This is part two of Miriam’s story about coping with depression. Read part one here.
It has been three months since I was diagnosed with depression. Three long, grueling months of cajoling, prodding and pushing myself to put one foot in front of the other. It is an uphill battle with glimpses of successes. My mother says that getting through each day is an achievement. I want to believe her, but I cannot help comparing myself to how I was before the episode.
The mornings are especially challenging. I have always been one to snooze my alarm clock for a few extra minutes of sleep, but nowadays waking up means facing a new day of uncertainties and insecurities. There seems to be a force keeping me from looking at the day as fresh and invigorating. The bounce in my step has disappeared.
Many of my friends say that I am the same person, just a slower version. It is comforting that the world sees a similar me, yet aggravating because I do not feel like me. Sometimes I want to yell aloud, “This is not who I am. I am really more animated and enthusiastic. Right now, I feel dull and boring!”
Today I woke up feeling down.
I have been haunted by one thought which will not disappear. If not for this intrusive notion, I think I would almost be back to myself. I am consumed with the idea that the bridge will collapse and I will sink with my car and drown in the ocean. My therapist says, “What is the probability that this will occur?” I counter with, “What was the probability that the World Trade Center would crumble into rubble?” My friend thinks that the bridge collapsing is a metaphor for how I am feeling, namely that I was hit suddenly and unexpectedly by depression and fell apart. I talk a lot about my obsession with the bridge falling, looking for reassurance, but it seems that verbalizing it makes me more anxious.
The other night, a former boss of mine called about something. He had no idea what I was going through. I filled him in on what had been transpiring. I got off the phone beaming. He was so understanding and encouraging. He knew just what to say. I am aching for more people like this in my life.
I am searching for a support group. I sense that talking to people who are going through a similar experience will be comforting and soothing. I imagine that possibly I will even make some friends. Maybe this is being too optimistic. At least I have some hope left in me.
I write to keep going, sometimes to get going. In the morning, when my day seems overwhelming, I go to my computer and write from wherever I am at that moment. I keep the page open the entire day and periodically check in with the time and what is going on at that instance; how I feel, what I am doing and what I can do. Writing gives me an outlet for my thoughts and emotions. Instead of remaining trapped in my mind, with no place to go, I express myself on paper. It is basically a journal, although I do not save the page at the end of the day. My mom says that I should keep the entries, so that one day I can use them in a book. It is a good idea, though I think I will remember the events without a journal. But she is probably right.
What a boost! I received an email asking me to teach in January. My self esteem went up a few notches. Even the bridge does not seem as ominous anymore. I imagine being all better, but the reality is that improving is a process which must take its time.
I am impatient. I want to go back to myself.
The truth is that this is not the first time I had an episode. Last time, about five years ago, it was much worse and I did get back to myself, even better. There were many components to my recovery. One that stands out is that I got a job as soon as I was ready to get out there and work. Of course, the job was part time and flexible. The fact that my boss knew about my situation and was kind and compassionate helped enormously.
Another piece of my healing was medication and therapy. I was working with professional, empathic doctors, both a psychiatrist, as well as a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT). The psychiatrist prescribed and monitored my medication, and the CBT gave me tools to manage my depression and anxiety.
The CBT helped me in very concrete ways. For example, when I started seeing my therapist, I was very fearful of riding the subway. Today, I actually enjoy being on the train. I find it relaxing and stress free. Imagine that, therapy really does work!
One more factor in my recovery was exercise. Upon the recommendation of my doctor to do some sort of physical activity, I joined a gym. I cannot say it was easy to go. My motivation to go was sometimes nil. Often, I dragged myself there because I knew it was beneficial for my mental health. It helped me live more in the moment, which made it easier for me to get through the day as evenly as possible. After some time of feeling the benefits, exercise became more part of my routine.
The climb continues to be an arduous one with ups and downs. There are good moments and not so good instances. There are people who are supportive and others who do not understand. Sometimes there are flashes of my prior self and other times I wonder how I will ever be the same. Pep talks are a constant companion, both internally as well as from other people.
Feeling depressed and anxious has made me feel unsure of myself. I feel like I lost my footing, like I cannot rely on the core me. I also do not believe that I will get better. Being in the midst of the fog of depression, it is difficult for me to see a brighter future. The reassurance of those close to me; my parents and other family members has given me a base to rely on, some traction to stay on course. They also have provided me with hope and encouragement that I crave to move forward in my recovery.
The journey is a challenging one. Sharing my story with others is a balm, healing my wound. The silent scream in my head is being expressed and heard by others. The noise in my head is quieting down as I let you in on my struggle.
Time has elapsed. I have emerged victorious! I no longer feel depressed. I have renewed hope and vigor. My daily life has lost its drudgery and struggle. It took a lot of hard, focused work. Each day was a battle in literally putting one foot in front of the other. I pushed myself each moment to move in a positive direction.
Of course, sometimes I failed. I became discouraged and hopeless, but there were few days that I spent in bed wallowing in my suffering. I tried to keep myself busy with positive activities, whether it was doing jigsaw puzzles, doing art projects, cooking, visiting an elderly woman.
Whatever I was able to do, I did. I forced myself to go for walks with my father, to get out and move around a little. As I mentioned, I exercised, took my medication, kept my therapy appointments even when I so did not want to go, often because of the anxiety involved in traveling there. I worked, talked to friends, wrote poems.
I had a lot of support from my parents who constantly urged me to keep doing and moving. My mother would have done anything for me. If I said that I wanted to take a trip to the moon, she would have done everything in her power to make it happen. My experience with depression brought me closer to people. It seemed to have removed an armor that I wore to protect myself in the past. Going through depression was by far the most difficult experience I have gone through, as well as the most life transforming.
I am now back to teaching in college, which raises my sense of self esteem. The interaction with my students is invigorating and rewarding. I even went back to school for a degree in social work and I am currently using my experience with mental illness, working in a mental health clinic. This job puts me on the other side of the chair. I am no longer the one “laying on the couch,” rather I am counseling others and utilizing my sensitivity and compassion which has been cultivated through my own challenges.
Socially, I am spending time with friends, both new and old, which feels great. Walking three times a week with one of my newly acquired friends is refreshing both in body and soul. On weekends, I get together with others to mingle and meet interesting people. I have joined a therapy group, which helps me build authentic, meaningful relationships, with the ultimate goal of finding a spouse.
If someone would have told me that I would reach this stable, content place, I would have scoffed.
As a matter of fact, people did predict this. My parents, my therapist, my psychiatrist all continuously encouraged and prodded me along, knowing that, with time, my life would improve. I did not believe them. Being suffocated by a dark, hovering cloud blinded me from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but they knew it would happen and believed in me. Certainly, that was a tremendous force in my recovery.
I now use writing as a vehicle to express my feelings and ideas about mental illness and coping with difficulty in general. My poetry conveys a sense of hope, encouragement and support for those who crave it. Sharing my story lends a strength in connecting with others facing similar hurdles.
I hope, in reading my story, you have been strengthened in your own journey and feel comforted that you are not alone. The struggle is real and can be long and exhausting, but you can emerge a champion and you may even come to appreciate the trials you had to endure as training in becoming a more empathetic, genuine person. I urge you to take these lessons and fly with them and the silent scream will be transformed into a melodious song of victory.