One False Move

Recently I was speaking to my mentor and dear friend of many years, and he made the comment that I seemed to be doing a lot better than I was a year ago. He then said, “I bet you have to work hard to keep your depression at bay.” As always, he was spot on.

Many people think that because I went to a psychiatric facility for six weeks, I’m “cured” or “fixed.” But for me, and so many others, major depression is a life-long struggle. I have to be diligent in following my treatment plan and there’s just not much room for error. One false move can cause me to slip into a depressive episode, and there I am — Alice, fallen down the rabbit hole. But it’s no dream, it’s a living nightmare.

Accidentally skipping my pills, going to bed later than normal, skipping therapy, not exercising — that all costs me. Even if it seems so inconsequential, like not brushing my teeth before bed, it’s not. It takes only one thread to pull a tapestry apart.

I try to follow a strict schedule, where I wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. I adhere to a self-care checklist, which holds me accountable to all the small chores I must do to maintain my mental health (brushing teeth, taking a shower, exercising). It doesn’t sound so bad, and I’m not seeking pity, but sometimes I’d like to stay up late every once in awhile or sleep in (with the kids, I guess this is moot). I crave flexibility and spontaneity. It doesn’t help that I’ve developed a very rebellious side that tells me, “You can’t tell me what to do!” And sometimes I’ll indulge her, which is never a good idea, but one I can’t seem to avoid.

Looking deeper, what I really want is to not have to look over my shoulder so much, in fear of a depressive episode. I don’t want to worry what that would mean for my family. I want security — safety from depression —and the thought of never having that is so overwhelming, it’s hard to breathe. The thought of having an ECT treatment every four to six weeks for the rest of my life, makes me want to sob. The idea that I will be suicidal again, is heartbreaking and scary as hell. It all feels so damn heavy, especially when I think about how my depression is present in my daily life, even when I’m not going through a depressive episode. It’s always there, lurking, making every little thing I do harder.

I would love not to have to question every emotion and investigate every bad mood. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even admit to a bad day without someone questioning if I “fell off the wagon” of good mental hygiene. I wish I could have some normalcy and not be at the mercy of my disease. I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, I sure as hell am. But again, one false move could crush my fragile psyche.

Odds are that I will enter into another depressive episode. I’m just being realistic. I’m grateful that I’m better equipped now if that happens, but it’s still scary. I’d like to think I’ll never get as lost as I was before going to The Menninger Clinic, but if I do, I know my family and friends are there to support me. And that’s more than a lot of people have.

I’ve always been careful to thank God for all my blessings, and I’m so blessed. I know not everybody can go inpatient at a top psychiatric hospital. Not everybody has such supportive family and friends. And as messed up as it sounds, I’m grateful for my depression because it has taught me empathy, strength, resilience and patience. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it (and I’m pretty proud of who I’ve become).

Still, it’s scary knowing that I could return to that lonely, dark place.

Here’s to staying in the light.

Self Destruct Mode: OFF

I’ve been feeling pretty great lately, which is a bit unusual, but hey, I’ll certainly take it. When I feel this good I tend to treat myself better, I’m more productive and generally in a good mood.

But I’ve noticed, even with these good moods, there’s still a part, albeit a small part, of me that looks for ways to be unhealthy. For example, I’ll get the urge to overeat, even when I’m not hungry. I’ll think, “What pills can I take to feel good?” even though I have no such pills. Images of cutting myself will appear, even though I surely don’t want to do that.

I’m aware that it’s happening and I know it’s 100-percent my lying ass brain spreading more lies. It’s just a malfunction. It’s not really real, but emotions are energy in motion, and I can’t let these awful thoughts fester in my head.

If I do, unhealthy behaviors take control and with them come intrusive, unhealthy thoughts. My control over these thoughts and behaviors loosens, and just like that, I’m in a dark, ugly place that I can’t find my way out of. It’s like being in a deep hole and my depression is just too heavy, weighing me down and preventing me from climbing out.

It’s a slippery slope, a dangerous one for me, given that I can become suicidal very quickly.

I have to take inventory of my emotions constantly to prevent this. I have to be fully aware of how I feel and avoid switching to autopilot where I might miss something. I have to be so diligent so I can avoid that hole. And honestly, it’s exhausting and feels like sometimes it’s too much or not worth doing. Before I’d try to figure out why I was having these thoughts and ask what it meant, but like I said, it’s just a malfunction. I need to stop wasting time wondering why and just dismiss the thoughts. They’re not worth thinking.

