Hi, my name is Karen and I am the girl who used to have a major depressive disorder. I’m the girl who lost 20 pounds because I couldn’t eat, who couldn’t sleep at night because I felt so hopeless, who had guilt over the awful life my family must have because they have to live with me, who cried all the time, who couldn’t think of anything else other than how much dread I had for living, and who couldn’t be left alone because of the suicidal ideations.
That was the “old” me. Now I’m the Karen of all the memes. I have my crap together, I have a happy family, I am confident, I am smart, I am capable, I don’t cry, I enjoy living, I help other people through mental illness, and I am the girl who will gladly ask for the manager. This is my persona, the old and new me.
And … this persona is about as arrogant as a person who says “Hi, I’m Joe and I used to be an alcoholic”.
I have been in remission from this disorder for about eight years. Yes I have sad days, but sad days and depression are about as different as a pond is to an ocean. There is no comparison to the depth and vastness of depression.
Since I have been symptom free for so long, I thought it might be a good idea to slowly wean off my anti-depressants. With my doctors approval, over the period of about a year, I slowly and gradually started weaning off of medication. I was doing well and had dosed down so much that in January I had completely weaned off of them. Then one day a few weeks after I had completely weaned off of them, I woke up to depression.
It was instantaneous! This was new for me as my prior episode had been gradual. I woke up to the feeling in my stomach. The feeling of darkness, of dread, of the fear that I was always going to feel like this, of hopelessness, of utter despair, of wishing I could just die. This has to be one of the scariest feelings in the world.
If you or someone you love suffers from a major depressive disorder, here are a few things I want you to know …
Be your own advocate!
I immediately called my doctor when I started feeling symptoms. I was told they wouldn’t be able to get me in for 3 weeks. So, I pushed back and told them how serious it was. Although they did not get me in, they did get me started back on my medication immediately. When I called in after my initial visit to say my symptoms had surfaced again, I was told to increase my medication and they would see me in about a month. I expressed it might be hormonal due to some weird changes in cycle etc. I was basically told to stay in my lane, increase your meds and we will see you in a month.
In my opinion, this is unacceptable. Depression is not taken seriously enough and it can be fatal. Everyone is puzzled why suicide rates are so high, yet medical professions aren’t giving it the gravity of seriousness as other illnesses, and insurance is lacking on what they cover. Since I had done some research and spoke to other professionals about hormone issues, I took a step and ordered my own saliva testing online to test my hormones. I also did everything I knew to start treating to depression on my own.
Brian recently gave a sermon with the topic of “Don’t quit!” I remember the morning after the service I rolled over and told him as I was sobbing I wanted to quit. I had forgotten how hard battling it was and how I felt hopeless that I was ever going to feel better again. He used self-talk on me, reminding me I had fought this battle before and gotten better, that this was a disease and I needed to treat it, and he reminded me that this pain was temporary.
Use the tools that worked in the past.
Immediately when I started feeling the depressive symptoms, I started fighting using every tool in my arsenal. I started exercising like crazy, I told people who I could trust, I kept myself busy, I contacted my friend who was a counselor and scheduled a time to meet, I started taking my anti-depressants, started getting acupuncture, downloaded apps to listen to when I couldn’t sleep at night, and tried to focus on something other than me. Trying not to focus on something other than how awful I felt was difficult, so keeping myself occupied was helpful.
Don’t trust yourself.
If you are having suicidal ideations, this is not normal and you probably should not trust yourself to be alone. I have a team of “babysitters” when I am in a depressive episode (I think they communicate behind my back too), who constantly make sure I am not alone. They take turns, because being with me I am sure is difficult. They occupy my time with yoga, walks, exercise, shopping, hikes, or running errands. These people don’t judge me when I say stuff like “I hope I get the coronavirus and die”, or “I wonder how many of Brian’s blood pressure medicines I could take to end this”. They hug me, let me cry, tell me it’s going to get better, and remind me that they love me. I feel safe with these people and I know it is completely OK to tell them the truth.
I wish I could say at this point I am 100% back to the recovered Karen, but I’m not. I am trying to remain hopeful that I will get there and doing my best every day, but I know it’s a process and I keep reminding myself of this verse “for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians, 4:17).
At this moment that eternal glory can’t come soon enough, so maybe that is the good part of this affliction, that it reminds me how much I need a Savior and makes me yearn for Him more deeply than my non-afflicted self ever does.
Until that day, I will keep pressing on and choosing to see God’s love through all of you.