In the midst of my battle with depression I’ve learned a few of lives most precious gifts, courage and compassion. The courage comes from an inner desire to find contentment. I’ve seen how much suffering is causes by judging myself harshly and Iam learning to rise above self-judgment and be compassionate towards my own imperfections. I didn’t realize I was depressed until I turned forty. I began to see a therapist because I felt restless with my life. After a few sessions she told me I had rejection sensitivity which was a form of depression. She was recommending medication. I felt like the wind was being sucked out of my lungs and my ribs were caving into my spine. I thought depression meant being gloomy and I saw myself as upbeat. I began to understand that depression could mean tweaking my reality in the form of distorted thoughts, self-loathing, and excessive guilt.
Admitting I needed help was difficult, contemplating using depression medicine filled me with shame that I would be viewed as defective. My husband was the only person I talked to about the quandary of my decision, wanting to save face among my friends and peers. Once I started taking depression medicine it felt like I was no longer groping around in dark room, someone had turned the lights on and I could find my way.
Depression stops me in my tracks. I wonder around the house bored, irritable, and beating myself up because I’m not emotionally present with my husband and sons. It can last for days or hours. The next morning I wake and it feels like the sun has just broken through a dense grey fog. I am full of energy to do the things I love like: planting a vegetable garden, writing a story, or playing Lego’s with my boys.
I am not a stranger to mental illness. I just never thought it affected me. Growing up knowing my father was schizophrenic had little impact on my life because he lived on the East coast and I on the West. Even when my sister was diagnosed in her early twenties with the same mental illness it didn’t hit home for me. Maybe I took heed from my mother who fled her marriage with three young children in tow moving from New York to California to escape her sick husband. When my sister Laura went through the worst torment of her disease I kept my distance. I recall hearing she tried to cut the veins in the back of her legs to end her life. At the time, I did little to reach out to her.
My therapist says I should be optimistic and accept that I’ve got the mental illness gene and that depression is a minor form of it. My father and sister didn’t have it so easy. My sister Laura in one of her most recent delusions called to tell me her ex-husband killed JFK. I just listened and told her I found that hard to believe. Later, when I told my husband he pointed out Jeff, Laura’s ex wasn’t even born when JFK was shot. We couldn’t help but laugh. I learned from my own bouts with depression that often times we just want to be listened to and have our feelings acknowledged so, I do that for my sister whenever I can. I sense an enormous relief in her voice once she’s been heard and that is the tiny contribution I am able to make right now to comfort her.
I believe depression has taught me to be courageous. With this steadfast spirit I’ve explored my inner life and looked into a past of dysfunctional family patterns and sexual abuse. My bedside table is littered with books like Lovingkindness the Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Teachings on Love, and Turning the Mind into an Ally. I’ve gone to therapy for more years than I care to count. My sons are familiar with the drill of hanging around in the waiting room during my appointments. On my last visit my son Cole held my journal and reminded me that I needed to turn it into a book so we could get rich. I felt my heart melt for this his whole hearted support of my writing. Maybe when I’m ready I will publish my memoirs and expose my personal struggle to overcome my feelings of unworthiness.
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