The black dog of depression has been one of my pets for decades. Almost twenty years ago, I passed a note in math class “If I had a gun, I’d shoot myself.” The note’s recipient did the right thing and told my high school guidance counselor. Mom came in, we had a meeting, I nodded and smiled at the right points and assured these two worried women that “no, I was frustrated, I don’t really want to kill myself. I wouldn’t know how to shoot myself.” It was probably mostly true – I was 15.
(Un)Fortunately, a migraine medication in college made me gain quite a bit of weight. I was incredibly uncomfortable in my skin, still depressive, anxious about life, and my doctor, realized that there was more than migraines going on. She put me on an SSRI – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor which propelled me out of the depressive feelings and into productivity. I credit Dr. Johnson* for saving my life.
I have been on medication almost continually since 2002. I cannot manage well without help of medication. I’ll most likely be on medication for the rest of my life, and as with any other chronic illness, that’s just how my life is.
In the decade since I started medication, life has been an intense rollercoaster. I’ve graduated college twice, I’ve been both married and divorced, I moved to a new state, and all the meanwhile, I’ve kept my depression very quiet.
I became really good at isolating myself.
I excelled at this intentional isolation. Ask my friends. Ask my family. I didn’t even explain it to them. I didn’t want to burden them with the thoughts and feelings. I didn’t want someone else to worry about me. I didn’t want people to know that I didn’t have my shit together. I lost contact with innumerable friends, former coworkers, and professional connections. I self-medicated with a plethora of therapies. I made and paid for poor decisions. I’ve also learned a lot.
Ultimately, my chart has four “invisible” illnesses charted, and though not curable, they are treatable. I have physical symptoms that coincide with “flares,” and I’m dealing with them. I’ve worked with cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapists to change my thinking and actions surrounding my diagnoses. I am getting better. I’m reaching out to old friends (thank you, Facebook) and I’m explaining where I’ve been the past fifteen years.
The stigma attached to mental illness is ugly, but I’ve learned purposeful isolation is uglier.
Do you want someone to talk to? There are resources available. Crisis Chat came highly recommended to me recently. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also is a great resource with phone and messaging system.
You aren’t alone.
*her real name, but good luck finding her!