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I shared my diagnosis last month, but it was a long road for me to get there. I was able to talk somewhat openly about depression for a while, but to be honest enough to share the full picture? That was a scary choice.
Monday marked the beginning of a week long social media campaign, #sayitforward by the International Bipolar Foundation.
"When it comes to mental health conditions, silence is not golden. Silence
breeds stigma, and stigma prevents people from seeking life-saving treatment and support."
I see now how the more we share with others, the less alone we are and in turn, we give others strength to open up and even search for treatment. Silence, or selective silence feels safe. We don't open ourselves up to those that don't or won't understand, but the flip side is isolation.
After so many encouraging comments last month, I decided to share my story in hopes that it will help someone. I'll do it in a few parts for sake of length.
While I can look back into my teen years in particular and identify that a lot of what was labeled "rebellion" was in fact, behavior under the influence of bipolar disorder, that's all in hindsight with the information I have now. I do see the importance of openly talking about mental illness though, no different than heart disease or cancer, so your family can better understand their history. Many experts agree that mental illness is hereditary, at least on some level. The Mayo Clinic states, “About 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness in any given year. About half of U.S. adults will develop a mental illness sometime in their lives.”
I can remember having my first baby and bringing her home. There were plenty of gushy, warm feelings, but I distinctly remember a moment, looking across the room at her in her bassinet and feeling detached. And then of course, feeling guilty.
One night I had an emotional breakdown in the hallway. She hadn't been crying, in fact she was an incredibly easy baby. I had heard of the "baby blues" and chalked it up to that.
The "blues" were worse after having my second baby, but the thrill of having a newborn and the 2 year old I already had, was enough to keep me floating with my head above water.
After my third baby was born, I couldn't seem to shake the "blues", but I didn't understand what was happening to me. I felt like I was living life under a cloud, and no matter how much I wanted to get better, I was like Eeyore. People describe the busyness of life as “having a lot on their plate”. It seemed for me, with each pregnancy & birth, my plate shrank. It took less & less for me to get overwhelmed & angry, which then gave way to guilt & depression.
When #3 was about 8 months old, I read an article in the San Jose Mercury News called, Beyond the Baby Blues by Shoshana Bennett. (Now a PhD., she has since gone on to write multiple books on the subject.) This was the first thing I read or heard that described me! I was so thankful to have some information to take to my doctor.
I have since learned that Post-Partum depression affects about 20%, or 1.3 million women in the U.S. a year! That’s more than diabetes, stroke or breast cancer. It’s also over twice the amount of men affected by E.D. A condition addressed in long, detailed commercials that our society now openly talks about.
I went in to the doctor's office we talked about what I read, what I was feeling and some options. She talked to me a little about Post-Partum Depression. The way I understood what she said, was that some women need a few months on an antidepressant to “jump start” their brain/bodies into making the right balance of chemicals again. She started me on Zoloft and I was looking forward to feeling better.
It took a few weeks to adjust to the meds. It made me extremely sleepy. I had to be careful driving in the afternoons for school pick up, because I was afraid of falling asleep (a common side effect as you adjust to the meds). I was so desperate for help though, I felt I had to try to push through.
The Zoloft worked. I was feeling better. “Normal”. I had a lot of support from my husband and the group of women I had been meeting to pray with for 5 years. After 6 months, with the agreement of my Dr., I went off the meds.
Life went on as normal for a while. I don’t remember any major depressive symptoms, but I can look back and see mania. There’s a running joke in our house that before any event, I would be up sewing a dress, making food or whatever, into all hours of the morning. I used to think it was procrastination. Well, it was, but being manic had more to do with being the driving force behind it. Also, my anger & impatience would spike and for me, that’s a tell tale sign of being “up”. My Dr. has told me that for many people, the fun/energetic mania happens when they’re younger. Later in life it manifests as irritation or anger… great.
When my kids were about 9, 7, 5, and 2, I had firmly established myself as a yeller. I loved being a mom, I loved my kids, but I couldn’t seem to control the yelling when I got angry or overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep up with the household tasks and my responsibilities and that affected my frustration and anger even more. We were outside our friends’ home, getting the kids out of the car and I was yelling. A lot. Loudly. My husband, whom I trust, love and know loves me finally said, “You need to get some help.” Not only did I know he was right, but it was actually a relief to hear him confirm what was already internalized in me.
I went back to my Dr. and she put me back on Zoloft which again worked. By worked, I mean it lifted the depressive feelings and I wasn’t as quick to get angry. It did make me incredibly lethargic and sluggish. After 4 months, it seemed to slowly stop working. The depression crept back in and I went back to see her. She said that could happen, and switched me to Cymbalta.
That summer, I started to see a "life coach". This man used to practice as a licensed psychologist, but decided to go this route instead. I don't remember his explanation, but I knew someone else who was seeing him so I tried it. It was odd. He had a lot of good things to say. Some were a bit more out there than I was used to, but I don’t tend to dream or imagine stuff, so I went with it. Looking back, I can see so much more clearly. After leaving my sessions, I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t think I felt bad, but I did. I also pushed the feelings away and blamed them on my judgement or whatever it was I was going through. Thought I don’t remember, I’m sure those repressed feelings popped up at home, misdirected at the people I loved most. There was one visit, the second to last where he began to make suggestions. If you remember Kevin Nealon’s character on SNL, “Subliminal Guy”, it was kind of like that, though not funny. He would make suggestive comments, irrelevant to what we were talking about, in the context of what I shouldn’t do. For instance, I shouldn’t bring wine to my appointment and offer to drink it with him. That would be close to the “slippery slope”. Yah, I got it and understood who was the slippery character here. I brought my husband with me to my next and last appointment. The guy proceeded to talk to him like I wasn’t even there. He started throwing around clinical terms of my possible diagnoses including Borderline Personality Disorder. (Neither Bipolar disorder or depression was one of them.)
I have come to realize so many characteristics in regards to the brain and disorders, can overlap each other. You need a qualified person to help ascertain which is the best fit to get the help you need. There is no blood test. No markers. This though, this was different. He was simply trying to choose things that would discredit my word against his. Did I tell you before how much my husband loves me? He would have none of that stood up for me and stayed on my side.
Later, it turns out, the other person I knew that was also seeing him for "therapy", was dealing with worse stuff. The guy was actually hitting on her, calling her, eventually harassing her, etc. It was despicable. There’s a reason he’s no longer practicing as a licensed psychologist, but when you look up licenses online, it’s very vague so you end up buying what the slippery guy is selling you. And when you are desperate for help, you begin to believe anything.