Tag Archives: therapy

stigma fighters post

*This is a post I originally wrote in May 2014 for Stigma Fighters, whose site you can find here.   If you are currently in crisis PLEASE reach out – even though you may not feel it you ARE worth it.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline link is here, in the United States you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Now, here’s my story…

I’ve been living with depression on and off since I was 13 years old.  It’s a black hole that I haven’t been able to climb out of on my own when it reaches the clinical level.  Everyone gets depressed sometimes, and a lot of people can get through it to the other side on their own with the help of family and friends and time.  But when a person experiences CLINICAL depression that’s a different animal altogether.  That’s what I think is hard for some people to understand.  There is NO “snapping out of” clinical depression.  That’s when talk therapy and medication may be needed – and ARE needed for me.

When I’m clinically depressed nothing gives me joy.  I cry A LOT.  It’s hard to do normal everyday things like the dishes, or laundry, or even read to my kids.  My pattern of depression before children was a tiredness so profound it was hard to get out of bed.  Since I had kids my depression manifests itself in the opposite way – insomnia.  I’m trying SO hard to keep going to take care of my family that my body can’t relax.  I experience anxiety so bad, afraid that I’ll collapse under the weight of my depression, that I physically shake.  So with this current bout of depression I’m also being treated with added anti-anxiety medication as needed.

I’ve been hospitalized twice – once for a serious attempt on my own life when I was in my early 20’s.  It’s truly a tragedy when you think the world would be better off without you, or when you’re convinced that you will NEVER be able to function in the world and NEVER be able to get rid of the pain you feel.  Emotional pain becomes physical pain – only no one can “see” your wounds, and that makes it even harder.  That’s why I even went through a period of cutting, and burning myself – so I could have a physical manifestation of my emotional pain.  It’s really hard to reach out when you’re in the black hole of depression because gravity sucks you farther and farther into yourself.  You think you don’t deserve help, you’re convinced no one will understand, and you believe you’re some kind of freak of nature that the world needs to be freed from.

There have been times in my life when I’ve been therapy and medication free.  Before this current bout I hadn’t been in therapy or on medication for almost FOURTEEN years.  But after marrying my husband,  having 3 kids (one with a severe allergy and asthma, one with autism and one a surprise), and the death of three of four of our parents, depression came crashing down again.  I tried my best to fight it off, but in the end, both my husband and I knew it was time for me to get back to therapy and medication.  Financially it’s been a HUGE burden, and one that I feel some guilt over once in a while.  Even though we have insurance, mental health coverage just sucks all the way around.  But I tell myself the financial sacrifice is worth it, because I absolutely HAVE to be around physically AND emotionally for my children.

In my professional life I’m also a Christian pastor.  There is a lot of stigma in some church circles around mental illness, especially depression.  But contrary to the mindset of some folks, it is entirely and completely possible to be a faithful believer (in whatever faith you practice) AND struggle with mental illness.  I don’t share my particular issues with my congregation, because it’s my job to take care of THEM, not the other way around, but I’m always careful to preach what I believe – that faith doesn’t protect us from life’s pain, faith helps us as we confront life’s pain.

I have a good life now.  I see my therapist regularly.  I take my medication.  I smile and laugh and enjoy my family and friends.  I look at my kids and I’m glad I’m here for them.  I enjoy a healthy emotional and physical relationship with my husband instead of making excuses because I just don’t have it in me.  I work and help others.

If I hadn’t just shared all this with you and we met you would never know – because those with mental illness are all around us, living their lives, being productive members of society just like everybody else.  We are no different than someone who is being treated for diabetes or high cholesterol.

Depression is an enemy that would love to suck the life out of us.  Fighting back against it is a struggle.  It’s hard to reach out and get help when we feel like we don’t deserve it and when we’re afraid of what others may think of us.  But reach out anyway, because getting help is not a weakness, it is an awesome strength.  And it’s worth it.

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Bio:  Lisa is a late 40-something pastor, mom, wife and new blogger.  She blogs about parenthood, autism, faith, depression,  and anything else that inspires her at lisaleben.wordpress.com

Extreme Ambivalence

I am writing this from my mother’s house.  Visits to my mother are always a little weird.  I feel weird when I’m with her – ricocheting between enjoying her company and wanting to run away from her as fast as my feet will carry me.  I love her, and yet my disappointment and anger with her run as deep and mysterious as the ocean.

