March 3, 2014

10 Things Depression Taught Me. ~ Angelina Desjarlais

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Like many first time parents, my husband and I were ecstatic when we realized I was pregnant.

We have never regretted becoming parents, even though the years that followed turned out to be more difficult than we imagined.

Starting at week seven of my pregnancy, I was in and out of emergency wards—within three weeks of our baby’s arrival, I was diagnosed with severe post-partum depression.

Depression is a scary subject that remains largely misunderstood. Society likes to categorize it in a more general term that sits better with them—mental illness. An all-encompassing catch phrase can clump all of the victims and sufferers together. What is missed in trying to group us together is that help for depression comes in specific forms.

We are unique—healing finds us in different ways. This is what I learned as a sufferer, and I am learning, still.

1) Don’t try to do it alone.

Depression’s firmest grip is isolation. When we set ourselves apart from the people who love us, it is able to lock its clamps on us more tightly, keeping us prisoners in darkness. My husband encouraged me to sit in the family room even if in pajamas I had been wearing for the entire week. Life and routine unfolded around me, but the walls started to crumble one little piece at a time.

Even if we have to start by leaving the bedroom door opened so we can hear other’s voices, do it.  Every little bit of the outside puts cracks in the invisible bars that isolate us in our depression.

2) There are bad days and good days. 

We have no control over the chemical imbalance in our bodies. We should not take on more by adding guilt, humiliation or any other negative feelings. Accept the good days and hang on tight during the bad ones.

If the first thought of consciousness when we open your eyes is frustration and fear at having to deal with another day of bleakness, we must breathe. Hug yourself tightly!  There were times when I simply closed my eyes and went back to sleep. There were also times when I could say to myself, “This too shall pass,” and put my feet on the floor. Do what feels manageable—no more and no less.

3) No, they don’t understand.

No one understands what we’re going through. Someone who has not walked in our shoes cannot tell us what it is like. Someone who has suffered depression can only know what it was like for him or her. Those who are our greatest supporters and love us unwavering do not understand no matter how much they try. Only when we accept this fact will we be able to let go of the hurts that stem from their inability to understand.

4) Yes, meds can help.

I hated the effects of the medication. Dry mouth made me feel like I couldn’t breathe or swallow—fogginess in my head made me feel stupid. I was sick to my stomach. Being unable to do simple math or remember the simplest task was humiliating.

Not being able to make money to support my family was hard to accept—throwing money away on medication didn’t help, either.

But, taking medication can be right thing to do. Yes, the meds help—slowly but surely, the right dosage and combination can bring about a better tomorrow.

5) See a professional and keep those appointments.

A professional is someone who can keep an objective point of view about our treatment plan. The big picture they see includes both our best success potential and our recurring challenges. Their perspective has a bearing on how we can get better. Keep those appointments, and be honest. We can trust them—a bit at first and then more as they earn more of our trust.

6) The pain is not in our head.

The pain is real whether or not we can point to an exact part of our body. The pain can be numbness all over or fatigue or mood swings. The pain can be crying at the same time every day or throwing things away. I went through a time when standing under a warm shower was the only comfort that made a difference in my day. Our pain exists. Really.

7) Talking helps—so does crying.

We should talk when we feel like talking—cry when we want to cry. Laugh when we have the giggles—scream when we are angry. Whatever we feel like doing, do it as long as no one is put in harm’s way.

8) Quitting is not an option.

Whatever we do and however we feel, quitting is not an option.  When the only thing we’re focused on is quitting, calling our doctor or our support person is the first step. If no one can be reached, call 911. Write it on a sticky note and place it anywhere it is visible: Quitting is not an option. Period.

9) Don’t believe everything you feel.

We need to know that we are good liars, especially when we don’t feel good about ourselves. It is easy for most of us to ignore the truth. When we are depressed, the chemical imbalance lies to us. When we feel like throwing in the towel or harming ourselves, we should take a breath and think about how to get help.

10) We will get better.

We will get better. Yes, we will. We will get out of the woods. Take a deep breath and turn on the lights. Sing.  Cry. Call someone. Keep going.  Remember that quitting is not an option. Hug yourself.

I spent the last five winters in the dark. As white as the virgin snow, my depression was just as dark and dreary. My husband had to hide knives—my family members took turns supervising me. I was hospitalized. My medication had to be tweaked again and again, and again and again. I lost so many years to depression but I am still here today.

I kept going, because I knew I was worth it. If you think it will help, write to me and we can mutually support one another to good health.

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Editorial Assistant: Melissa Horton/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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