My friend, Mary Brünhilde, has been gracious enough to allow me to share her story of depression with you all. I have copied and pasted her story below.
Since Robin Williams’s death, I have a few friends who have posted some very sweet statuses, reassuring all their friends that if they are ever depressed, and need help, they will be there for them. This is a very admirable response to an tragic event like a suicide. But I want to put it into another perspective for you all now, by coming out of the depression closet.
I don’t remember a specific point where I became depressed. I remember feeling very intense emotions, and being a melancholy teenager, but who doesn’t? At that time those feelings only caused destructive behaviors, but not suicidal thoughts. The first time I felt bad enough to ask for help, was my freshman year of college. I got free counseling from graduate students in UNCG’s counseling program. It was enough to provide me with some coping skills, but never stopped the depression. There were good days and bad days. I didn’t want to believe that anything was really wrong.
After college I became increasingly volatile. I had no idea why I was so miserable, because if you looked at my life then, I had no reason to be. The sadness was a physical pain that I could feel, like a permanent body ache. I could function on a daily basis, but it was all an act, and a lot of work. I didn’t have money to pay for a counselor, so in desperation I signed up for a clinical trial of an anti-depressant that I saw advertised on TV. I figured it would get me some help for free, even if the drug ended up not working.
That clinical trial, and the doctor who treated me, probably saved my life. I actually was given the placebo (which I had a feeling I knew), and at the end of the trial the doctor said he would continue to treat me until I was better. He started me on a real anti-depressant, and counseling. I cried in the car after my appointments because I was relieved that someone actually believed that something was wrong with my body, and not just in my mind. After a few dosage adjustments, the medication worked really well. I began to feel happiness again when I smiled- it was like a plane flying out of the clouds, and like my lungs could finally fill all the way with air. Once my thyroid problems were diagnosed and treated, I felt like I had a new body and brain.
It would be great if that were the end of the story, but depression is not so black and white. I would feel good for a while, so I’d decide I didn’t need my medicine anymore. Then a few months later I would feel physically and mentally awful, and go back on it. Once I got pregnant, my new doctor at the University of Michigan spoke with me about weighing the risks and the benefits of staying on the medicine while pregnant, and nursing – so I just quit cold turkey (a big no-no). I suffered through, but this time the depression felt like I was standing behind a glass wall, watching the world happen around me. I used to call it my gerbil ball. I would laugh at your joke, and not feel any mirth. I would snap at people for the slightest annoyance, and become enraged at, well, anything. So I always went back to the medicine. Second pregnancy- did the same thing.
I never told people about my depression, because they were so judgmental. I’ve even heard a family member say the words “they need to just get over it” after hearing a commercial about depression on TV. I thought if I told people that I had depression, they wouldn’t want to be my friend, or wouldn’t hire me for a job. They would just think I was not tough enough to handle everyday life. Or just complaining about nothing. So it stayed tucked away in that one pill I took everyday….or almost everyday.
My current doctor looked over my health history, and had a stern talk with me about my pattern of deciding I didn’t need the medicine. I told her that I don’t want to be dependent on taking a pill everyday for the rest of my life, and she asked if I were a diabetic, would I refuse the insulin too? She explained that my brain needs this medicine to correct an imbalance- and it’s not shameful or anything I’ve done wrong. It is just how my body works- and if one pill a day is all I need, then I’m comparatively lucky.
I’ve never tried to kill myself, but trust me when I say that I understand why someone would. When your body and your brain hurt so much, and nothing you do makes it better, you just want it to stop.
So- why am I telling you all this? Why put all my dirty laundry out for all my friends and family to see? Because you need to know this about me. I’m not ashamed. I’m telling my truth, so that you can all keep your collective eyes on me. My village is spread far and wide- you are not my next door neighbors anymore -so from wherever you are, just know, and understand. God forbid one day I need serious help, someone will see it, maybe even before I do.
Lastly I have a challenge. This is not a bucket of ice water, or even donating money. I just challenge all my friends and family who have depression, to tell your truth. Notify your village. Help me help you. Share this last section with your story, and maybe if we all just keep an eye on each other, we’ll all be okay.