I must release the energy that fuels these damaging thoughts and refocus if in a productive way, channeling it into exercise and writing, etc.

A self care check list is helpful to have so I can stay on top of the things I need to do to prevent self destruction. Just thinking about all the work I have to do to stay healthy is daunting and tiring. But I have to do it if I want to be happy. This past week has made me realize how much I’ve missed being happy — singing at the top of my lungs in the car and shower, truly enjoying spending time with my kids, reading for pleasure, writing my ass off and exercising. Medicine, ECT and therapy just aren’t enough to maintain my good mood and healthy behaviors. I have to put in the work at it, just like anything else. Sometimes it bothers me that other people don’t have to work as hard at life.

But I don’t do happy-go-lucky — I physically can’t. Happiness, for me, is hard work. It’s sticking to a strict schedule, taking an assortment of pills daily, going to therapy, keeping a close eye on my emotions and lots of prayerThere’s nothing lucky about it. 

I do have to work hard, but the payout is so, so good and that’s what I need to remember. What is the point in having an amazing life if you can’t enjoy it? Why do I spend so much time self-sabotaging? Again, with the “why?”

I’m going to work at my life like it’s my damn job and like it pays, because it is and it does.

It pays so much.

This is the Self Care Checklist that I created. It’s super simple; feel free to download:

Screw the Stigma of Depression

In my early 20s I had a conversation with two of my girlfriends about one of the girls’ boyfriend. She had made the comment he was taking antipsychotic medication for a mental illness.

In my infinite knowledge and wisdom, I said something along the lines of “You should dump him. That’s a red flag!” And I laughed. The other girl, a pharmacist, said, “Dude, you’re taking antipsychotics.” I stopped laughing. It was true. I had been dealing with depression for a few years by then yet I still laughed and judged another for doing the same thing I was. When you’re young and stupid, you’re young and stupid.

But there’s a bit more to that story. What I wrongly said and did — that’s the stigma of depression talking and it talks a lot, even to this day.

Did I truly think that guy was psychotic or “crazy?” I must have and must’ve thought he was less of a person for being mentally ill. I’m ashamed for that.

It doesn’t really make sense I would do that given that I was mentally ill and embarrassed to even tell my parents I was suffering.

Throughout my life, starting as early as middle school, I had exhibited signs of an anxiety disorder, and later in high school, depression. It all came to a head in college when me beloved grandmother died. Even then, when it’s understandable to experience great sadness, I kept my depression and anxiety to myself.

It would be almost a decade later when I finally admitted to my mom I struggled. There was really no way to hide it anymore because I was experiencing severe postpartum depression. When my youngest was 2, I had reached a breaking point and entered into an inpatient psychiatric program at The Menninger Clinic.

I hadn’t told many people that I was going but while I was there it suddenly occurred to me that I had nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.

I tell this story because the stigma of depression is so powerful and far reaching. But it is so dangerous to perpetuate, and to not denounce the stigma. People literally die or don’t seek treatment because they think they’re weak, and that “it’s all in their head,” or because they’ve been told depression isn’t a “real disease.” Let me assure you, it is — a debilitating one.

Depression is a completely treatable disease, experienced by about 17 million American adults (stats from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 2017). What does it say about our society that instead of helping and supporting more than 17 million people, we’d rather buy into antiquated beliefs and nonsense that depression isn’t real or that it’s some choice to be made? Absolutely nobody would make that choice.

Depression is as real as any other disease. It’s devastating, chronic and sometimes very scary.

So, let’s stop the bullshit. Let’s educate people about mental illness and end the judgement that comes hand-and-hand with the diagnosis.

Below are hurtful stereotypes that perpetuate the stigma:

  • Happy people can’t have depression
  • People with depression aren’t mentally tough
  • Depression isn’t a real disease
  • Depression and sadness are the same thing
  • Antidepressants change your personality
  • Depression is all in your head
  • Depression is a choice
  • You can just “Snap out of it”

People can literally die when we help perpetuate these lies about depression. It has to stop. Help end the stigma by reading more about depression here.

Let’s do better and be better. There’s too much at stake not to.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website here. You are not alone.

The Best Advice My Therapist Has Given Me

I’ve been seeing my therapist for about 10 years. I love her. She truly helps me and makes my life better. If you don’t go to therapy, I highly recommend it. She helps me work out my problems, listens when I just want to vent, and gently helps me realize when I’m exhibiting not-so-healthy behaviors. I trust her judgement and appreciate her very much.