A little background.  My father was an alcoholic, and not a very nice man, who died of cancer almost 18 years ago.  I have spent YEARS and unknown tens of THOUSANDS of dollars in therapy, processing my childhood, unpacking my relationships with both of my parents, dealing with certain events, and trying to move on, to become my own person, to forge my own path, CHOOSING and working like hell to be healthy rather than stay stuck in self-destructive unproductive patterns.  I am proud of myself and the work I have done.

My relationship with my mother is complicated.  I love her – there’s no denying that.  I wouldn’t want to deny it.  She herself had a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father, and grew up in a generation that didn’t believe in therapy, or talking to anyone about “personal” problems.  History unexamined, un-dealt-with, tends to repeat itself.  She has done her best in her life.  I think BOTH my parents did the best they could with the coping skills they had.  BUT…

The older I get, and especially since I had children, the more disappointed and angry I have become with her for not doing more to protect my brother and me from our father’s behavior.  I know she was doing her best, but her best wasn’t good enough.  I know that’s not fair to her, but my childhood wasn’t fair to me.  And I can’t help how I feel – I just feel.  I spent years trying to sweep my feelings under the carpet by explaining and understanding things away.  One of my former therapists told me “You understand too much.  Your understanding of everybody’s actions allows you to explain their behavior away and make them unaccountable.  And because you can’t be angry at them because you understand them, you direct your anger towards yourself for feeling the way you feel.”  Angry at myself for feeling angry, because the people I wish I could be angry with don’t deserve it (even though they really do).  Ouch.  That therapist was right. And it’s a nasty nasty cycle to recognize and stop.  Even today I have to watch out for it, because it’s easier to be angry at myself than the flawed people who have hurt me – I risk less in the short term – less open conflict, less fear of rejection.  But in the long run it’s very self-destructive to stuff anger or direct it inward.

So, yes, my mother was doing her best – but she still failed to protect my brother and me from my father – and we deserved to be protected.  We deserved better.  I love my mother.  But I am also angry as hell with her – an anger that is profound, to my core.  This is a huge step for me – to direct the anger out instead of in.  But I’m not at the point where I want to do a big confrontation with her.  I just don’t have it in me.  With me in my late 40’s and her in her mid 70’s I just don’t feel like expending the energy required to do the thing “right” or risk it ending up badly.  That’s just how it goes.  Thank goodness we don’t live near one another, so we only see each other for quick visits perhaps four times a year, and talk on the phone maybe once a week.

So I am here, visiting her with my two younger children, for a two night sleepover (as my kids call it).  And like I said, it’s weird.  All the unspoken feelings, the going through the motions, the love I feel for my mother, the earnest desire I have for my kids to love their grandmother mixed with the equally earnest desire I have to run away from her – the love and disappointment and anger all mixed together in a strange stew whose taste is good one minute and bitter the next.

I wish I could stay longer, but I can’t wait to get the hell out.

Depression is no joke

In the newspaper this morning was an article/obituary for a local young woman, 19, who died on Friday evening.  She was beautiful. She was a decorated athlete in track and soccer at the local and state levels.  She was in her freshman year at a prestigious university, her whole life ahead of her.  Friday night she jumped off a parking garage, committing suicide.  Her family requested memorial donations be designated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Depression is a big ugly monster – a black hole of despair and self-hatred.  A chemical imbalance so twisted that when you look in a mirror, instead of seeing the beautiful person God created, you see a worthless, hopeless nothing.  It creates mental anguish so deep that it becomes painful to live with – painful for the soul and even painful for the body.  I hate it.  It’s my enemy.  It’s taken too many people I know, and it almost took me.

I’m almost 50 years old.  I have lived with the companion of depression on and off since I was a teenager.   I survived two suicide attempts, cut myself, have been inpatient twice, and been on more kinds of medication than I can remember.  What led me to my initial descent into depression is probably a combination of nature (family history) AND nurture (not going into details, but I know what they are…).

My worst years were my teens through early 20’s.  My best years were after I got married and my kids were born (to this day I’m amazed I didn’t suffer post-partum depression).  In fact, I was doing SO well, I thought depression was a thing of my past.  But I was wrong.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty reserved when it comes to my thoughts and feelings.  One friend calls me stoic, my current psychiatrist says I’m closed up tighter than a drum.  Well, I can see now the build-up of all the things I was “staying strong” through and could’ve seen it coming if I was paying attention.

1. My oldest child was diagnosed with asthma and a nut allergy when she was young, which required super hyper-vigilance about anything that came near her mouth or that she breathed in.  (we’re talking epi-pen allergic here, as in “anaphylactic shock,” like, DEATH – and asthma that required daily meds, an inhaler, and emergency room nebulizer treatments)

2. My second child has severe developmental delays which at one point we thought might involve muscular dystrophy and epilepsy.  Her eventual diagnosis was autism, which while not life-threatening is certainly life-altering and means LONG TERM major STRESS.

