There I was, 16 years old and not a care in the world. I was happy, content, and I enjoyed life. I was a good kid and, for the most part, I felt good from the inside out. That is, as much as you can when fumbling through those teenage years of life. I got really good grades, had many wonderful friends, was the president of my high school junior class, and loved to make others laugh and be silly. Life was good. However, I had always been a worrier and a very sensitive person. I had deep thoughts and intense emotions.
Somewhere between the age of sixteen and seventeen, between my junior and senior years of high school, depression crept into my life. It crept in without an invite and without warning. It gradually spread out it’s bleak, heavy blanket, choking out the light, the life, and the joy from my once vibrant self. I had no reason to be depressed. No trauma, no unpleasant situations or experiences. No environmental factors. My life had been pretty golden. Why, one day, could I not get out of bed? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that depression and anxiety run heavily in my family. My Dad still fights it to this day at age seventy-one and he first experienced it when he was the exact same age as me, seventeen. I enter my senior year of high school and basically can’t get out of bed. I miss my morning classes and sometimes full days. My friends tease me that I have “senioritis”. I laugh with them, while simultaneously feeling hurt and confused inside. I don’t know how to explain to them what’s going on because I myself don’t know what’s going on. I’m just reacting to this strange, new way of being as it comes creeping in day by day. My mom takes me to a counselor despite me throwing an epic fit of protest. I scream, cry, and yell at her. I tell her I don’t need medicine and that if I just have enough faith and believe in Jesus Christ enough, that he can heal me. She tells me that Jesus put doctors and medicine here on the earth so that the sick could be healed. So begins my journey with medicine, psychiatrists, counselors, the whole trifecta.
That was nearly twenty years ago. I am now thirty-six, with a wonderful husband and three beautiful children. However, the battle of this illness continues every single day.
I got through college and graduated by a miracle. Part of that particular miracle was the American Disabilities Act. After missing so many classes and finding it nearly impossible to focus and study with the raging depression and anxiety I went to the disabilities office on campus and asked what I needed to do to qualify. I needed a note from both my counselor and psychiatrist. Done and done. Now I was on the “disabled” list which meant I had extra time to get my homework in and extra time to take tests or turn in projects. I don’t think I would have graduated college without that. But I did, I graduated college.
Entering the full-time workforce was no easy task. I had had some type of job ever since I was fifteen years old. After the depression and anxiety kicked in, there wasn’t one job or employer that I had, where I didn’t get reprimanded for tardiness. It was always so humiliating. Mornings are my enemy. What a relief bedtime is, or even a nap, when I can finally drift off to sleep and let the crushing weight of the illness leave by simply being unconscious with sleep. Unfortunately, waking up the next day to the realization of going through another day feeling it all over again is paralyzing. Mornings scare me. One day I hope mornings and I will become friends again. There is so much anxiety triggered in the morning time, that the simple act of the sun coming up triggers a Pavlovian-like response in me of paralyzing fear. I am shocked when I meet people who have never felt what I feel each day. What is life like without this heaviness, this burden, this constant inner turmoil? I can’t remember because now I have had this illness longer than I have not.
Enter Jared. I meet Jared while we are both counselors at a church camp. We start dating and fall in love. I tell him two months after we are dating about my depression and anxiety. He stays with me. He supports me. He loves me. He’s a good man, good to the core. We date for a little over a year and are married when I am twenty-five. Life is still hard. Spouses and marriage aren’t there to save you or rescue you from your problems. Jared and I learn little by little what our new normal looks like and take it day by day. I am lucky to have him and I know that.
We decide we are ready for children when I am twenty-seven years old. We struggle with the heartbreak of infertility and other health issues. Eventually we are blessed with three miracle children. Life is even harder now, but I desperately wanted my children. I fought hard for my children and I will never forget that fight. When taking care of only myself, waking up and showering used to be a “good day” for me, a feat to be overcome. Heck, if I brushed my teeth it was a GREAT day. Now I have four people who depend on me. I am a mother and wife of a family of five. Often I still feel inadequate to take care of myself, let alone my home and my family. Yes, the feelings of self doubt, inadequacy, and guilt are there and are very real. But I’m here and I’m doing it. I have a good husband by my side. I have the support of family and friends when I need it. And I really don’t know how, but by the grace of God I am plugging along one day at a time.
I should mention I still take medicine 20 years later, I see my psychiatrist every 2-3 months. We often change things around. Adding this, taking away that, or trying something entirely new. I’ve tried going off medicine too and that is not an option right now. I crash every time and I really cannot function. I am thankful for modern-day medicine to take the edge off even if it doesn’t fully take away my symptoms. No one treatment has ever really worked for me. I still go to counseling intermittently and I still need all the support and help I can get. I’ve been on so many medicines and combinations of medicines I’ve lost count. You name the medicine and I’ll say “Oh yeah, I’ve been on that!”. Not something I’m proud of, but more importantly not something I’m ashamed of either, simply my reality. I’ve always thought that my main diagnosis was Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and more or less that’s what it is. However, I asked my psychiatrist the other day what it said on my chart. “Just curious, but what do you have down for my actual diagnosis?” I said. He glanced at the chart and said “I’ve written, ‘Treatment Refractory Depression and Anxiety.’” “What does that mean?”, I say. “It means that conventional methods of treating depression and anxiety don’t work for you. With you we have to think outside the box.” “Huh…okay.” I think I mumbled.
I guess that’s why 20 years later I’m still fighting. My Dad’s fight has been 54 years long, so far, and other members of my family have also struggled. We are not alone and we are not broken. As with any physical illness, we continue to seek treatment for our brain. We don’t know why it stopped functioning optimally. It wasn’t caused by anyone else’s actions, or by any fault of our own. I’m not sure why the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in my brain isn’t balanced. I don’t know why the synapses and neurotransmitters are not doing their job. I really don’t know. What I do know is how I feel. I do know how it feels to be severely depressed, to have debilitating, paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. I do know what it feels like to want to be in bed all day, every day, year after year. But I also know that this is my fight to fight. I’ve accepted that and I’m trying my best to show up for life each day that I can. And through showing up for life each day that I can and fighting my illness, the glimpses and feelings of hope and joy are becoming longer and more lasting. I have hope. It is often the knowledge of hope, not necessarily the feeling of hope that carries me through. Not hope that this trial will be taken away from me permanently, but hope that I can continue to endure it, endure it well, and find joy amidst the pain.