Therapy is beneficial, even if you aren’t depressed.

She’s given me some sound advice over the past decade, so I thought I’d share my favorite tidbits here.

You can’t let anxiety prevent you from taking care of yourself.” I have a habit of making things bigger in my head, then worrying about it, which can prevent me from doing what I need to be mentally and physically healthy. Anxiety is such a monster and you can’t let it win.

You’re not the black sheep, you’re different.” My political leanings and general philosophies on life tend to be very different from my immediate family and for years I’ve thought of myself as the black sheep, which has a negative connotation. For me it’s important that I don’t use this because it can make the metaphorical divide larger in my head.

It’s not personal.” This is pretty common advice but advice that I need to hear constantly. I get these ideas in my head that someone doesn’t like me or is mad at me and there’s really nothing to back that up.

You don’t have the ability to understand some things, like why people are mean, and that’s OK.” Too many times have I sat across from my therapist upset at something bad that happened or someone was cruel. She’s right, though. I don’t have hate in my heart, I’m kind and a generous person. I don’t need to know why something bad happened and I’m just fine not being able to understand.

It’s not about you.” This goes along with “it’s not personal” and is important for me to remember, because again, I can make a mountain out of a molehill pretty quickly. My therapist says if I think there’s conflict or somethings not right in one of my relationships, just tell him you’re there for them. Ask if they’re OK. But don’t obsess because it’s just not about you.

You grew. You turned the light on. You embraced your life, and that’s scary to some people.” Sometimes you outgrow a relationship, but that’s OK. Some people will do things to keep you small because they’re afraid of growth and change but never make yourself smaller for others.

Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.” This is by far my favorite piece of advice. I would get caught up in something someone said about my life and get so upset, but repeating this comforts me and gives me clarity. We all have people who can be toxic at times but this quote frees you from caring about their toxic or hurtful opinion.

You’re very concerned with how [someone] treats you. Muster enough concern on how you treat you.” I love this. I do expend a lot of energy on others, but I’m learning to focus my energy on me and I can see the positive changes.

(If you have a toxic person in your life.) “You can admit that they’re toxic. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can be grateful for what they’ve given you and be aware of their behavior at the same time.

You love everybody and everything but you don’t love yourself. You have to love yourself.

If you didn’t have struggles, you wouldn’t have strength.” So, so true.

You don’t have to stay where you are. Find the sun, like a plant. Twist however you need in order to find it.” This is also one of my favorite quotes of hers. When I’m going through a depressive episode, these words remind me that there is still good, I just have to twist and grow to get to it.

Be aware. Awareness doesn’t equal change, but it leads to change.” This is a reminder to avoid switching to autopilot in life. A lot of us go through our days without really being aware of our surroundings, our emotions and others.

A person’s worth is measured by how they treat the most vulnerable population.” While this isn’t advice, it’s important to remember. Be kind to others, especially those who aren’t as fortunate as you.

My therapist has said so many other important things that have helped me and shaped me. One of the things that I hate most about depression is how it slows my thinking, jumbles my thoughts and it can be hard to have clarity about what’s going on around me. I’m not the only one — scientists have discovered that there are physical changes in a depressed person’s brain, such as brain shrinkage. It can also cause structural and connective changes. Between that and my ECT treatments, I can get overwhelmed with my thoughts and emotions easily, so I’m glad I have an outlet that helps me sort through my messy — or unruly, I suppose — brain.

I can’t recommend therapy enough, even if you aren’t depressed.

Stay in the light, friends.

To learn more about depression visit the National Alliance on Mental Health website.

Real Me vs. Depressed Me

This past two weeks have been amazing. My demeanor has changed. My mood has lifted. And I’m able to do things that were near impossible before. The ECT treatment I had two weeks ago must have been a good one. I’ve seen a glimpse of my authentic self, who wants so badly to be set free from wherever she goes when a depressive episode hits. Before this past ECT, I was suicidal. I was unbelievably sad and anxious. I thought I was doing OK but I can see now that I wasn’t.

I didn’t recognize this feeling of joy and happiness, and I can’t tell you the last time I felt it either. I’m more familiar with “Depressed Me,” a slower, sadder, less efficient version of me, riddled with depression symptoms, who seems to be the reigning champion of my brain. But now that I am feeling happy and I see the “Real Me,” I’m going to fight tooth and nail for it. I refuse to go down without a fight. How I’m feeling and what I’m able to do right now — that’s worth fighting for.

