I have debated writing this post for a while now.
While the stigma surrounding mental health disorders is lessening as people become more aware and better educated about it, we still have a long way to go. It’s not a happy topic. It’s a topic we’d rather keep tucked away in the private corner of our mind and ignore it. Today is Bell’s annual “Let’s Talk” day to end the stigma surrounding mental health disorders so I finally worked up the courage to speak about my own experiences. So… Let’s Talk.
My first experience with depression was with my mother-in-law when I was in my early 20s. I remember she would sit and stare for hours. Sometimes at the tv. Sometimes at the wall. She’d be weepy at times and she would say the words “I’m so depressed”. Being young, having no experience with depression, I’d say clever things like “cheer up, it’s a sunny day!” or “you have two beautiful children, a lovely home, a loving husband and a happy healthy granddaughter. What do you have to be depressed about?” I could not understand what was going on. It seemed simple, right? Cheer up! Life could be so much worse but you have a great life!
A few years later I was experiencing depression for myself. I was in my mid-20s, married, had a beautiful vivacious daughter and a beautiful new son. My husband and I hit a seriously rocky patch after the birth of our son so the obvious solution was to buy a house and move to the suburbs. During the week of the move from our apartment to our house my cat passed away from stomach cancer and we got the unexpected news that my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few short months to live. My father died one morning in December, 1996 just days before my son’s 2nd birthday. Sprinkle in a new puppy purchased on a whim, a big family wedding, financial burdens from the house and other things on top and by January I was absolutely hopeless.
It might have started out with some mild postpartum depression after my son was born. I was making some very uncharacteristic (and bad) decisions. I was angry all the time. Normally a “glass is half full” type the glass was always half empty and dirty suddenly. I wasn’t weepy like my mother-in-law. I didn’t feel what I thought of as depressed. I was angry. I hated my life and was ready to walk away from everyone in it a few times. Then guilt would hit me and I’d be desolate. Wash-rinse-repeat.
Would I have eventually become suicidally depressed from postpartum depression? Maybe not but the emotional and financial stress of moving, the ongoing strain of the rocky marriage, the chaos of juggling a 7 year old, a 2 year old, and a puppy in a new house, the loss of my beloved father. It all added up to a bad situation and I was suicidal by this point.
See, in my mind, everyone would be better off without me. I was hopeless. I was useless. I was a bad wife and a worse mother. I made everyone’s lives miserable. I figured that while my husband and family would be upset at first when I was gone, they’d be better off in the long run. My husband would find a new, better wife. She’d be an amazing mom to my kids. Life would be amazing for them all when I was gone.
I started planning. Making notes for my husband of what time our daughter woke up, what time she needed to be at school and picked up. How to make her favourite snack. I gathered up the insurance papers, mortgage papers and other financials for him. I made notes about what days payments came out of our account and what dates cheques should be mailed. Names of her friends and teachers. A list of things he’d need to do around the house.
I don’t really know what I said to my best friend Cheryl when she called me one morning but whatever it was it freaked her out. She immediately our family doctor’s office to tell her she was scared. Within a few minutes the doctor called and begged me to come see her. Less than 48 hours later I was on Prozac and my mother had arrived from 1800km away, still in mourning for my father, to look after me and my kids. I don’t remember a whole lot from that time. I do remember my mother and my husband yelling at each other over top of me. My husband just yelling at her “I can’t deal with her – you deal with her” as he slammed out the door.
Over the next couple of years I was in a haze of Prozac, then Paxil, then Lithium as doctors and therapists asked me why I was so upset that my father died and did I have unresolved issues with him? All I wanted to do was sleep. When I was awake I had no interest in anything or anyone. My husband regularly either threatened to leave if I didn’t shape up or told me to just pack up and go. He referred to me (and anyone like me) as Paxil Puppets. He spent even less time at home than he had before. I see now, looking back, that he was likely also depressed at that time. A direct result of living with (or avoiding) my depression.
I’m sad to say that I remember very little of those few years. My son’s childhood is in bits and pieces without many strong memories. Time I will never get back with either of my children has gone much to my regret.
I don’t really know when or why I finally toured out of that dark tunnel but I eventually did. After spending much of my late 20s and early 30s on them I eventually came off all of the meds, despite being told I’d be on them for the rest of my life. Life became brighter. The glass started to look half full.
Since that time I’ve felt myself spiralling down again a few times. I’m aware enough now to know that when I start feeling angry often and for no reason, when the glass is suddenly half empty, when I am just not interested in anything, I need to stop and reset. I have managed to be anti-depressant free for nearly 15 years now. I still have periods of mild depression. I try to stay aware of these times and do what I need to do to get through them. I know I will always have to be aware. That the depression is always just a short step or two away. That I may end up having to take anti-depressants again at some point.
However I’ve also eliminated many of the negative forces in my life, including the husband who avoided “dealing with me” when I was a “Paxil Puppet” and I know that I can always call my friend Cheryl who will fly over in her Super Friend cape when I need her.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or any other mental health disorder please seek help. And please educate yourself and others around you about mental health disorders. #BellLetsTalk