“Are you okay? Is anything wrong? You seem different.” These are the phrases I repeatedly heard my senior year of high school. My parents were highly concerned about me and it wasn’t for another five years that I finally understood what was going on.
I was struggling with depression. It wasn’t until my early twenties, I finally reached out to my family doctor for help. I shared some of the things I was feeling and she agreed my best line of treatment would be medication. Even though she told me it may take 6-8 weeks to take effect, I was relieved to have some help. Medication helped me to finally feel like myself again. It’s now been twenty years that I’ve officially been diagnosed with depression and I can still say that it’s a struggle. It’s not a daily struggle, not weekly and sometimes not even monthly. For me, it definitely comes in waves and I never know when a flare is around the corner.
I have learned throughout the years how to navigate these waves. I have given myself permission to let go of my daily obligations and take care of myself. Sometimes that means eating as healthy as possible and being sure to get my workout in; but sometimes that means junk food and Netflix for 24 hours. To me, depression looks like a thief. She comes and robs me of my desires to do the things I love. She takes away the energy I need to tackle my daily life. Worst of all, she sucks all of the patience and understanding I have right out of me. I know the common perception of depression is sadness. For me, there’s a bit of that. But the biggest factor is irritability…. sometimes even rage. Imagine the most impatient person in your life. Now imagine she has lost her desires, energy and the will to even get out of bed. You can probably guess her tolerance level for anything outside of what is to be expected for the day. It’s pretty much nonexistent. And this is where my guilt comes in.
Before I had children, depression often robbed me and my husband of joy in our home. We fought a lot. He didn’t understand what I was going through and I didn’t have the patience to try to explain it to him. After I became a mom, depression changed. It took on a whole new level of guilt. I have these little people that I am responsible for and I worry that I will not be enough. From the time they were very young, I explained to them I had depression. I told them I have days where I am very sad, tired, or angry for no reason at all. I warn them my patience is very thin and I may act irrationally to some of their behavior. In their lifetime, I have apologized countless times. Something new my husband and I finally tried in the last year is couples counseling. It has been such a gift to us.
Our wonderful counselor has helped explain what I am going through in a way I never could. She has helped my husband to understand that I don’t have control over the things going on in my mind or the feelings that stem from those thoughts. I have learned to let him know when I’m struggling as soon as I realize it. It helps us both be more aware of our actions and reactions. He usually gives me a little more space, picks up a lot of my responsibilities, and does all he can to support me.
For me and for my family, the single most important factor of mental illness has been grace. I have to give myself grace when I’m struggling. Grace to overlook laundry piling up, grace to be okay with fast food for my family again, and grace to forgive myself for the massive amounts of alone time I need. Everyone’s struggle with mental illness is different. And though I have had many trying times, I am so fortunate to be surrounded by love and grace every single day.
I am thankful for all of my guest contributors who allowed me to share their mental health journey. I am also thankful for the many supporters who engaged and supported the dialogue.