In the mornings, I don’t immediately feel weighed down and already exhausted before even starting my day. I have energy and am excited about the day. The chores and tasks I absolutely have to get done don’t seem so taxing and annoying. Showering is now relaxing and not a daunting chore I’d put off for days (yes, days!). I don’t feel the need to stuff with my face with food that I don’t want or need, which is a battle for most everyone. I’m more cheerful and attentive to my kids. The Real Me is kind of a badass.

I could name so many more examples. I don’t know if it was the last ECT. I don’t know if it was a new medication I started the same day as my last ECT. I don’t know how long this will last, but again, I gotta make hay while the sun shines. And I have to fight.

Fighting looks like me not solely depending on my medication and ECT treatments. It means exercising, going to bed early, eating healthily, keeping a strict routine and reaching out the minute I feel like things are slipping. It sounds like a lot, or maybe it doesn’t, but I’m done with my rebellious, depressed part of me that refuses to comply with even the simplest of instructions.

When I’m not handicapped by severe depression, I’m so powerful. I radiate love and happiness. My writing flows onto paper, because my words are powerful, too. I utilize my limitless ability to care for my loved ones. I’m able to reach my full potential, instead of being a shadow or fraction of my true self. Like the phoenix, I am rising and there’s not a whole lot that can stop me.

Here are some examples of what the Real Me versus the Depressed Me are like:

The Real Me exercises, reaches out to friends, eats healthy foods, writes/blogs, goes outside, puts the TV remote down, reads for pleasure, sings all day (to the point where her family complains), cooks, bakes, showers, brushes her teeth, laughs loudly, plays with her kids even more, styles her hair, gets massages (or goes to any self-care appointment).

Depressed Me sleeps more, watches TV until having to get the kids, endlessly scrolls social media, gets in bed until she absolutely has to move, doesn’t shower, blows off doctors appointments, gives into sadness/anxiety, doesn’t smile as much, has a short fuse, is impatient and more.

Depressed Me goes to sleep at night because she can’t stand to be awake one second longer than she has to. She’s judgmental and mean about her appearance and body.

The Real Me looks forward to the future but enjoys the present.

I’m certainly enjoying right now, and although I’m cautious about the future, my outlook is finally optimistic.

As I’m writing this, I’m hoping that you don’t get the wrong idea about Depressed Me. While I would love not to experience depression and anxiety, I respect Depressed Me. She fights hard and doesn’t give into her suicidal thoughts. She’s a fighter. She’s scrappy. She has grit, and without her efforts, the Real Me wouldn’t appreciate what it’s like to be happy.

For that, I’m grateful.

To learn more about major depression and signs of depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website here.

What It’s Like To Be Suicidal

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Death by Suicide

Preface: I don’t pretend to know what others go through during a depressive episode or why someone would want to die by suicide. These are solely my opinions, based on my experiences.

This is not an easy topic, nor is it a comfortable one to discuss, but that’s why we need to talk about it. The stigma surrounding depression and suicide leaves people feeling they can’t talk about it, and the silence is deadly. And so heartbreaking.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

I think about Kate Spade‘s and Robin William’s suicides from years ago, and while most everybody was shocked, I really wasn’t surprised. In my opinion, the people who work the hardest, the most passionate and genuine, are the ones who struggle the most. I know it was hard for people to understand and I’m sure very scary that two such successful people could lose a battle to a little-understood enemy, that they could leave their seemingly happy lives and family, but it happens every day. Depression is an invisible illness that can completely devastate you, yet so many stay quiet because society as a whole doesn’t seem to want to understand. (Read about the history behind the stigma of mental illness here.)

It’s obvious that depression is misunderstood. It’s hard for people to understand that someone can make jokes and be depressed. Or that a person can be suicidal yet appear fine, even fully functional. Depression sufferers are good at hiding pain. I hid mine for years because I felt judged and ashamed. I felt like I was weaker than everybody else but that was the stigma talking.

I don’t get it. Is it ignorance or is society so fragile that people can’t handle knowing others are suffering so much? It’s 2020 — shouln’t we be more evolved, more enlightened?

It doesn’t matter why the stigma is there, it needs to end. In 2018 (the latest stats I could find) there were more than 48,000 recorded suicides, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. On average, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24-percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000, the highest rate recorded in 28 years.

