Today’s guest post comes from MomMandy, a mama who struggles with depression and who was featured previously as one of the Parenting With Mental Illness interviewees.
In this article by Mandy, a mother who hails from the Netherlands, she describes her lifelong struggle with depression, and how a combination of therapy, self-care, and antidepressant medication helps her manage it. Right now I am putting together an article about medication and the stigma faced by people who use it. There are different levels of stigma associated with different medications. For example, the focus of the article I’m writing is methadone and buprenorphine, both used to treat opiate dependency and addiction. But medicine for other mental health conditions face a fair amount of stigma too. How many times you have you seen that meme telling people pills are shit and trees are medicine? Did you know that many advocates of the 12-step program do not consider users of appropriately prescribed psychiatric medication, including antidepressants, sober? Stigma is real and it is rampant. So I commend Mandy for standing up and advocating for the medicine that has allowed her to thrive.
How I Fought Depression With Medication
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I didn’t know I was living in fear until my fear was gone. My focus was always on depression. What triggered it? And what could I do about it?
In my experience, fear and depression go hand in hand. Fear of going outside and social anxiety made it hard for me to break the downward spiral of depression. Because distraction and a change of scenery can be really helpful, I knew I had to conquer those fears in order to truly stand above my depressive episodes. Therefore, I challenged myself.
Fighting The Fear One Day At A Time
There was a time when even doing the weekly groceries was a burden for me. Every other week I went to the supermarket. While I was there I focused on my breathing, I took deep breaths, and made my way through the aisles. And every time it went a little better. Every week when it was my turn to do groceries, I focused on my breathing and slowly got more comfortable. That’s how recovery works: Every time you do something you fear, you become less anxious. You know where you’re going and you know what kind of people will be there.
At this point, doing groceries is no longer a burden. I take my time and get a complimentary cup of coffee or tea from the store. With my drink in hand I’ll run my list and look up. At people, at the world. I’m fully there.
When I was in my teens, the dark cloud called depression first hovered above my head. Or was it just then that I became aware of it? I remember teachers at elementary school telling me to smile more. I was a very shy and highly sensitive child.
My parents were strict to me. Being the eldest child in a family of five, I was told to be a good example to my younger sisters. Even when we fought and it wasn’t my fault, I was the one to be blamed. At a young age, I learned that I was the one who caused trouble and had to deal with the consequences. I was actually afraid of my parents. I don’t think it’s healthy for a child’s development to start off with fear.
My parents spanked me if I was rude or argued with my sisters. I’m not talking about physical abuse. But a smack to my head or bottom was enough to send me to my room crying.
I know now that I pick up other people’s emotions quite easily. But back then, when I was a kid, I couldn’t separate them from my own. It was very confusing, especially when those emotions were contrary to the way someone was acting. A person would be nice to my face, but I could feel that it wasn’t sincere.
I was brought up being told that what I wanted wasn’t important. So I had a hard time standing up for myself, which caused me to feel insecure and unimportant. I was that kid who would spend her free time in the local library, bringing home as many books as I could carry. Reading helped me escape reality.
When I was 15 years old, I realized the horrible way I was feeling wasn’t going away on its own. I made an appointment with my physician. I needed help. He referred me to a psychotherapist and my long journey to healing and getting to know myself started. Eventually my depression was so severe I dropped out of highschool and stayed at home for a while.
After a while my psychotherapist put me in group therapy with girls who had all kinds of mental health issues. I didn’t get anything positive out of those sessions so I stopped going. I didn’t really click with my psychotherapist and that isn’t a good way to start off intensive sessions of healing. You really need to feel comfortable with your therapist in order to be able to show your most vulnerable side and share your heaviest thoughts and memories. If you don’t feel comfortable and safe with your therapist, don’t waste your time–find another.
