I grew up in a “broken home”. My mom did everything she could to make up for my father’s absence and, in a big way, she did. I never felt a lack of love, affection or attention from her and, in hindsight, I don’t think I consciously felt that my family was missing something or someone … but the love of a father is different from a mother.
As a child of about 10, I was molested by an older family member and also by the step-father of my then-best friend. I remember feeling frozen, stuck in time, the minutes creeping by and I was so afraid to move, to open my eyes, to say anything. I just stayed put until it was over. In my mind and heart, I knew what was being done to me was wrong, but I just couldn’t move; I couldn’t say no to these men I had grown to trust and love. I didn’t know how. For many years since, I’ve struggled with feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
By my 25th birthday I had been married and divorced, a relationship that birthed three children. My marriage was volatile and there were occasions of physical abuse. I remember feeling surprised and shocked the day it occurred to me that I was in an abusive relationship; I knew I had to get out. One night, for no particular reason, I reached my breaking point and left, with a three-year-old daughter and 10-month-old twins in tow.
My story is not a fairytale by any means and I recognise that I have had fleeting moments of depression. I’m sure in the past I’ve thrown the phrase “I feel depressed” out there in the world, all loosey-goosey without a second thought.
Until recently …
No one else around me seemed to notice that I was slowly becoming someone else. A shell of my former self. Numb. Tuned out. Like I’m here, but I’m not really.
It’s hard to explain …
I didn’t know what was wrong with me, only that something was.
I started making a list of all of my symptoms:
- I wasn’t sleeping well;
- I often felt moody and irritable;
- I was inexplicably tired and fatigued all the time, regardless how much sleep I’d gotten;
- I was disinterested in everyday things that I once loved, like writing and cooking;
- My attention span was pretty much non-existent;
- I knew my productivity at work was diminishing;
- I was eating rebelliously – whatever and whenever I wanted; and, worse,
- I avoided socialising with friends.
Being the person that I am, I took to Google, which predicted I was either suffering from hypothyroidism or depression, or had developed a gluten intolerance. To narrow it down a bit further, I began doing more targeted research.
Gluten intolerance didn’t seem to fit with a number of the symptoms that seemed most prominent, like feeling fatigued and disinterested, so I ruled that one out.
Then I almost wished it was hypothyroidism, which I learned often mirrors symptoms of depression (because who wants to say they’re just depressed?!) but then found out my US$600/month health insurance premium doesn’t cover thryoid issues so quickly took that thought out of the stratosphere and begged God’s forgiveness.
Just to be sure, I went to see my doctor. After rattling off 12 or so symptoms, answering a few target questions (Are you suicidal? Are you homicidal?) and drawing blood for further testing she confirmed my fears: I’m depressed.
I didn’t really know what to make of my diagnosis. In part, I was relieved to know something “real” was wrong with me – and it had a name! – and even more so to know treatment was available (and covered!). But at the same time, I walked out of her office thinking to myself, “Depressed?”
Depression is the sort of disease that creeps up on you. It slowly chips away at your character, your personality, your homour, your smile, your life until one day you’re looking at the rubble wondering what happened.
Today, I’m aware that depression is a hereditary disease that runs in the bloodline of my family. I’m also aware that while my symptoms are still mild (no thoughts of suicide or homicide for now), it’s still a bit scary because I know this disease I have could very well escalate to a more chronic, severe level if left untreated. Every day I take my prescribed medication, I pop an extra B12 vitamin, I go for a 30-minute walk to clear my head and release those feel-good endorphins and I fight the urge to just stay under my bed covers and wallow in self-pity.
Before I wrote this post, only a handful of my closest family and friends knew I’d been suffering from depression. In fact, many may wonder why I never said anything before now, privately or publicly. The truth is, depression is still a taboo topic and I’m just as uncomfortable talking about it as you are asking.
I admit, sometimes, it’s hard keeping it together, to keep a smile on my face. I try every day not to have a downer, but I also know downers are inevitable and I can’t let one bad day define the rest of my week or life. So, friends, if for some reason I don’t seem my usual chipper self, know that my behaviour is not a personal response to something you may or may not have done to me, know that your pity is not what I need, but rather your patience, your understanding, your love and your continued, unconditional friendship.
Peace and love