Those numbers are from two years ago and have increased, no doubt. I imagine they will significantly increase this year due to coronavirus and the resulting problems, such as increased number of depressed persons from job loss, trauma, health concerns, etc.

But I digress. I’ve been suicidal more times than I can count. I haven’t talked about it a lot, but I should, especially since it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness month. The only way to normalize depression and suicide is to talk about it and help educate, so here I go.

My mind goes to a time where I was staying at my parents’ house. My parents had taken my two young kids to their lake house. My husband (who was back in Corpus) and I had gotten into a fight, I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember how alone I felt, so out of control. I had experienced bad postpartum depression a year before and it just lingered and worsened.

That night I was so sad, I could feel it in my bones. I was exhausted and it truly felt like I’d be unhappy forever. That argument sent me over the edge and all I could think about was I’d be better off dead, but I didn’t want to leave my babies. I didn’t want my mom to find me dead.

I ended up driving myself to the ER and was then sent to an acute behavioral hospital for two days.

Tears are streaming down my face as I write this. It’s painful to think about. I love my family more than anything and I don’t ever want to do anything to hurt them. Unfortunately, I’ll probably have more suicidal thoughts, but I don’t want to die. My brain is such a liar. Such a con artist, making me believe I’m not worth being alive. That my family doesn’t want me. It is my heart that saves me, helps me see through the bullshit. And that’s all it is, except it feels so real, and I completely understand how people could succumb to those big feelings and end their lives.

The people who die by suicide — they aren’t selfish, they were just sick and their illness just so happens to take over their brain. I think they just wanted to be free of the pain. Depression makes you hurt all over, and of course, the pain you feel mentally is pure anguish. It’s exhausting living with all that. I get it.

I feel like suicide could happen to anyone under the right circumstances. That’s why we need to eradicate the stigma and support those in need of mental health services.

Lives literally depend on it.

Risk Factors for Suicide Ideation and/or Attempts

  • Family history of suicide or child neglect
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of mental disorders, especially clinic depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Physical illness
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment

Read more about risk factors on the CDC website.

Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation and Behavior

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves (like researching how to buy a gun)
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or being in unbearable pain
  • Increasing the use of alcohol and drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Extreme mood swings

Read more about warning signs and how you can help here.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please seek immediately. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

There are better days ahead. Stay in the light, my friends.

10 Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression

The stigma of depression can cause deep-seated shame.

I’ve suffered with depression for a long time, which means I’ve also suffered through ignorant, and sometimes just mean, comments. I realize some people may have good intentions but it still can sting. The stigma of depression is still very much alive and comments like the ones below may be why some people suffer in silence. But they shouldn’t have to. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 15 to 20 percent of people. It’s scary, debilitating and seriously misunderstood, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’m hoping through my blogs I’ll help chip away at the stigma. Below are some of the most common things I hear.

1. You need to get out more — get some fresh air and sunshine. Breaking down this comment is kind of hard because fresh air and sunshine are beneficial, BUT they alone will not cure depression. When this has been said to me I usually am so depressed that getting out of bed wears me out for the day and even thinking about expending more energy stresses me out.

2. It could be worse. It’s not like people with depression don’t have perspective, but this comment can really alienate people. Nobody is saying their struggle is harder, but when you’re in the throes of a depressive episode it feels terrible and lonely. A comment like this is insulting and trivializing.

3. You’re just being lazy. No depressed person I know is lazy, and even if they were, laziness doesn’t cause depression. But depression can cause extreme fatigue and deplete energy levels.

4. It’s all in your head. This is another comment that I think trivializes depression. Depression isn’t made up. It’s a very real medical condition where there are actual changes in the brain and it impacts physical health as well. Read more on how it affects the brain and body here.

5. You wouldn’t be depressed if you exercise. This is another tricky one because exercise is crucial to a person’s health, but again, I’ve been in situations where I was lucky to even shower, let alone do anything more strenuous. Only recently have I realized that exercise will help maintain my mood, so I’m working very hard to incorporate it into my daily routine. BUT even if I do exercise I will still be depressed. I will still need medications and talk therapy.

6. What do you have to be depressed about? I struggle with this personally because I feel so fortunate to have what I have, and it does make me feel very guilty; however, this is the stigma talking. Depression doesn’t care who you are or what you have. It can affect anyone but it doesn’t mean someone is not grateful for what they have. This is very hard to hear from others.