A Period Of Learning
When I was 19 years old, I decided to go back to school at a community college. I had not dealt with depression for three years but I thought I was ready to go back to school. Well, I did for a couple of months but then my issues came back to haunt me even worse than before.
I signed up for intensive therapy in a psychotherapeutic clinic. For about a year, I lived at this facility along with 40 other teens between the ages of 15 to 19 years old. In the mornings we went to the clinic school and the afternoons were spent participating in various kinds of therapy. Individual psychotherapy sessions, drama therapy and art therapy were really helpful for me. Although most of the day was spent inside the clinic we also had a few hours of free time before dinner. I liked to go to the village to get postcards and stamps to write to my family and friends.
This was a very scary, rough and emotional time. But I learned so much about myself and why this dark cloud of a depression was hovering above my head and had so much influence on my life. I remember drama therapy really helped me explore the emotions I wasn’t allowed to express in my youth. I actually had to practice being angry and letting myself express that emotion. That time in the clinic was the true start of my recovery. But it would take me years to learn to cope with depression.
I finished high school at 21 years old and went to university for five years. At that time I was still struggling because the depressive episodes would come and go. I eventually dropped out, just before my thesis.
I know now that the dark cloud will never be gone. Even when I do feel good and happy, I can feel it lurking in the dark. And that is something I’ve accepted. I’m a person who’s sensitive to depression, but I now know which signs to be wary of. Knowing what happens when another depressive episode is near has helped me a lot.
For years I have fought, learned, and taken back control of my life. Having an organized and tidy home also has a great effect on me. When I see chaos around me, my thoughts get chaotic as well. At this moment I’m slowly progressing to a minimalist way of living. Letting go of stuff is helping me create a peaceful and comfortable home.
Veil Of Fear
I found a job to pay my rent but of course that didn’t really solve my problems. I met my husband and he moved in with me. He’s the one who really helped me learn to talk about my feelings . I am forever grateful for that.
My one bedroom apartment started to feel cramped with two adults and two cats living together. So we moved to a bigger place. I found a job at a company where I was actually happy to work. For a while, things were going fine. We decided it was time to expand our family and we were blessed with a little baby boy.
My pregnancy went alright. After our son was born I got back to work. I thought I could still do and handle all the things I did before. Boy, was I wrong. But I had to have that experience to be able to take a step back.
I went back to therapy and learned how to have a more balanced life. I took antidepressants to restore the chemical balances in my head. That was a huge game changer. I felt more calm, and the medications helped me to get by and participate in everyday life. It felt like like a veil of fear had lifted.
One of my problems had always been leaving the house and going to places all by myself. There has always been an invisible force holding me back. After the medicine, when had I bad days, they became less intense and I could handle them a lot better. This has changed so much for me. I didn’t know I was living under a veil of fear all my life until antidepressants helped me lift it.
Not A Wonder Pill
Of course, every medication has it’s side effects, and so do mine. The two biggest ones are that I feel tired most of the time, and that I get a very dry mouth, which causes bad breath.But I’ll take these inconveniences any time over feeling so depressed that I see no way out.
I take 10mg of Escitalopram every morning and intend to take these pills for the rest of my life. It helps me so much. Isn’t it the same as a diabetic taking insulin?
Antidepressants aren’t miracle pills. You still have to work hard to keep depression at bay; learn to know the signals your body and mind are giving you, and act accordingly. If you live with chronic depression, you have to be in a state of constant vigilance. Get to know yourself and your needs. Here are some tips that helped me to get where I am now:
- Be strong and seek help (again and again) if you feel you need it
- Appreciate the little things in life
- Learn to live mindfully
- Have a creative outlet
- Take good care of your body, work out, and nourish yourself with healthy food
- Take yoga classes and meditate to get more ‘inside’ your body and in touch with your emotions
- Consider whether what you are doing with your life is making you happy
- Dare to leave behind whatever keeps you from growing, even when it feels familiar
- You don’t have to go through this alone. Confide in someone you trust.