Today I am sharing part two of my Mental Illness Awareness Series, which is the continuation of my journey with mental illness. Background information can be found in my previous post from this series. The short story is that the following is taken from my portion of an unpublished manuscript that was designed to bring increased understanding of mental illness.
What I had not shared previously is that the manuscript was aimed to offer support specifically for Latter-day Saint (LDS) women, or women who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The reason for this focus was so the contributors could share how the aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, specifically taught in the LDS faith, strengthened them through their battle with mental illness.
Since I am not changing the original manuscript in any way, I am inserting links to explain verbiage that may be specific to the LDS faith. Hopefully the mention of LDS references will not hinder the understanding of the struggle in my journey with mental illness.
It’s funny how life works. I never had much sympathy for people who said they were depressed or people that had to take pills to make themselves “happy.” Sadly, I considered it as a weakness on their part. It seemed like the easy way out to just take a pill when life got “too hard.” Boy, was I put in my place. A pill is not a cure-all and depression is not the definition for merely having a bad week.
Admitting to my doctor that I needed medicine felt like me saying, “I give up.” Of course, taking medicine isn’t giving up, but it sure feels like that. You feel like such a failure. My pride took a beating. I tried to be smart about it and coupled my physical health care with mental health care and began seeing a therapist. At that time, my mom was still alive and looked at my need for therapy as a failure on her part. Why, in our culture, does seeking professional help somehow imply that we’re weak or a failure?
Thankfully, I had a therapist who helped me address my need for medicine in a healthy light. She reminded me that depression is as real as diabetes. Diabetics need medicine for their health. It doesn’t make them less of a person to take that medicine. The medicine does not make things perfect by any means in either case. It makes one functional. It brings the individual as close to “normal” as possible. But I still had doubts as to the long-term need of the anti-depressant medication. I was particularly concerned based on some wording in my Patriarchal Blessing warning me against what I allowed to enter my body and then later stating that I had the “capacity to be happy.” I worried that those two paragraphs went hand and hand implying that I didn’t need medicine to make me happy or, as I saw it, functional. I took this matter to my Bishop at the time who lovingly counseled me on the benefits of modern medicine and that there is no shame in taking medication for our individual illnesses.
I wish I could say that I took medicine for the customary three months post-baby then successfully got off of it and leveled out to normal again. I was not that fortunate. I remained on a low dose of anti-depressants and continued therapy for a couple years with relatively positive results. I was functional and, through regular counseling, became more aware of the distorted thinking that had illusively become my reality over the course of my life. For example, this battle with depression made me face the deep-seated feelings I had of being a failure, having a low self-esteem, basing my worth on other’s opinions of me, indulging in black and white thinking, and realizing my struggle with perfectionism was preventing me from achieving my dreams. Although depression is a psychological disorder, in my case, my own irrational thought process intensified my battle. If there is one good thing that has come from my depression, it is that I fell low enough and hard enough to seek counseling to help deal with the roots of some of my problems. Counseling was no more a cure-all than the medicine, but it has helped make me functional and succeed in life in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.
It’s worth noting that prior to finding the therapist that I successfully worked with for several years, I had multiple encounters with other therapists that did not prove as fruitful. I found that I was not making any headway in my battle while under the care of a Latter-day Saint (LDS) Therapist. This was no fault of the LDS Therapists that I met with, but rather that I did not feel comfortable letting my guard down. I already knew what I should be feeling and thinking and saying as an LDS woman. So I put this personal pressure on myself when I met with an LDS Therapist to share the “right” answers versus the darker and truer answers to how I was really doing. In my various attempts to find a therapist, I was the patient of three non-LDS Therapists and two LDS Therapists. The first three therapists that I saw were prior to my diagnosis of PPD and I’m not sure I was really ready for counseling at that point. The fourth one that I met with, who was not LDS, was the one that proved successful for me. While I was making great progress with the fourth therapist, financial strains led me to seek help through the LDS Family Services, which includes counseling. Upon meeting with the LDS Therapist, I had all the familiar feelings I had experienced with the first LDS Therapist I went to prior to the PPD. I found myself, again, saying all the “right” things and the therapist almost seemed baffled that I was even there for counseling. It would have been easy to be confused by my attendance, as I was not being honest with her nor myself. I decided that the financial strain was worth the progress that I was making with the fourth therapist and returned to her. Such a critical part of working through personal issues is having the courage to be honest about yourself and with yourself.
I was still continuing with medicine and therapy when my mom passed away two days before Abigail’s 2nd birthday. I was also seven months pregnant at the time with our second baby and had already spent multiple nights in the hospital fighting off pre-term labor. Two weeks following my mom’s passing, I found myself in the hospital again with active labor. Our second baby girl was six weeks and four days early. I was discharged from the hospital, as our precious baby remained in the NICU, on what would have been my mom’s 56th birthday. That following Sunday was Mother’s Day; the first without my own mom. The six months following are a blur of tears, heartache, and somehow – hope. I kept moving forward. I recall being functional, but remember little about my daughter’s first six months of life. What I remember is mostly from pictures that I took. It still breaks my heart to think that I must have just set myself on auto-pilot to protect my broken heart. I don’t consider this a particularly dark time; more of a time when Heavenly Father carried me and asked little in return. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss my mom. She was my best friend and a part of my everyday life. Strangely, I don’t believe her passing had a significant impact on my depression, but it certainly changed the world as I knew it. I attribute my strength in regard to her passing entirely to my knowledge of the Plan of Salvation.
After those first six months following my mom’s passing, I seem to have more memories of my behavior and emotional cycles. I spent most of 2009 trying to figure out a way to get off of anti-depressants. The main reason I had a desire to get off was that the medicine prescribed was beginning to have more negative side effects than benefits. I would try a new medicine, find it worse, try to go cold-turkey, enjoy the benefits of the highs of my mood, only to be brought back to reality that my depression had grown into much more than its first onset.
Check back here next Wednesday for Part 3 of my Mental Illness Awareness Series.