7. Just think positively. I hate hearing this so much. Thinking positively is not the reason I have depression. It’s not like I think negative thoughts all the time, but I am realistic about my disease and how to maintain it. Positive thinking never hurt anyone, but some may be incapable of putting things in perspective during a depressive episode. No matter how many happy thoughts you think, you can’t think this disease away.

8. Snap out of it! This is simple — nobody can just snap out of depression. This is mean, in my opinion, and people shouldn’t have to hear this.

9. But you seem fine. At times, I can be very high functioning. I also can laugh and joke around. In my case, I’m not depressed every single minute of every single day, so it may come off like I’m fine, but I’ll be saddled with depression for the rest of my life. And that’s OK.

10. Happiness is a choice. Another bullshit comment. This is offensive. The idea that people are choosing to be so devastatingly sad or suicidal is so ignorant. Please don’t say this to others.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m discouraging you from reaching out to someone who suffers with depression. You should. Here are some ideas on what to say that (likely) won’t hurt them.

1. How are you feeling? Someone with depression may not want to talk about it, but this is a good way to get them to open up.

2. How’s your day going? Another good way to check in without being intrusive.

3. I’m coming over. In my experience, I will tell my friends I’m fine even when I’m struggling because I don’t want to be a burden. Some of my friends have learned to just show up.

4. I’m here if you need me. It always feels good to hear this. I know my friends and family are always there for me, and they give me space when I need it, but this is still comforting and supportive.

5. What can we do? This is very supportive and makes me feel like I’m not in the dark hole of depression alone.

I hope this helps, and I hope you will join me in trying to end the deadly stigma surrounding depression. Stay in the light, friends.

If you or a loved one are suicidal, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Learn what to do if your loved one is in immediate danger of hurting themselves.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Me cheesing after a workout.
This is my happy face
.

A week ago I was in bad shape — severely depressed, anxious and suicidal. I went for an ECT treatment and my psychiatrist altered my medications. This week has been unbelievably better. I expected to feel a bit better because of how low I was, anything is an improvement when all you can think about is dying. What I didn’t expect was how good I’m feeling. I have energy, motivation, mental toughness and this fire in my belly that I haven’t felt in oh so long. I almost didn’t recognize it. Is this what it’s like to be happy?

Let me walk that back. I’m always happy with my life and everything I have. I’m so fortunate and grateful, even in times of deep depression. But this is something else — this is me acknowledging the “inner me,” my utmost self and she is fierce. She radiates happiness. She loves every inch of herself. She advocates for those who struggle with mental health. Her mission is to help and heal this world through whatever means possible (Tikkun Olam). She relishes in spending time with her family (for more the most part) and laughing loudly with her friends. She has grit.

I’ve been cleaning, planning and getting those annoying tasks on my to-do list checked off. That might not sound very fun but I’m doing it with joy because I just can’t do much when I’m so sad and fatigued.

This is what I aspire to and how I want to feel all the time but there are days where the only thing I can aspire to is getting dressed and taking care of the kids. But that’s OK. Not every day will be a good one but that’s exactly why I need to write this blog. I must remember this feeling when I’m down deep in the black pits of darkness and depression. I need to tell myself that happiness and wellness are attainable. That it’s possible to feel so good that your cheeks hurt from smiling and you can’t stop singing, despite complaints from your family. I just want to sing, for my heart to sing. I want to reach my potential. I want people to assume I’m manic (or on drugs, LOL) because I’m so productive and happy.

And maybe I am manic right now but I’m going to make sweet, sweet hay while the sun shines.

It’s a great day to be alive and not in bed. I cherish this day, this feeling and all of you who support me when I’m utterly depressed, manically happy and everything in between.

To learn more about depression and you can help others suffering, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

My 5-year-old daughter is sensitive and she can be anxious – she’s her mother’s daughter, for sure. When she does get anxious I try to calm her down with deep breathing and I started repeating one mantra over and over – you can do hard things. Does it help her? Maybe but it definitely helps me.

It’s so simple but it hits me deep in my core. My depression (and anxiety) just crushes me, the weight of it feels so heavy that I can’t move. But the thing is, I can do hard things.

In the past five years I’ve given birth to two kids who are 23 months apart. I’ve battled postpartum depression. I went to a mental hospital for six weeks. I started ECT therapy and have had more than 20 treatments – that’s 20 times under anesthesia and 20+ seizures. I have been suicidal many times but I’ve clawed my way back to me. I’m proudly scrappy.

