It's been a while since I last blogged, and a light-hearted entry would seem most fitting to get back in the swing of my blog, but it's not quite what's on my heart today.
I've been struggling for some time with wanting to open up and share what's been on my heart, not for my own benefit (I am certainly not fishing for attention or sympathy), but for the person or persons out there who may totally relate to what I'm about to talk about, who are silently suffering, and need to hear this today. A topic that is still so very misunderstood by many.
Depression. Yup. That. I have been stuggling with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive tendencies most of my life, but have only been formerly diagnosed and began treatment in 2008. It is a psychological disorder, but it's just like any other physical illness that requires medical attention. The only difference is, that most people who suffer with mental illness, suffer in silence for way too long, for fear that people would think they were - for lack of a better word - "crazy" or suicidal. I admit, I was even one of those people. I think that the biggest misunderstanding is that many people think that depression happens because of traumatic events and circumstances in one's life. And that it's something that's "just in your head". Or perhaps not even a real thing at all. Certainly, bouts of depression in one's life can be circumstantial, but generally, people who suffer with chronic clinical depression and anxiety, have a chemical imbalance in their body that causes them to feel this way. And yes, traumatic events, life changes, abuse, what have you, can certainly be the tipping point for someone, but it doesn't always happen that way. It can often be a long slow boil that lies undetected, or perhaps ignored, for many years. However, clinical depression can't just simply be talked through or thought away with positive thinking. There may not be a tangible scan, or an x-ray, or a blood test to show the illness, but it is a valid medical illness. A very real one. And it needs to be treated and respected just like any other illness, with equal attention and concern.
As a child, teachers would describe me as a perfectionist. Kids would refer to me as a goody goody. But in my mind, I always had to have everything just right, all my ducks in a row. I couldn't cope otherwise. When the class was too noisy in kindergarten, I went to the teacher and told her that the class needed to quiet down. Not because I was trying to be precocious or tattle on the class, but because I honestly couldn't handle the noise. It stressed me out.
As a teenager, I aimed for perfect marks. My notebooks were obsessively neat. Notes were colour coded and if I made a mistake, I'd rip up the page and start over again. I wasn't a fan of whiteout. I spent a lot of time sleeping. The bus ride to and from school, in the cafeteria during lunch hour, even in class. It was about the only thing I ever got in trouble for at school.
In 2006, early in my first pregnancy, I had this fairy tale image of what pregnancy would be like and the joy I would feel having a little life growing inside of me. Reality set in within the first few weeks. The already unbalanced hormones and chemicals in my body were running rampant and I soon became filled with such a deep sadness that I couldn't understand, and couldn't admit. I was pregnant. I was going to have that little person in my life that I had been dreaming about since I was a young girl. Yet, I couldn't bear to face each day. As my pregnancy progressed, my days consisted of waking up around 9am, eating breakfast, going back to bed, waking up for lunch, going back to bed for a few more hours, then waking up just in time to shower and teach piano for the evening, only because I had no choice but to wake up for work. This continued throughout my entire pregnancy.
After my son was born, I had a very difficult time bonding to him. At this time, I still did not understand what was going on. I had a very inacurrate picture of what depression or even post partum depression was, and I had no idea that it was exactly what I was dealing with. I didn't know that the anxiety that I had been dealing with all my life was all tied up in it and that the pot was about to boil over. I thought the anxiousness that I felt on a daily basis my whole life was perfectly normal and that I was just a bit of a 'worry wart'. So as I first time mom, the increased anxiety I was feeling I figured was just normal first time mom stuff. The adrenaline rushes/panic attacks that would wake me with a jolt out of my only ever semi-conscious sleep, again, I chalked up to overtired new mom. I thought that having to carefully match baby bibs to every outfit and then freaking out if the bib (which was obviously meant to catch the spit up) got spit up on, was normal. I would wake up early to do a load of bibs just to make sure I had a good supply of fresh bibs that would match that day's outfit(s). This was not normal, but I didn't see it that way.
I didn't understand until around the spring of 2008 when I was driving down a busy Barrie street with my sweet little one year old snug in the back seat, and I found myself fantasizing about driving into a telephone pole. Then it struck me. This is NOT normal.
I told my mom about it, and right away, she opened up about the worry that she, my husband, and other family members had been having. They had been seeing it for some time, but didn't know how to bring the subject up. And to be honest, even if they had, I probably would have scoffed at the idea. I had to figure it out for myself. They were all very relieved when I finally made an appointment to go see the doctor. I still felt quite stupid about going to see the doctor, because again, my idea of people suffering with depression were crazy, suicidal people that had experienced some sort of horrible trauma in their lives. I was happily married, had a precious new baby, a sucessful business, and a stable life. That didn't fit into my idea of "something to be sad and depressed about". I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to ask for help. Thankfully, my wonderful doctor, knew exactly what I was trying to say. That day was probably one of the most significant turning points in my life.
I was put on a couple of medications, which drastically changed my life within a matter of months. Finally, for the first time, I think ever, I felt like I could breathe. I could slow down, I could manage, I could cope. Things just balanced better in my life. I had better judgement. I was more rational. I was able to handle situations and changes in plans with out freaking out or having a melt down. I was kinder to my husband. I was able to look back on my passed behaviour from a different perspective, and honestly, I was quite embarrassed.
