This is a story about mental illness

photoThis is what Depression feels like for me: I'm walking along the beach enjoying the sunset when suddenly, a rogue wave rises up from nowhere and smashes down, sucking me underwater, pulling me out to sea. I toss and tumble, swirl in a black vortex. I can't scream for help because I am choking on saltwater. I can't swim to the surface because I don't know which way is up. Worst of all, I don't know how long this will last. Hello, there. I didn't mean to disappear. But Depression is what happened to me last month and I couldn't tell you because I was busy drowning in it. You were right to be concerned. Thank you for the kind emails, for the "where are you's?" on social media, for the texts. I'm sorry I couldn't respond—I'd lost my words and to be honest, I feared they might be gone forever....but I found some words today and so here I am, writing again.

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One morning last month I woke up and couldn't get out of bed. I wasn't physically sick but I hurt all over. I had zero energy. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I was in such deep emotional pain that I was literally squirming.

I went to a therapist. And then another therapist. And then group therapy. Finally, my husband insisted I call my psychiatrist. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want that to be my problem. Not again.

Maybe we just needed to sell the house and move to the country! Maybe I just needed to go back to school! Here, I know: MAYBE I NEEDED TO BECOME A NUN.


So, I landed in my psychiatrist's office. He looked at my chart, raised his eyes to mine and asked why I'd gone off my medication three months ago—without consulting him.

I didn't want to answer that. I wanted to be sick with something else. I wanted to say: Hey, maybe this is diabetes. Or early menopause! Right, doc? That's a possibility, isn't it? This can't be Depression again. I've already talked about and written about all my pain! I'm HEALED, see?

But I didn't say that.

Instead, I looked at my doctor through puffy eyes and said: "I went off my medication because I thought I was all better. I thought I didn't need them anymore. I thought I was cured."

And that's when he told me I probably should be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life.

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Hello darkness, my old friend. You've really humbled me this time. I'm done pretending I don't know you. This time, I'm taking you seriously. I don't really have a choice, do I? You made sure of that. You took me down so fast and so hard this last time that I'll never forget how bad it felt. True, I suspected you were coming. I could sort of feel the storm gathering. Of course, I ran away! That's what I do. I've been trying to get away from you ever since the first time you showed up, back when I was just a little girl.

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It took me almost forty years to get my chronic depression properly diagnosed—mainly because I didn’t think Depression was real.

Mental illness is just not something we Christians talked about when I was growing up. We talked about weak faith, doubt and disobedience. We talk about trusting Jesus, writing gratitude journals and praying more as a way to “increase joy.” But we rarely think of mental illness as a real illness. If we did, we wouldn’t advise our depressed friends to just go for a walk and count their blessings.

My family history is rife with mental illness—most of it unacknowledged and undiagnosed. Mental illness isn’t something we talked about in my family until just recently. Now that we're naming the shadow that's plagued our family for generations, it's easy to see how much of it has been here all along.

As soon you name the shadow, suddenly, you start understanding why you had a maternal grandmother who used to lock herself away for days at a time. You begin wondering if your paternal grandmother’s inability to deal with reality was also sourced in mental illness. Remember how she used to be “sick” for months at a time, confined to her bedroom? Remember how she was forever on the brink of death with some inexplicable illness? When you start acknowledging mental illness as part of your family history, suddenly you really want to talk about your grandmother’s sister: you know, The One We Never Talk About. The one who committed suicide.

I'm not blaming my family for not talking about it. I don't want to talk about it either.

I understand why we keep silent. It scares us.

Mental illness doesn’t feel manageable like other illnesses. There aren’t vaccines. It isn’t curable or predictable. Courses of treatment aren’t standardized. We don’t talk about mental illness because we can’t contain it with words and thereby control it.

Mental illness reminds us too much of our human limitations. It reminds us too much of our powerlessness. It makes us feel helpless and that helplessness is something we can-do-Christian-Americans try to avoid at all costs.

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It's taken several weeks, but I'm beginning to stabilize on new medication. The worst has passed and I'm feeling a little better each day.

These little white pills don't magically fix everything. Basically, medication just levels the playing field. It makes getting out of bed possible. I still have to do my part: get enough rest, eat healthy and exercise. Also, I pray. I'm praying more now than I ever have in my whole life.

I'm learning how to take care of myself again. I've re-committed to therapy. (Apparently, it's not enough to just talk about childhood trauma, you also have to process it out of your body). I've set some new boundaries—my tendency is to over-work and burn myself out. I can't do that anymore. My body just won't let me.

I'm also trying to make amends...because while I was off my medication I hurt some people I love very much. I wasn't myself and I was making decisions while emotionally compromised. I owe it to myself and to them to get and stay healthy.

Mental illness has become a larger part of my story and since writing is how I process my life, I suppose writing about mental illness is going to become a larger part of this blog.

I hope you'll stay awhile.