I will have depression forever, and I’m sure there will be dark days ahead but I can do hard things. That’s the mindset and philosophy I want to pass down to Isla (and Eli).

I try my best to hide my depressed self from the kids but I know it seeps through at times. I just hope they remember how strong I am and how much I love them. I hope they never really know how sad I can be. I want them to know I have a big heart and big emotions, and that’s ok. That they are cut from the same cloth, that they can tap into their grit and resolve.

It’s easy to give in to depression, to the despair and apathy that accompanies it. What’s not easy is to do it in front of your kids. They’re always there, watching and imitating. While it’s scary to think I could have another depressive episode, I know I can get through it. I can fight. I can overcome.

I can do hard things. And so can you.

One-year Anniversary

A year ago this month I went to the Menninger Clinic for inpatient psychiatric care for six long weeks. The months leading up to my trip to Houston weren’t good ones. I was emotional, suicidal and so damn sad. I had been labeled with treatment resistant depression, thus none of my meds were working. I also had tried TMS and ketamine infusion treatments but it didn’t lighten my load at all.

I was scared. Mostly because I feared I wouldn’t be around to watch my kids grow up. My husband, therapist and psychiatrist all agreed Menninger was the next step. After going over my history, meds and different treatments, I was told I was a prime candidate for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It took weeks for me to wean off all my meds – an antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzodiazepines, anti seizure meds and Ambien.

While I was weaning off my meds, I underwent psychiatric testing and went to classes about how to deal with mental illness. I also had to go to the classes on addiction because I wasn’t great at taking the prescribed benzodiazepine the way I was supposed to, to put it mildly. When we weren’t taking classes, we were required to do therapy and meet with psychiatrists. The classes – and the teachers – were all very helpful. My diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia and Avoidant Personality Disorder.

I became close with a couple of patients who were in the same boat asI was. I still talk to them; sometimes it seems like they’re the only ones who understand what I went through since they were right there with me.

The facility was nice. It should be for how expensive it was, but hey, it did save my life. What stuck with me is that there were not rods to hang your clothes on, no drawers and no shower curtain rod – nothing a patient could try to hang himself from. At night we could shut our doors but the staff did checks every 15 minutes. The whole night. Every door leading outside was locked so patients couldn’t leave. We couldn’t have our phones but they offered cell phones for patients to use. We also had access to computers where all social media sites were blocked. It was a hard adjustment but it kind of made me feel safe, cocooned really. The girls had one wing, boys another and we all shared one common area with couches and a TV. On the weekends, we did movie nights and ordered food from outside the facility. Although it was scary and heart wrenching to be away from my family, I felt supported by the friends I made and never felt alone, despite my depression and anxiety.

When it was time to start ECT I don’t remember being scared, although it sounds scary to me now. I had three treatments a week for three weeks before starting a maintenance phase. At first, I got awful headaches after each treatment but those eventually subsided. By far, the worst side effect of the ECTs is the memory loss. Usually, it only affects patients around the time of treatment, meaning you might forget things that happened the day of treatment. But lucky me, my memory loss goes back years. I’ve forgotten people’s names, and sometimes, entire people. I still can’t remember how I met the majority of my Facebook friends. My short term memory has taken a hit, too. I can’t figure out how and what my brain is actually going to remember.

But as bad as memory loss sucks, the ECTs saved my life. And for that, I’m grateful. I relish in spending time with my kids and watching them grow. David and I enjoy each other more now, too. My mental illness takes a toll on him and I’m very thankful for his patience, love and support.

I won’t lie – there have been dark days in the past year and it hasn’t always been easy. My brain is not reliable and I have to remember during anxiety attacks or depressive episodes that it lies. It tells me I’m not good enough, that I should want to die, that there’s no way out. I ride out the pain best I can and turn to my support system – my doctor, therapist, best friends, parents and then to more ECT treatments. It’s not a perfect system but here I am.

I somehow learned when I was young that having mental illness made you weak, but after my experience I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be further than the truth but the stigma surrounding depression is certainly real. I could have easily overdosed on my meds or died any other way by suicide, but it was strength that saved me and what keeps me going now. I’ve been battling my brain for a long time – decades even – and I know I have more to go but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

My brain has betrayed me (many times) but my dear, hardworking heart never will. Thank you to all who have supported me.

If you are suffering from depression and need help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness visit http://www.nami.org

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.