These have all been in the news cycle recently due to the recent deaths of some major celebrities.
We’re having a conversation about mental health.
My only hope is that we continue this conversation. We shouldn’t have to have it shoved in our faces to see the problem.
Depression is a very real thing that many people deal with, suffer from, and try to handle everyday. They often hide it from the world. It’s something that people feel ashamed to have. They don’t talk about it. They put a smile on their faces and suffer alone.
I know this because it’s happened to me.
After years of dealing with my invisible disease, countless people telling me “you don’t look sick”, and striving to fit this societal view of ‘normal’ I reached rock bottom at the beginning of this year.
I’ve always managed to keep a handle on these thoughts—pushing them down and looking at the bright side of life…but I reached a point when I couldn’t see the light anymore. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t breathe.
The thought of interacting with anyone, even close friends was terrifying. I pushed away my loved ones and secluded myself. I was ashamed. I was the person who handled her disease and condition so well. I didn’t let it get me down. But I had reached a point where I lost that part of me and I didn’t want them to know I couldn’t handle it anymore.
I faked it for a looong time…then I couldn’t do it anymore.
I didn’t return phone calls. I cancelled plans when the anxiety I had about schmoozing and pretending life was okay became too much. It felt like a huge weight was on my chest slowly suffocating me.
You know when you’re playing in the ocean. Swimming around. Fighting the surf but always managing to make it through the waves…a little hop and you’re right over it. You start to get a little worn out. It’s nothing you can’t handle though.
Then all of the sudden you get knocked down by a wave. You’re underwater… you can’t tell which side is up… you’re swimming… paddling… flailing.
Then for a brief moment you are right side up and see that glimmer of light.
You start to see direction.
You work and work to get there but just can’t quite reach it.
And as wave after wave crashes down you continue to spin, catching a glimpse of light and promptly having it disappear again.
Then all of the sudden, out of the darkness a hand reaches in and pulls you out.
For me that hand was my Mom. She never left my side. She always had that hand there for me to grab. It just took me awhile to see it and grab on. She guided me into seeing a counselor, encouraged me seek professional help. She knew that I was in a hole and needed a pro to get me out.
She lent me her hand…did what she needed to do to show me that no matter how I felt she was there. She was never leaving my side. She would always pull me into the light…as long I was willing to grab on.
(My Mom has always been on my side and I don’t have room to get into all she has done for me here…more on that later!)
I had plans for life that were ripped away in 2015…that big wave that knocked me over…and I’ve spent the last few years trying to rebuild them. Trying to go back to what I was. Trying to get right side up.
It wasn’t working though. The waves kept coming and kept me underwater… drowning.
After receiving a few blows by way of unsuccessful surgeries trying to clear up an infection I had from my days on peritoneal dialysis, I was broken, I was beaten down, I had lost hope.
It had been 18 years and I was done.
I was ready to call it quits.
Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) is a form of dialysis done at home. I would use a machine that did dialysis for me while I slept. This allowed me the freedom I wanted to have. I wanted to be ‘normal’.
And for a while…I was.
I had finished my degree in Political Science and even had the opportunity to live my dream of working in the State Capitol. I tried to keep up. I tried to do what all of my able bodied friends and colleagues did.
As a spoonie (a spoonie is any individual who suffers from a chronic illness), I couldn’t. At least not all of the time.
I would end up in the hospital at least once a year. Sometimes more. I had endless doctor appointments, tests, exams, you name it. I’ve probably done it.
This always kept me back. I couldn’t be out and about all the time.
I was always exhausted.
I was always a little sad.
I’m not like everyone else. And I struggled with that fact for a long time.
I would have days of despair…thinking I couldn’t go on, thinking I couldn’t handle another day of it. These thoughts never lasted too long though. And I never made an attempt to actually end my life. But boy…I sure did think about it.
When I moved home in 2015, I started a new journey. One of recuperating, resting, and attempting to make my way back to my old life.
I had suffered from an infection in my peritoneum that forced me to stop PD and go back to clinic hemodialysis three days a week.
