This is not the kind of thing one expects from the kind of person I am. And yet, here we are. The mental breakdown took place on Friday, October 23rd. Darkness had made a habit of showing up every Sunday night and slowly moving out by Wednesday evening. But this time it arrived early and it came with a vengeance.
The darkness had been an unwelcome guest that I helplessly tolerated. But with each visit, the pain of its presence was sharper and deeper. That Friday night, the darkness that had roughed me up pretty good over the past couple of years threw me a knockout punch. I was out, cold. My memory of that weekend is spotty. All I remember is a profound sense of hopelessness, desolation, weeping and vertiginous fits of insomnia.
On the third day I rose. Emily and Christy had been there all along, caring for me, making arrangements, taking precautions. When I came to, I was informed they had made appointments for me to see my general practitioner, a new therapist, and potentially a psychiatrist.
From the new therapist I learned that I was most certainly dealing with depression.
From the blood work ordered by the doctor, I learned that I had “alarmingly low” levels of vitamin D.
From the psychiatrist, I learned that I had Major Depressive Disorder with Suicidal Ideation, Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Panic Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (not to be confused with OCD).
From my manager, I learned that short-term disability leave had been approved.
The darkness that was gradually taking over me, finally consumed me on October 23rd. Everything has been different since then.
This can’t be happening to me. I am very happily married, I have two amazing children, I’m surrounded by loving friends, I practice (and teach!) meditation, I have a good job, a nice house…in short, I’m the most fortunate person I know. I have every reason to be happy and grateful. This doesn’t happen to people like me, right? Right? Wrong. This can happen to anyone because it is a matter of chemistry, not character. That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned. And, although I’ve learned a lot, the truth is I still don’t know quite how to talk about this.
There’s the stigma, for starters. We don’t think twice about talking of root canals, filled cavities, pulled wisdom teeth, you know – dental health. We share it on Facebook, we joke about it, we talk. But mental health, that’s a different story. We don’t dare talk about it, we don’t know how to talk about it, we don’t even understand what it is. Why would we not talk about the health of our brain, arguably the most important organ in our bodies?
The therapist and the psychiatrist have helped me understand this is not that different from, say, diabetes. It is a genetic and environmental illness. That is, there are some faulty connections in my brain and certain life situations can aggravate or trigger them. But just as with other health issues, there is treatment and a path to wellness. I’ve been on that path since the first week of November. I started medication – an antidepressant, a sedative, and an industrial strength dose of vitamin D. I started weekly psychotherapy sessions. I started regular visits with the psychiatrist. And, after vacillating between vague Facebook posts and deactivating my account, I decided to reach out to a small group of friends.
As it turns out, it appears I’ve joined the largest secret society. And here I thought I was so special, but I’m only unique, just like everybody else. Messages of support and empathy started pouring in… “I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for the past twenty years,” “I’m a survivor of suicide,” “Everybody is diagnosable,” “It’s not your fault,” “You’re not alone.”
Friends offered to meet for coffee and I was apprehensive at first, perhaps even embarrassed. But right away I realized that talking about it, that thing I still don’t know how to do, was so helpful. Or perhaps it was listening, learning about the struggles my friends and family faced, things I knew nothing about. In the process of talking, and listening, and talking, and listening, I found healing and comfort.
But now I’m tired of talking about it. So what – I have some new, scary-sounding diagnoses. But I also have severely flat feet, and I’ve gained all the weight I lost last year, and I still haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie (or the old ones, for that matter)… so what? I don’t know what. I don’t care. I know this is not my fault, I know I am not my diagnoses. And I know that all I have to work with is this present moment. I can only take this one day at a time, maybe even one hour at a time.
Something that I still can’t describe happened on October 23 that changed everything. Since then I’ve been riddled with panic attacks and sudden episodes of crying in despair. But the medication is starting to work, therapy is helping, and my close friends have become even dearer to me in the process. I’m so grateful for my Sangha, my spiritual community. And I’m especially grateful for Emily and Christy, my saviors. Without them, well, I don’t care to think of what may have been of me without them.
Some days I just have to give up and hope the next day will be better. And I am having better days. Today was one of them. But, like I said, I’m tired of talking about this. So tired. So this is all I can say about depression, for the time being.