The fall of 2009 arrived. I had finally finished my piano studies, and had sucessfully been on medication for about a year and half, and I felt I was ready to have another baby. The doctor changed my medication to one that was recommended for use during pregnancy. Still not feeling 100% about being pregnant while taking medications, without consulting my doctor, I went off them cold turkey and next thing I knew I was staring at a positive pregnancy test. When I went in to see my doctor and told him what I had done, he was understanding of my intentions, but I think in the back of his mind, he knew exactly what was about to happen.
Within a few weeks, I fell into a place deeper than I had ever been. I felt like all I was doing was merely existing. There was no point to anything. There was no joy. There was no hope. I didn't want to socialize. I didn't care that I was pregnant, and admittedly, wished that I wasn't. The only word I can think of that describes exactly how I was feeling, was paralyzed. I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't bathe or dress my son (or myself for that matter), and it was all I could do to make him a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Forget dinner, that would wait until my husband got home from work at 7pm. I laid in bed or on the couch all day while my toddler sat and watched hours on end of television. I didn't check my emails, or facebook, and I didn't return phone calls. Life had all but stopped. It felt like I was sitting there waiting for a bus that never came. Like I was just waiting to die. Wow, even just writing those words now, seems so grave. (Let me say though, I was not suicidal, I just didn't care if the good Lord decided to come and take me home right then and there.)
When it came to the point that my mom and my mother-in-law had to come to stay and pretty much babysit me when my husband was at work, I realized that I just could not go on this way. I had to trust the Lord that he would take care of the health of my baby and trust the doctor when he said my meds were safe, and just go back on them.
It has been a couple of weeks now that I've been back on my meds and things are leveling out. I can enjoy things like sunshine (and facebook) again. LOL! I'm still very tired and plagued with morning/ all day sickness, which is pretty normal for pregnancy, but I am able to get out of bed again and complete most day to day tasks again. I can sit and play playdough and colour pictures with my son. I am a wife and a mom, and I can function in these roles again.
[UPDATE January 2015 - Please understand that medication is in no way a cure, but valid and proven treatment. And for many, a necessary life-long treatment. I thank God for it, for without it, I don't know how my story would or could end. And I pray that one day maybe there WILL be a cure! Science is awesome like that! And it doesn't mean that I don't ever have ups and downs or that I'm free of anxiety (because trust me, I'm not), but it means that life is much more balanced than it was, and I have a new normal. And I, and everyone around me, is much better off because of it.]
People who suffer from depression, are very good at faking their way through life. Most people would describe me as a happy, chipper, person, but as my husband would say, I was putting on my "Customer Service Caitlin" face. Because depression and anxiety go hand in hand, the anxious part of you wants to mask how you are feeling so that to the rest of the world, it looks like you are handling life just fine, better than fine actually, and that people would think "that person has it all together" while on the inside you are a train wreck. Because the subject of mental health is so misunderstood, the idea of admitting that you are suffering can be intimidating, especially not knowing what kind of reaction you will get when you do talk about it. (And, I'm sure there are people who will read this and think that it is even taboo that I am publicly talking about this.) In 2007, my 23 year old next door neighbour, a very friendly, cheery, helpful young guy, took his own life, unbeknownst to me, while I was next door trying to calm down a fussy baby. I couldn't understand why such a happy guy would want to do such a thing. Perhaps, he had been suffering in silence, putting on his "customer service" face each morning when he got up.
I believe that there are just too many people out there quietly suffering, alone. Afraid to talk about how they've been feeling, or like myself, having no sweet clue that they might actually have a problem because of a skewed conception of what depression is. I look back on my life now and everything seems so obvious, but until I could see things from a balanced perspective, I couldn't have seen things the way I do now.
It is my hope that one day this 'disease' will be better understood, and that more people can get the help that they need. Light needs to be shed on the subject. There needs to be more awareness so that it no longer is looked upon as a taboo thing to talk about or suffer from. So there are less tragic endings to stories that will forever remain untold.
[UPDATE January 2015 - I am so pleased to see how much more aware Canadians are today, five years since I wrote my original blog post. Sadly, the increasing number of very tragic and public (thanks to social media) losses of many beloved celebrities, veterans, first responders, and youth, etc. over the passed few years have inadvertently drawn significantly more attention to the subject of mental health. As have campaigns like Bell Let's Talk and many school and workplace initiatives. People are talking and this is wonderful, but we still have farther to go!
I often think and wonder if people received the help they needed early on, how many lives could be saved. How many marriages and relationships would thrive rather than fail. How many people could be saved from a downward spiral of addiction and other self medicating means. How much less abuse and crime we would see. Awareness and education brings hope. The more we talk, the more people will understand, and the more people will be inclined to open up and ask for help.]
If you can relate to any of this at all, may I encourage you to talk to your doctor about it. It could be a pivotal moment in your life too. And if you have someone in your life already suffering in this area, please be sensitive. Please educate yourself as much as you can, and be understanding of their different behaviours and coping mechanisms. Please don't brush off their struggles. Or forget. Be the rock in their quicksand.
Great video, worth a watch >>> Micheal Landsberg Testimonial (Bell Let's Talk 2015)
Illness, not weakness.
Let's Talk - Part 2 here