It was the winter of 1995, and I was having difficulty sleeping. I would fall asleep, then wake up and just lay there. I would maybe get two or three hours of sleep a night. This went on and on. Then in June of that year, one day I just fell apart. I started crying, I told Pat (her husband) there was something wrong with me, I just didn’t feel right, I wasn’t sleeping well… He comforted me, but did not know what else to do and left it up to me to decide what action, if any, I wanted to take.
I was very worried about people knowing, there was such a stigma. But the lack of sleep was beginning to take a toll on me. A friend convinced me to see a doctor, so I went in to see a regular practitioner who prescribed Paxil for me. I took that thinking now I will be better.
But my friend was really forceful, pushing me to get counseling. I grew up in a German family, we never talked about feelings! She convinced me to go see a psychiatrist. She even called and made the appointment. I did not really care for the first person I met with, but I did go to see someone else who I ended up seeing for a year. We would try different medications, and over the course of ten years I probably tried every anti depressant medication there is. I also suffer from anxiety and I can’t decide which is worse. Anxiety is like this tightness in my chest and it feels like it is coming up my throat. Initially they did not diagnose the anxiety, since we were working hard on dealing with the depression.
I had a brother who committed suicide and during my time in counseling, the ten year anniversary of that event came around. That could have been part of what brought on the depression. I did not really deal with his suicide, just pushed it under the rug. And, I think it is genetic, I believe he suffered from depression, too. He was such a caring, gentle soul, but struggled with a lot of things. I think families need to let each other know how they are feeling, but it is a very selfish disease, it is hard to talk about. If I had known then what I know now, could I have saved him?
Just when I was feeling really good and the medication seemed to be working well, I suffered a very large seizure. They took me to the hospital and determined the medication caused the seizure. Then I went on a roller coaster of medication after medication, sometimes I would feel ok, but it would never last very long. There were a lot of years of roller coasters.
During this time I remained in therapy and found that writing poetry helped me work through issues. I would get up in the middle of the night and write a poem about whatever was bothering me and the next time I went to therapy, I would read it to my therapist and we would discuss it. It was really helpful for me, they spoke what I was feeling. And I have never been able to write since!
I took a break from therapy, but felt the need to go back after some rough times. During this time in therapy, I had a lot of thoughts of suicide. I remember one night I was laying on the couch, and I pretended I was sleeping when Pat came to check on me and cover me with a blanket. All night long I lay there thinking, ‘I will wait until he’s asleep because I have all these pills upstairs, I can take all my pills, come back and lay on the couch and this is where I’ll die. The kids will get up and leave for school, they wouldn’t even notice me on the couch, then Pat will come down and find me and it will be all over.’ It was so matter of fact, I was thinking these thoughts over and over and over again, but it was like I was paralyzed. Finally the night was over and I hadn’t gotten up. I happened to be meeting some friends for a run at 6:00 am, so I got up and thought, ‘well, I blew this chance,’ and I went for a run with my friends as if nothing had happened.
I actually had an appointment with my therapist that day. She asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘not very well, I was going to commit suicide last night.’ Everything was just so matter of fact, so non chalant. She wanted me to see my doctor, but I did not want to go. She would not let me go home, I either had to call my husband or she would take me to the clinic. I made her promise she wouldn’t make me stay, so she drove me up there, we got in this little room and the nurse came in with a tub and told me to take my clothes off and put them in the tub, and that is when I fell apart, I absolutely lost it.
Apparently they hadn’t communicated very well! A new doctor came up, and I am still seeing her to this day. She is just wonderful. They called Pat to take me home and then he got a lock box and locked up my medication.
During this time my kids did not know a lot. They knew I was sick, just not the extent. I tried to protect them and hide as much as I could. I had lost a lot of weight, too. Some people thought I had cancer.
Through it all, one of the things that saved me was exercise. It is a release for me and something I can’t go without for very long. I run, go for a walk, bike ride, I have a lot of things I enjoy. Exercise and just being around people helps me.
I also have a friend who puts me in touch with people who feel they may be suffering from depression, to help them out. It’s actually healing for me to do that.
After I got better I went back to school, to University of Mary and got my accounting degree. I got my CPA license and went to work at Eide Bailly. That was twelve years ago. You can accomplish a lot even when you are not feeling well! Doing something that made me feel like I was a part of society also helped.
I am an accountant and my managers know that I need to have a very balanced life and are very good about checking in with me. Sometimes my friends will see that I am kind of on the edge and ask me if I should be working so much. And, I always have somebody to call. Sometimes I just need someone to listen or give me a hug. I have wonderful friends that have gotten me through tons of things. And they know I would do the same for them.
Every six months I go in for a (meds) check with my psychiatrist. We spend time discussing how things are going, just to make sure we are on the right path. Medications have come a long way in eighteen years. Every time I go to the doctor there seems to be a change, or something new. For instance, the medication I was taking for anxiety was not working well. So I switched to something else and it has been working better. And, some people can do it without medication.
This is an illness that lasts for a lifetime, I will always be on medication for both depression and anxiety and I will always have to watch myself. I know there is nothing I can do about it, other than follow the things I’ve learned.
Although this is a very difficult story to share, my hope is that telling it will help someone who is struggling to know there is hope and help is available. It may not seem possible, but you can lead a normal, productive life with depression.
If someone feels they have symptoms of depression, Lori recommends seeing a psychiatrist first.
There is also a very helpful article from Mental Health America of ND on page 14 of this issue. It will be published on this website at a later date.