Aged 40 – United States
A friend shared this project with me, and I was impressed and inspired to participate. I tend not to share all of this quite so openly, but I share in the hope that doing so will serve to lessen the stigma associated with mental health, so here I go.
My first real bout with depression occurred in 1998 after my father passed away. He died the day after my birthday, right as I was about to finish school and then head off to university in the autumn. His death, along with the life changes that were taking place, left me in a very dark place for probably a year. I muddled through, largely on my own, as it was not something that was really discussed in my family, nor in my circle of friends.
Over time, I dealt intermittently with mild symptoms, but I was generally stable for several years until 2012. By that time, I was working as an ICU nurse and had become a single mom to foster children. I had 2 foster daughters that had been with me nearly 2.5 years that were returned to their mother, even though everyone knew it would not last. In addition, I had 2 foster sons that I would eventually adopt, and I had started graduate school, working toward a master’s degree in nursing education. Letting the girls go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I found myself in a very, very dark place and was suicidal within a few months. I barely slept or ate and lost about 40 pounds. I wanted to die, and I had a plan in place. The only thing that really stopped me was that my sons were still technically in the custody of the foster care system, and I would not have a say in where they went if I was gone. I could not let them go to strangers, possibly separated again as they were before they came to me. The final breaking point was when I got into a heated argument with a coworker over a fairly trivial matter. That was NOT who I am, and I knew it was time to decide. Either I was going to do it, or I was going to carry on, but if I was to carry on, I had to get help. I could no longer try to do it alone.
I contacted my physician, who was absolutely wonderful. However, when she asked me if I was suicidal, I lied. I knew that if I admitted to it, I would be admitted to inpatient psychiatric care under an emergency order of detention, meaning I would not be able to refuse. I had worked on a locked mental health unit during my training as a nurse, and it was difficult enough for me when I was there as a student and could come and go at will. I just couldn’t go as a patient and be forced to remain. In addition, I was unwilling to risk the placement of my children for me to go inpatient.
I began medication and counseling for depression, and over time I began to come out of the darkness. It was a long road, and some things remained terribly difficult. I still couldn’t really talk about it with my family. They just didn’t really get it. Then, almost 1 year to the day after they had gone back to their mom, the girls’ reunification failed, and they moved back into my home, and I became their permanent legal guardian. The struggles with my mental well-being were far from over but having all of my children safely in my care went a very long way to easing some of the more severe depression.
Over time, I adjusted to my new normal, and symptoms of depression would wax and wane. I learned to recognize when it was time to ask for help or consult with my physician about changing doses of antidepressants. When I initially started the medication, the intent was to eventually wean off of it. I know at this point, that I will take it for the rest of my life. The stigma I associated with that no longer matters to me. What does matter is that I never want to be in that place again. The darkness still creeps in more often that I like to admit, but I have never again been suicidal. Until one has been in that place, there is no way to understand how overwhelming it is. I like to believe I could overcome it again, but I honestly can’t be certain, so I work very hard to never find myself there again.
My next round of severe depression came after I lost my mother in December 2018. The subsequent year was terribly painful. She had been “my person”. Life felt very dark indeed. Grief and depression are separate entities, but when they combine in one place, it can be completely overwhelming. I couldn’t focus and I barely managed basic day-to-day functions. My house was a mess. I was doing the bare minimum at work. My children were ok, but I was not giving them as much of myself as I should have. I was very much “going through the motions”. The year of firsts was brutal….first birthdays, holidays, family anniversaries, celebrations….without her could leave me a sobbing mess with no warning. I dreaded Christmas and the anniversary of her passing 3 days after. Oddly enough, that day came, and it was almost like flipping a light switch. I found I could take a deep breath again. The pain was not gone, but it became manageable and I knew I was on the other side of the worst of it.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new set of struggles with it. By nature, I’m a profound introvert. I’ve dealt with depression for years, and there was always some anxiety, but it was very manageable. Lockdown came in the spring, and I’ve been working from home since. My children are doing school virtually. I order groceries, etc., and pick them up. I haven’t been shopping in a store since March. Recently, I had to go in a shop to have my son’s iPad repaired and had a massive panic attack, even though I was the only person there other than the man working, we had masks, and it was as safe as it could possibly be. Intellectually, I knew everything was fine, but emotionally, I was terrified. I’ve gone from introverted to practically agoraphobic, so back to the doctor I went, and new interventions have started.
I don’t know yet what it’s going to take, but I’ve survived 100% of my hardest days, and I have every intention of maintaining that record.