Waking Up From Depression – Let’s Try This Life Thing Again

Twelve years ago I was diagnosed with depression.  I was still in school and although I realized that there were certain things I’d have to deal with in my life, I didn’t quite fathom the seriousness of the situation.  I mean, most teenagers go through some sort of depressive episode, right? After six months of therapy and medication, I moved across the world and began a new life.  I studied psychology as a subject, using what I learnt to teach myself how to cope and I did quite well, avoiding any major depressive spell for over a decade.

In June of last year, my husband and I moved to Croatia.  It was something we had been planning for about 18 months, with the last six months involving lots of administrative and financial preparation.  We made it, we got here, we arrived at our destination, but instead of celebrating, my mind slowly began to switch off…

The initial signs were subtle – fatigue, decreased concentration, increased irritability, short-term memory loss…
‘I think you might be depressed…’ My husband tried to reason.
‘No, I’m not depressed.  I’ve been depressed before so I know what it feels like.’ I’d snap.
Only months later did I allow him to hold my hand as I explained to my doctor what was going on.

How did I get there?

I don’t know.  It sort of just happened and for the first time in years I didn’t see the signs quick enough to react.

On the worst of mornings my husband would carry me out of bed and place me at the dining room table where he’d already have breakfast prepared and laid out; and there I’d sit with my head down, sobbing whilst he talked me into eating… And living. On the worst of days I would just go back to bed and carry on sleeping (usually after my husband left to work or visit a friend). On the worst of nights I’d be awake crying and pacing up and down from one corner of a room to the next.  Over and over… Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.  The pacing, I’d later realize, was how I dealt with the tremors in my hands and legs.

On the best of mornings, I got up. On the best of days, I’d talk to people (other than my husband), visit family, and get some writing done.  My husband would convince me to go for walks with him and these little explorations of nature would turn into the highlights of my days, something that I could look forward to and it would help in saving me from myself. On the best of nights, I’d lie awake in bed at least trying to sleep.

I stopped reading. I stopped writing.  I began to question myself and my ability to lead a fulfilling life.  Everything felt muddled – communicating with people, making sense of my own emotions.  I was in constant pain. Looking back, I remember what happened, but it’s a strange feeling.  It’s like things happened and I was there, yet not really there.  Recalling events from this time is like watching a movie of somebody else’s life.

What happened when I finally got medication?

The anxiety meds kicked in almost immediately.  I hadn’t noticed that I had tremors until they stopped.  My headaches and constant aches also stopped.  I also started going out to face the world instead of living indoors with paranoid thoughts about every sound I heard out there.

As for the antidepressants, my initial response was hellish.  An even worse insomnia kicked in, accompanied by irregular bowel movements and dry skin.  All of this and my mood hadn’t really improved.  It was enough to make me reconsider the decision to take medication in the first place, but I hung in there, supported by my husband, family and friends.  After a long six weeks, I began to realize that I was realizing things.  I saw the sunshine, I heard the noise of the fridge motor.  I felt awake in the moment.  I was alive.  I was living.  Okay, the meds had helped.

I started to look people in the eyes again, greet them with a smile.  I tried to read, then started getting back into the habit.  I got more involved in my work and helping others.  I saw my husband smile after seeing me smile for the first time in months.

Lessons learnt

I love what I do.  I’m good at what I do.  I live in a most amazing and beautiful place.  I am capable of achieving great things.  I have a wonderful support network of friends and family.  And most importantly, I have the most amazing husband in the whole wide world (perhaps even the universe, we’re still debating). There is hope for me after all.

The stigma of mental illness

As I’ve tried to figure this out and combat a taboo that is still associated with mental illness, I’ve seen that more people are talking about it.  John Green is talking about it and Stephen Hawking is comparing depression to black holes…

So, why did I write this?

Well, because I hope that maybe my story will let somebody else out there know that they are not alone and help is available (even though it may seem like it’s not).

I read a metaphor comparing depression to being in a burning building and suicide being the equivalent of jumping out of the building.  The outcome of both – burning or jumping from the tenth story, is the same but jumping seems less painful and quicker.  Depression is painful for those going through it and those watching a loved one go through it.  What I’m hoping gets across from this is that we don’t have to jump out of the burning building, help is on its way.  Even if you don’t see it, the firefighters are in the building and they’ll get to you before the fire does.

Some fun (and helpful) resources:

Maja Dezulovic

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