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.

Fight Like Hell

I write a lot about having depression and reaching out to get support but it has come to my attention that when I’m the one struggling I don’t reach out often. Maybe to my mom, husband and best friend but with everyone else I put on a happy face while inside it feels like I’m dying. I think it’s important I talk about the dark while I’m in it.

It started a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t being honest with myself about how things were going. I happen to have a therapy appointment and one with my psychiatrist that week so I let it all hang out. It felt good to come clean and it was decided I would get an ECT treatment ASAP. I scheduled it for next Friday so in the meantime I made an impromptu visit to my parents’ lake house. The kids were dying to get out of the house and I figured it would do me good as well. While the kids had a blast, I didn’t fare as well. I can remember one night eating steak with my parents and I was staring at the bright pink steak knife that cut the steak so well. I wondered how it would feel down my arms. Later, I told my mom to just hide the knives.

I decided to chat on the suicide lifeline messaging system. The lady was asking my history and as I told her that I had major depressive disorder, anxiety, I’ve done ECTs, been to a psychiatric facility, etc. She the said, “Wow, you’re a fighter.” Though I know it’s the truth, it’s not something I’ve heard a lot through my life. I’ve heard I’m lazy, that I’m basically useless, but not a fighter.

But I fight everyday. For my kids, my husband, my family, my amazing friends who support me no matter how depressed I am or how unwashed my hair is. And I know sometimes I’ll fall back on the idea that being mentally ill makes you weak, but I can’t stress enough how that’s total and utter bullshit. And then I’ll remember that I’m a Phoenix rising from the ashes, that I’ll regenerate and will continue to be born again. Because I’m a fighter and I will continue to fight like hell, even though it sucks, even though it’s hard, even though it tires my soul. If anything, I need to show my children that there are many ways to be strong. And that it’s ok if you’re different than others. It’s even ok if you need to go to a mental health hospital. And that self care is a necessity and doesn’t make you selfish. I’ve tried pouring from an empty cup and it got me nowhere (technically it got me to the mental hospital) so even though my journey is a messy one, my kids can still appreciate it one day. I hope.

If you need help, I highly recommend either calling the National Suicide Lifeline or using their chat function. Call them at 1-800-273-8255

My Mother

My mom is cut from a different cloth. Even from a young age, she has always done what she needed to do. At 19, her father died. She didn’t hesitate to help my Mema with the younger kids. She took a job right after high school so she could help pay bills. My mother had seven siblings but the two older siblings were married and were starting families, so she helped take care of the younger five. Still to this day she helps her siblings, financially or otherwise because that’s who she is – a caretaker.

Skipping years ahead, she got married and helped my dad and his brother open a business. She was the first employee and she excelled at it, even though it probably wasn’t her greatest passion. Still she learned everything about truck accessories for heavy duty trucks and continued to work that job for years. After some personnel issues, my mom and dad decided to open a second store, this one with my older brother at the helm. It too was a success and it still didn’t bother her talking shop about truck bumpers, wheels and other accessories. Like I said, she always did what she needed to do.

I can’t speak for my brother but I’m sure he would agree – she would do anything for us. In middle school when I developed migraines, that at times were uncontrollable and debilitating, she became my advocate. She navigated a new world of medicine and therapies and triggers. Fragrances were a trigger so she stopped wearing perfume and bought special soaps.

Years later I finally told her I had depression – bad depression. This was not her field of expertise and although she was probably really scared, she learned the ropes and how to help me calm down during a depressive episode.

When I had kids my depression worsened. Some days I couldn’t find my way out of the overwhelming sadness. I would often want to harm myself. My mom, who had never experienced mental illness herself, dug deeper and supported me the best way she knew how. It must’ve broken her heart when I became suicidal and needed intensive intervention. I stayed at a psychiatric treatment center for 6 long weeks. But she was there, helping take care of my children, visiting me and encouraging me once again.

As I’ve now stabilized, I think about the calls I made to her crying, suicidal. Her love, strength and endurance has never wavered and she just listened, not knowing how to help her daughter stop being suicidal. I firmly believe she was meant to be my mom, to help someone who struggled daily with invisible demons. Someone who wasn’t cut from that seemingly magical cloth. But I have learned from her, too. My bouts with depression have taught me strength, most importantly, compassion. My mom has been my advocate, leading me to be an advocate for those who suffer from depression and anxiety. Maybe to those who haven’t had support and are afraid of speaking out because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Maybe I’m more like my mom than I think. At least I’d like to think so.

Out of the ashes, baby

I’ve had depression since I was young; I can remember feeling anxiety in middle school and I definitely had depression in high school, I just didn’t know it then. It wasn’t until college (when my Mema died) that I really had a problem. When she died, I couldn’t handle it. I dropped classes because of the stress and overwhelming sadness I felt. I dropped so many classes that I was only going part-time. I can remember leaving campus to drive to my parents’ house multiple times a week.

I started therapy at my college and after a couple years, I realized I needed medication to help with the depression. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even tell my parents. Now, my parents have always supported me and never really talked about depression with me but I had it in my head that this was a major flaw – my family seemed stronger somehow, that I should just pull myself up from my bootstraps and get a grip. But I couldn’t.