3. I had an unplanned pregnancy, (my son, who I love dearly, but still, at the time…)

4 & 5.  Both of my in-laws who I loved deeply died within four years of each other:  my father-in-law’s death coming unexpectedly while my mother-in-law’s took four brutal months of my husband traveling 2 1/2hrs each way to be with her through chemo while I stayed home alone with the kids because obviously we couldn’t subject her to our kids running around her house while she was so sick.

6. After my mother-in-law died my husband’s constant overnight trips back and forth to where she lived to deal with her estate, the lawyers, cleaning out and selling her house etc…

7. Trying to stay strong and be supportive for my husband, who was deeply in grief while trying to cope with all the legal stuff.

A year after my mother-in-law died (which was two years ago) I CRASHED.  Hit the wall.  I didn’t want to die this time – I think I have my kids to thank for that.  I mean, I thought I was a horrible mother, but I never thought they’d be better off without me.  They needed me, even if I was a mess.  And a mess I was.

I cried all day.  I cried over getting them up for school.  Cried making their lunch.  Cried looking at the dishes in the sink.  Cried looking at the ever growing pile of laundry.  Cried picking them up from school.  Cried at the thought of making dinner.  Cried at the thought of homework time.  Cried facing the bedtime rituals.  Cried myself to sleep.

I was functioning, getting through the day because my kids NEEDED me, but I was in a kind of hell.  Then I stopped sleeping, and that was probably what brought everything to a grinding halt.  In the past when I was depressed I would be lethargic, sleepy.  In this depression I was trying SO hard to function for my kids that I got “over-wound.”  Plus the only time I felt any peace was when I was alone, in the quiet of the night, when no one required anything of me.  I didn’t want to let that go, so my body kept me from sleeping.

Finally my husband said, “It’s time.”  I felt like a failure.  I thought I was done with therapy, with medication.  Yet I knew I didn’t just need a therapist, I needed a psychiatrist.  I needed medication.  The stress and grief had taken such a toll on my body chemistry that I was drowning and would need medical help to set it right.

It took some time.  Anti-depressants are not happy pills.  Even the optimal dose will not save you from tears or sadness.  I describe it like this:  the medication raises your threshold for “dealing.”  You are still confronting your issues, but no longer feel like you’re sinking in a black hole.  You have more mental strength to cope.  I also needed anti-anxiety medication because I desperately needed to sleep and was physically shaking with anxiety about getting through the day.

I was lucky to find a good doctor who did more than “just listen.”  I needed someone to be “in my face.”  To tell me point blank when I was full of shit.  I’d been with “listening” therapists before, who wouldn’t offer much input, and that has its place, but this time I needed someone more interactive, someone to push me to recognize my own grief, my own stress, my own needs, which I’m so good at burying.  I’m still with her, still on medication (although my anti-anxiety meds are “as needed” now and I haven’t taken one in months – but I still have them around just in case…), and I’m in no hurry to stop.  The combination of talk and medication is working well, so why mess with a good thing.

Stigma still exists around mental illness.  I haven’t talked about my depression with many people outside my immediate social circle (one of the many reasons I don’t use my last name here).  Many religious people think they can pray it away.  People still think depression is as easy to “get over” as a bad day, and nothing could be further from the truth.  Clinical depression (more than just a bad day) is REAL, and DANGEROUS.  Just ask the family of the young woman who died Friday night.  Ask my friends whose son overdosed on his psych meds at the age of 15 just when things were starting to look better.  Or me, about my uncle who shot himself, or me about myself (who thank goodness is still here to share…).

I share my story because when I write other posts about suffering I’ve been through, and good coming out of it, I’m not talking platitudes.  My struggle with depression and my close calls with death are VERY real.  Yet I choose to USE those experiences to make me  compassionate,  patient, grateful for the life I have now.  I am also sharing because the story of the young woman who jumped off the parking garage is yet another wake-up call that we should all be vigilant in looking out for signs in others, but in also taking care of ourselves.

If you’re struggling, PLEASE get help BEFORE it becomes a crisis.  You may feel like a failure, but in fact you are a super hero – STRONG and BRAVE because you are taking control of your life back, and refusing to let mental illness define you and win.  No matter what anyone else may tell you, no matter what you may be telling yourself, YOU DESERVE IT.  And if you’re receiving treatment, but it’s just not working, speak up.  Tell your therapist you need to try a different “style,” tell your doctor you need to adjust your medication.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not give up.