***This is a re-post from 2009. I've been doing a Bible study recently and feeling led to share my story again for someone out there who needs to see it. I hope you find this, whoever you are, and are blessed.***
My friend, Michelle, told her story yesterday at RaisingLittleWomen and inspired me to post about my own journey through life with a disease that affects millions of others, but which we rarely talk about.... I believe, like Michelle, that we need to openly discuss our struggles in order to effectively help others through their own. My only hope is that sharing my story will help someone else and prompt you to seek help. Would you ever tell someone who has cancer to just "Buck up and get yourself together" or "Just snap out of it"? Would you ever tell them not to accept medical advice or drugs that could treat them, improve their quality of life, or even save their life? Of course not. Mental illess is just that - an illness. And just like other illnesses, it needs treatment by a professional.
My depression probably started when I was very young, though I didn't even know what "depression" or "anxiety" or "bipolar disorder" was at the time. My father is an alcoholic, and from what I've been told it wasn't exactly the best life at home when I was growing up. I don't have many memories of my childhood up until I was 10 years old and my mother finally left him and brought my two brothers and I back to NC to live. The "daddy issue" is another post for another time, though I'm sure it contributed to my depression in a HUGE way. The fact that there was mental illness and drug addiction on his side of the family probably didn't help in the genes department either.
I'd always had "ups and downs" all my life. Short periods of time when I was either severely depressed or totally "high", hyperactive, and felt like the world was my oyster. But when my 3rd child was just a few months old, I got angry with my husband and threw *my* new digital camera at the wall because he didn't take the trash out one morning. (No, I wasn't aiming for him, just in a rage over the garbage!). I don't know why that particular incident prompted me to finally call my family doctor and make an appointment, but I did. After I saw him and discussed my previous history and my current feelings, he said I had severe postpartum depression. He gave me Prozac, the antidepressant du jour of the time, and I felt better for about a year. He changed my meds so many more times that I can't even remember the names of them all.
However, it never really went away as the kids got older. As a busy mom of 3 kids (2.5 years apart each), it got worse and better in a roller-coaster way that was so unpredictable that it was scary. I never had thoughts of hurting my children - they were the truly only thing that kept me going and still are... When I was really depressed, though, it was "Mommy has a migraine." and I'd be in bed, if my husband was home to watch them. If he wasn't, I'd put a video on tv for them to watch and curl up on the couch just so I'd be "with" them. (but I really wasn't there mentally or emotionally...)
When I was on a "high" we'd go shopping, to the park to play all day long, have water balloon and food fights - all sorts of fun stuff! I remember once when we were REALLY broke, I got a substantial check in the mail from my insurance company. I didn't pay the mounting bills with it, I loaded the kids up and took them to Kmart and bought them whatever they wanted. Stupid, expensive stuff that we couldn't afford, and I knew it. I pushed the whispered warnings to the back of my mind... and we had a blast! The car was literally PACKED when we got home with toys, clothes, games... We were barely scraping by financially at the time, and I blew over $1,000 at KMART of all places.
Years and years of horrible ups and downs, mistakes made during both that caused a LOT of pain to people I love, countless medications (along with quite a bit of self-medicating, especially in my teen years - not after I had my kids). There was a period in 2001/2002 that I literally curled up in bed with the covers over my head every single day for several months. Mommy had a very long-lasting migraine then... :( Words can't express how I wish I could go back and have every moment that I was debilitated by this disease back to spend with my children. There was so much time lost, my heart literally aches to think of it now.
About 2 years ago, I had a really bad bout of depression and ended up in the hospital for a weekend. I should have stayed longer (probably a few months), but I wanted to be home with my kids and honestly - I couldn't face the shame of having to call in to work or tell anyone why I was there. It was at the hospital that I was diagnosed as bipolar. Of course, I had all the symptoms for 20 years, but I guess I just never went to a doctor who could diagnose it properly. (ok, and the fact that was ashamed to tell even my doctors about a lot of things that I probably should have. BTW, please be honest with your physicians. They can't properly treat you if you withhold important information from them)
I used to say "I suffer with depression.", but I refuse to allow myself to suffer now...when I know I need help, I get it so I won't have to suffer - and so those around me won't anymore. I won't say I have overcome it, because it's still a daily struggle and I know that I can be hit again at any time. Being aware of this has helped me a lot in being able to tell when I'm getting too "high" or feel myself sinking into a low. I call my doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible when I feel like I'm losing control over this disease. It makes all the difference in the world.
I still pray to be miraculously healed one day, but I believe that God did not cause this disease in me - He *allowed* it so that I can reach out to others who are in the same pits I have been in. God has provided me with opportunities to do this, especially in my church family. I feel very strongly that we have to speak out, to remove the stigma that still remains in our society - and especially in our churches - regarding mental illnesses of all kinds. So many Christians live with mental illness - they need compassion, understanding, and advice from those of us who have been through the same things.
God heals us - often through those to whom He has given the gift of healing (our physicians and pharmaceuticals available to help us treat our disease). If you're struggling - please call yours today.