After I graduated college and started my first job hundreds of miles away from my family and friends, my depression got worse. It made me miss work….a lot of it. My other coworkers were resentful and I felt like my bosses hated me. I didn’t fare well in Corpus Christi and after a bad breakup I moved back home. I felt unsuccessful and like a loser. My depression got even worse.

Fast forward to me going back to Corpus Christi: I got married, bought a house and got pregnant. After my first pregnancy I felt ok but after having my second child I was not ok. Postpartum depression reared it’s ugly head. I had to stop breastfeeding at 4 months so I could get back on my antidepressants but even the meds couldn’t save me from being suicidal. It was awful. I spent my energy on making sure my kids were ok and I simply didn’t have enough strength to fight the ugliness that had infiltrated my body. One day I had to go to the ER for suicidal thoughts. Luckily my parents were with my kids. I was sent to an acute behavioral center and saw an awful doctor who wouldn’t listen to anything I was saying. I was released after a couple days and I found a new psychiatrist who started me on different meds. I’d like to say that fixed me but it didn’t. I was diagnosed as having treatment resistant depression, meaning my meds were not effective in fighting the depression off.

Things were pretty bleak and my depression was not controlled at all. The only thing keeping me going were my kids – they of course had constant needs that I had to focus on. It was when they were sleeping that my anxiety increased. I couldn’t control ugly thoughts like I was a bad mom, a bad wife and a total loser.

I was running on empty with no hope in sight. After talking with my therapist and husband, we decided that I would go to a psychiatric facility for help. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. It would mean at least 6 weeks away from my babies and husband and I felt incredibly guilty. But I had to go.

At the Menninger Clinic I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety and avoidant personality disorder. I started electroconvulsant therapy (ECT) and different meds. I was able to come home after 6 weeks but I have to do ECT treatments every now and then.

I still get depressed. I’m actually in a little funk right now but I know I’ll get through it. I will always rise. I used to think that people with depression were weak but now I know that’s nothing but bullshit. We are strong. We fight to live every day. It’s hard and some of us don’t make it because they don’t have the means or a support system. They suffer in silence and that’s why I cannot. Please do your part in eliminating the stigma around depression and help normalize it. Check on your loved ones, let them know you care and shine a little light in their darkness.

STFU, please

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from friends, family and strangers. Most of it is really positive – some have thanked my for being so blunt and open about mental illness and they don’t feel so alone. I’ve also had others tell me that I’m “not doing it right.” I’m not praying hard enough, I focus too much on the negative, or this is something I’m doing to myself.

This is part of the stigma I’m trying to fix.

And I don’t have to defend myself. I know I’m one of the hardest working people when it comes to my mental health. Depression is NOT something I do to myself subconsciously. Nobody wants this. Nobody.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re doing this to yourself. Don’t think you can just pray this away (prayer does help but you know what I mean). Don’t let anyone think you are a lesser person because you have this disease. Those people obviously haven’t struggled the way we have, and good for them – they are very fortunate.

But you can try every treatment, pill, therapy, alternative medicine, meditation, etc., and you will still have this disease. Do you know why? Because your brain is not the same as everyone else’s. You have unruly neurons. It’s just chemical and it’s not your fault. Especially if you are treatment resistant, it’s not fair.

It’s still not your fault.

So the next time someone says pull yourself up by the bootstraps or think positively (I know you are), just remember that you are working hard. And forgot those other people who obviously are ignorance to the intricacies of depression and anxiety and how it affects you.

Just keep swimming, friends.

What do you have to be sad about?

“What do you have to be sad about?”

For me, this is the most frequent, and annoying, question I get when I tell someone I have major depression and anxiety. I get that it’s hard for someone to understand all the intricacies that come along with mental illness but come on, people. I guess that’s why I’m here – to educate.

I’m aware I live a very good life and for that I’m grateful, but it’s totally not about that. My brain is telling me to be sad and feel worthless. The disease takes over my brain. Neurons misfire and god knows what else goes on up there. Doctors aren’t even sure why exactly or how depression occurs but they do believe certain factors are at play when it comes to mental illness including:

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Brain chemistry – Unruly neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that interact with neurocircuits. Research now suggests that the function of these chemicals is interacting differently with the circuits that affect mood stability, according to the Mayo Clinic. These disruptions can also create problems with depression and treatment.

Hormones – This one is easy to understand. The Mayo clinic cited many different types of hormonal changes, especially for a woman, including pregnancy, post-partum (we’ll get to that one day) and menopause. It also mentions thyroid conditions such as hyper – or hypothyroidism (which I also have).

Last but not least is the question – is depression genetic? Scientists are starting to find that one is more likely to suffer from depression if a blood relative also has the condition. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that women had a 42 percent chance of hereditary depression. Men had a 29% chance.

So even scientists and doctors aren’t certain what exactly causes mental illness. It’s not 100 percent known how anti-depressants work. What is known is these factors can affect anyone – mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t care what your socioeconomic background is. It’s not just “homeless people roaming on the streets”. It’s not just those who are in psychiatric facilities. It’s 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. It’s not an imaginary problem – it’s an epidemic. It’s a homemaker with two beautiful children and very supportive husband. Believe me, it’s someone you know.

Each year more than 44,965 Americans commit suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and costs our country $69 billion each year – the cost isn’t what bothers me, I just thought I’d throw it in there.

If we don’t start educating each other and talking about the repercussions of non-treatment of the mentally ill, we are failing our children and ourselves.

That’s what I have to be sad about.