The doctors attempted to clear up the damage done from the infection. After multiple surgical attempts we came to a tough realization…
PD was no longer an option.
Working full time was no longer an option.
My previous life was no longer an option.
I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t how to feel.
I couldn’t find the light.
I watched everyone in my life go about life as usual—not to say they all didn’t have their own struggles. But they were able to continue working hard, own homes, have children, and live day-to-day without the worry of how they were going to keep going. Keep fighting. Keep their independence.
It was at the end of 2017 that I slipped into depression. Hard core. Worse than it had ever been before.
I was on the phone with my girlfriend. We were discussing life and how we were both struggling. I couldn’t stop crying though. I couldn’t control my tears. I was talking about how I couldn’t do it anymore. This was a change for me—it was the first time I said it out loud. I didn’t want to go on. I couldn’t go back and I didn’t know how to possibly move forward.
I cried every day.
I couldn’t get out of bed.
I cut myself off from the world.
I didn’t see a way out.
I had been on a mild antidepressant for years but hadn’t been in therapy. I was trying to pull myself up by my boot straps and do it alone.
I was stuck.
I didn’t see anywhere to go.
I wanted it to end.
Through tears, sadness, feelings of loss and eventually support from my friends and family (when I finally allowed them back in) I made the decision to get help.
I started seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist.
I was put on new antidepressants.
I dug deep inside and somehow managed to find the strength to go on.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t let depression win. Yet, I can completely relate to those who aren’t so lucky and lose the battle.
There are moments when the thoughts are too much to bear. You’re underwater. You can have a seemingly good life… but you’re still drowning.
I knew my depression was caused by life circumstances. So I did the hard thing. The thing many people never get to do. I changed those circumstances.
I made peace (and am now even a little excited) about moving on from my career path.
I found a new way to live.
I tried really hard to find the beauty in life.
I tried to find a reason to get out of bed EVERYDAY.
By the time the new antidepressants kicked in I had found new hobbies. New things to do with my life. New ways to make myself feel better and be more productive.
It’s one of the reasons I started this blog.
I wanted to share my story.
Hopefully make others in my situation not feel so alone.
I can’t describe how helpful it’s been for me. I’ve connected with others in my same situation. Thank goodness for the internet and its ability connect us. I don’t know anyone else who deals with what I do. It always felt so lonely, so isolating. Friends and family try to empathize but they don’t know. Since I’ve started to share my story so many people have reached out to me to share their stories too. For the first time in 18 years, I wasn’t alone anymore. I had people all over the world who were just like me.
They had the same problems.
The same thoughts.
The same fears.
We connected in a way you only can with someone living with a chronic condition.
Living with the fact that your body is fighting you all the time.
Living with the knowledge that you aren’t the same.
You know what…all of these are ok!
We all have struggles. We all have demons. We all are fighting some battle.
It’s these thoughts that help me not feel so alone. Just because another person isn’t fighting the same battle you are it is important to remember they are fighting something. It’s just a fact of life.
It’s freaking hard. Adulting is hard. Being happy is hard.
I try to be kind to everyone because you never know what they are dealing with.
Something as simple as a smile can go along way. I know it does for me.
Let’s stop the stigma about mental health.
When our bodies are sick we’re fine going to the doctor and nobody judges you. You can take a sick day. You can take a step back and recover.
But when your mind is sick, it’s somehow viewed as shameful. Like you are less than. If you need to step back, rest and take care of yourself it’s not viewed with the same level of acceptance.
I want to remind you…It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be depressed.
If I can leave you with one thing it’s this:
If you are having a hard time, try to get help.
Try to talk to a friend and try to go to the doctor, the same way you would with a twisted ankle.
If you know someone going through a hard time reach out that hand.
Check in on them and try to help.
Sometimes it’s the littlest gestures that make all the difference in the world.
There’s no shame in it.
And everybody should feel ok about getting help.
I did, and it changed my life.
I’m now in the best place mentally that I have been in years.
I have my feet firmly on the ground again.
I opened up. I got help. And it changed my life.
Now instead of chasing a dream…I chase joy.