ Living depressed means I battle self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. I might recognize them, but lack any emotional drive to respond to them.
Most people who look at my life would reckon I am the least likely candidate for mental health struggles – I’ve got a gaggle of kids, a stellar husband, household support (in the form of relatives who help out), strong community in our neighborhood, church, and school. Yet, if you could peel back the external layers, you’d find there are deep struggles going on beneath the surface.
If you are one who is highly-emotionally-functional, or face no mental health challenges, I’d invite you to try something just to see what it like to function with depression. Lie down flat on your back on a couch or bed. Place heavy books on your chest. Do this until you feel weighted and uncomfortable, but can still breathe. Stay like this for 5 minutes. I live with a heavy darkness on the soul, waiting to be heard, held, understood, soothed. It presses down, making movement, thought, engagement, and positive action extremely difficult. It only dawned on me about a year ago that I think I’ve been depressed my entire life. I’ve lived with a weight on my soul as long as I’ve been alive.
As a teenager, I battled the kind of depression that drew me to idealize death, and ponder how I might end my own life. It felt like an endless tunnel of darkness. I emerged from that time as life swept me forward, and I was removed at last from an extremely difficult home life.
I believed I was done with depression for good. A change of scenery and I thought, “Voila! The new me!” Compared to the deep darkness of my teens, I didn’t understand that I was still dealing with depression. I thought because I wasn’t actively suicidal that I must be done with depression – I’d beaten it! That is, until I noticed what not-depressed people are like – how they get up each day and do things, how life doesn’t seem like a total drag to them, how they have enthusiasm for life and want to keep living, how they have their ups and downs too, but resiliently navigate the hurdles and don’t internalize and self-condemn at every turn.
Compounded with generalized depression, counseling also revealed that I’ve experienced significant trauma, both the chronic toxic household type, as well as the life-threatening type. I had heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) and noted it was mostly reported about those who’d experienced active combat in the military. I hadn’t witnessed first-hand violent warfare. But when I landed in therapy about a decade ago, I turned over my journals to my therapist.
The words flowed endlessly on pages as little snippets of my inner experience came to life. I talked about a sense of floating, of nothing being real, of feeling dead inside and internally asleep. I talked of watching my kids blow out birthday candles and not feeling any sense of pride or joy. I talked of birthing babies and waiting to have an intense bonding experience, and birthing another and another and another, and still waiting, wondering what was wrong inside me. I talked of feeling like I was watching my life play out on a movie screen as though it was someone else’s life, and feeling totally unable to connect to it. I felt as if I were a news-reporter as I wrote. I was without emotion about my own life and unable to connect with my own experiences. That first therapist suggested P.T.S.D., but I brushed it off at first.
A few years after that, my husband and I would be talking with friends and sharing some of our life stories, and when memories of the horrific violence I’d experienced earlier in my life surfaced, I would get nauseous, my heart would race, and I’d begin to sweat. I didn’t know what this was. It felt as though I was right back in those terrible moments as my past became my present.
A friend referred me to a therapist. It became obvious that P.T.S.D. together with Depression, together with C-P.T.S.D. (the chronic, complex variety of P.T.S.D. that refers to more lengthy ongoing exposure to psychological damage during formative years) named what I was experiencing.
These kinds of mental health challenges will not be cured by a new vitamin regimen. Chemical support is extremely helpful – whether vitamins, medications, diet, and exercise all help to care for our internal chemistry. But so far as I know, these have never been a cure for deep, dark, depression. God is at work in my life, bringing healing in his time. But I’m not there yet, and He whispers to me in it, “It’s okay – I am with you on this journey.” I trust that God is healing me, and furthermore, he does not blast me for seeking psychological/psychiatric care. Rather, He provides these learned people to bring His healing to me.
In my current life, I am not just dealing with my own mental health issues. I am dealing with those of others round me, including an autistic child whose violent outbursts are scary and at times physically painful, and an elderly relative whose brain doesn’t function properly and whose understanding of life is blurred and confusing. I’m also continuing to battle depression while juggling multiple schedules, guests, service, family, teenagers, relationships, and community building activities in the neighborhood.
It is surely a challenge! But I can’t imagine my life another way. Do I wish I were different? Not depressed? Not hampered by inner darkness? Yes, of course. But this wishing is not productive for me. I pray and I meet God in my need. I open my soul to Him and bask in His healing love. I find secure, patient, kind, compassionate grace poured out on me from above. I realize that my unique burdens and soul-issues are my invitation to know Him and to be a beacon of light for others in my life whose walk is darkened by depression.