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.