I have mentioned here before that I battle depression and anxiety, but I have never shared my story. It's going to be a long post, just warning you. And...here we go.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in the fall of 2007, though I've been battling it for even longer than that. I was a very anxious child: for years I was scared to stay in my own bed at night (as much as I didn't want to be scared) and terrified at sleeping at other people's houses. I was scared of a great many things, and cried a lot as a result. I also had frequent stomachaches. Some of this, I'm sure, was related to the health issues I had during my toddler years and tests and procedures that I had to go through as a result.
Depression first manifested itself when I was about 12 years old, about the time my family moved and I was in the throes of puberty. I was moody, angry, and prone to losing my temper. Of course, this was easily dismissed as hormones and growing pains, but deep down, I knew something wasn't right, but I was afraid to ask for help. I dealt with life by making rigid rules for it. I was uptight, self righteous, overly sensitive, and pretty difficult to get along with all around. How I have kept any friends from my teenage years, I know not.
In fact, I feel sorry for everyone who had to put up with me during my teenage and college years--family, friends, teachers, youth leaders, and college roommates. Really, really, really sorry.
When I was getting ready to go back to college for my junior year, my mom told me to consider seeking counseling because she was noticing some attitudes and behaviors that weren't healthy. I knew she was right and had been waiting for years for someone to say something, but I was scared to make that first appointment. Life turned upside down that semester and I suffered a psychic blow of sorts, so I finally scheduled an appointment at my university's counseling center, which thankfully, was free. That was when I got my diagnosis: depression and anxiety. I continued counseling until I graduated, when I no longer qualified for it. I got married the day after my graduation, and thought my days of struggling with depression and anxiety were over.
Boy, was I wrong.
Marriage can bring out issues previously buried or forgotten, and that's putting it mildly. I was also in a car accident a month after our wedding, contributing to my already present anxiety. Add that to learning how to be married, figuring out how to get along with each other's families, and my difficulty finding employment...you've got a recipe for a meltdown, which happened about five months into our marriage. Back to counseling I went, with a different counselor this time. I worked with her for a few months, and things started to balance out again.
Then we decided it was time to chuck the birth control and start our family, and we both noticed that I wasn't nearly so moody when I went off the pill. About a month or so before we found out I was pregnant, I became pretty badly depressed. I started taking a bunch of supplements because I was afraid of antidepressants--I thought they were placebos at best and horrible mind-altering toxins at worst. Then I got a positive pregnancy test and had to stop taking most of those "natural" supplements, but at first, I felt so happy! Apart from the nausea of course, heh.
As the pregnancy wore on, I became depressed again, and this time, guilt was added to it. I read things online that more or less said I was hurting my baby because I was depressed, and that children of depressed mothers struggle more in life. I also knew that my chances of having postpartum depression were greater because of this, and I was terrified of that possibility. Guilt + depression + anxiety = one emotionally messed up pregnant lady (as if pregnant women aren't emotional enough already).
Stephan urged me to bring it up with my midwives, and when I finally did, the midwife I saw suggested a pregnancy-safe antidepressant. I didn't want to take antidepressants, and had been doing everything imaginable to avoid them for years. The midwife sensed my hesitation and said we would talk about it at my next appointment. She made a note in my chart, and thus began my month of deliberation. I studied, thought, and prayed about it. I discussed it with Stephan (he has struggled with depression himself in the past). When the thought of antidepressants wouldn't leave my mind, I decided that was my answer.
I went to my appointment, told the midwife my decision, and she made the prescription. No bad feeling about it--that was good. I filled it--again, no foreboding feelings. Then I took my first pill.
"Here goes nothing," I thought as I washed the pill down with a glass of water. I had no expectations for what would happen. If anything, I was skeptical.
Over the next few weeks, I took my pills dutifully, not really expecting anything to come of them, until one evening, Stephan asked me this question:
"Laura, do you know how long it has been since you lost your temper?"
I was a little taken aback by his question, but I thought about it for a minute. Then I realized, that it had been weeks since I lost my temper...since before I started taking the antidepressants. It dawned on me--I had never thought that my tendency to lose my temper as frequently as I did was a manifestation of depression! I had always thought it was just a part of who I was, especially since one branch of my extended family is well-known for having short tempers.
"Wait a minute," I thought. "depression must run in my family!"
It made perfect sense, and feelings of relief and guilt came over me. Relief, because I knew that my depression was most likely genetic and not my fault. Guilt, because all these years I had been rejecting medication when it could have been helping me. Who knew a tiny blue pill could help so much?
Before anyone thinks I'm being paid by the pharmaceutical industry to endorse antidepressants, I want to tell you that I *hate* needing medication. When I go even one day without it, I see the effects.
"Really, Laura? Even one day?"
Hey, I'm pretty sure insulin-dependent diabetics see the effects if they miss a dose of their insulin, so why can't depressed people who need medication see the effects when they miss a dose? When I forget to take my medicine, I become irritable and panicky. Trust me, it ain't pretty.
I have been taking antidepressants for almost two years. However, even with medication, depression and anxiety still have a significant hold on my life. I did not realize this until recently, and have started going to counseling again, with a new therapist (I found out my previous one was no longer in practice). After filling out some questionnaires, I found out that I had moderate depression and severe anxiety. We also discovered that I have symptoms of PTSD. Say what?! Looking back on my life, I believe that my hearing problems and speech delay, and the tests I had to go through to find out what was causing the speech delay, are what brought about PTSD.
My therapist specializes in a therapy called EMDR. I have only had a few sessions of it, and I'm already seeing a difference. For the first time since my initial diagnosis six years ago, I can see a future where depression and anxiety don't have so much control over my life.
Am I saying my path is for everyone? Absolutely not. Antidepressants are not for everyone--I know people whose depression is directly linked to hormone and/or thyroid issues, for example. If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, please get help. One thing is for certain, this battle is not one that can be fought alone. You need someone who will help you fight, an ally. I promise that someone WILL help you, you just have to reach out.
When I was first diagnosed six years ago, the thought of sharing my struggles in such a public way was paralyzing. I told very few people of my diagnosis because of the stigma, although I'm sure many suspected something wasn't quite right with me. Even now I am apprehensive about sharing this because I know I am opening myself up to a variety of opinions on the subject, including criticism. While attitudes towards mental health issues are improving, there is still a lot of stigma and ignorance on the matter. Too many people think that those of us who struggle with depression just need to "snap out of it", "think positive", and my personal favorite "just CHOOSE to be happy!" I wish it were so easy, but it's not.
If you or someone close to you is battling depression, anxiety, or any other mental or mood disorder, you are not alone. You are never alone. I also want you to know that there is still hope. Please don't give up on hope.
I will close this with a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from his talk last General Conference:
...never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. As President Monson said to the Relief Society sisters so movingly last Saturday evening: “That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.” Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.
Elder Holland's talk deserves a post all its own. Another time.