On Sunday, May 13th, I am launching “Mental Health Week” on the Your Spiritual Truth blog. In truth, it will more than likely become Mental Health month with the overwhelming response that I have gotten from readers. An overwhelming number of submissions have been coming in which is FANTASTIC. All stories of love, support, resources and guidance. I welcome your contributions as the week(s) unfold!
Ready, Set, Go
I thought it would be appropriate to launch Mental Health Week(s), by coming out of my own closet of mental illlness. It’s not really much of a closet as I have been pretty upfront about my own struggles with depression and anxiety, but maybe haven’t shared the “whole” story. So….here we go.
Looking Back in Honesty
If I am really honest, depression has been a part of my life for a really long time – certainly since my teens. I remember periods of feeling really blue and the “obsessive thoughts” and “mind chatter” that often accompany depression have been my companions for as long as I can remember. In fact, it wasn’t until I was taking Lexapro (much later in life) and the “mind chatter” was suddenly absent that I realized I even had that symptom and that it might somehow be connected with the unique brain chemistry that predisposes one to depression and/or anxiety disorders. I also know today that the “vertigo” and “migraine” attack I had in 1985 was more than likely a panic attack that was mis-diagnosed.
The Ceiling Fell In
But it wasn’t until the spring of 2000 or 2001 (I cant’ remember the exact dates), that I became sidelined by the symptoms of depression. I had suffered a significant loss; been in a traumatic, potentially life-threatening storm while traveling with my two children; experienced a devastating disappointment, I was probably experiencing some post-partum; and my father had a heart-attack – all within a very short period of time. In a time when I should have been basking in the delight of my children, all I could do was sit in the living room chair and watch. Fortunately a good friend recognized my symptoms as depression. She suggested counseling and homeopathy (she was a professional homeopathy practitioner). I accepted both recommendations and added Spiritual Direction to the mix. With the support of my homeopath, therapist and Spiritual Director, I moved through 30+ years of ungrieved losses and did a lot of healing and releasing all which served to alleviate many of the symptoms of depression.
The Walls Collapse
Enter panic attacks. Somewhere around 7 years ago, I suffered my first “official” panic attack. Under the stress of a marriage that was beginning to unravel, my husband’s travel schedule, health concerns around one of our children and while experimenting with a “cleansing” diet, the bottom fell out. While driving to meet my husband for a weekend out of town, the world started closing in, my heart started pounding, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my vision started to first get really small, then began to cloud over. I didn’t know if I was having a heart attack, blood sugar crash or if I was dying. If you have had a panic attack, you know how terrifying this is! I pulled off the road as the symptoms “relaxed”. Somehow got back on the highway, white knuckled it home and collapsed on the couch for what turned into a 3 day paralyzing migraine. YUK!
The Power of Denial and Bargaining
Do you think I went to the doctor to investigate these symptoms? No way! I did not want to face the possibility of diagnosis. “I could not possibly have had a panic attack. Those are for my other people….not for me. I’m perfect, put-together, impervious to mental illness, Lauri, right?! And besides, I know a better way!” So….I spent the next 2 1/2 years pursuing EVERY POSSIBLE remedy to these “symptoms” other than diagnosis and pharmaceuticals. To make a REALLY LONG story short, these alternative methods provided much relief and gave me many tools that I have shared with others as potential sources of not only relief, but support. But then, after returning from a 10 day pilgrimage to England, I began having panic attacks EVERY NIGHT at 2 am which woke me out of a dead sleep. After two months of these nightly attacks, I said, “ENOUGH!” I consulted my physician who released a heavy sigh of relief as she had been encouraging me to accept medical support for these symptoms since my first attack 2 years earlier.
Prayers to the Ancestors
My physician wrote out a prescription to the lowest dose possible of Lexapro and I went home with my little bottle in hand. I was terrified. I didn’t want to have a diagnosis. I didn’t want to take drugs. I didn’t want to be like my ancestors who had all suffered from depression and anxiety disorders most of whom either became housebound or took to drinking to manage their pain. I remember sitting in my backyard with the bottle of Lexapro in my hand and praying, “God, please tell me what to do.” The response was IMMEDIATE. I suddenly saw before me generation upon generation of my ancestors. They looked at me with desperation in their eyes and collectively begged, “Please help us.” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I silently opened the bottle of little white pills, took one out, placed it on my tongue and swallowed.
To Hell and Back
After I made it through the initial side effects of Lexapro, I found that it did seem to alleviate many of my symptoms. I also realized that the “voices in my head” were suddenly absent. This was the most pleasant surprise. 1) I never knew these voices weren’t “normal” In fact, I didn’t even know I had voices until they were gone. 2) There was an overwhelming sensation of peacefulness when not hounded by the constant chatter of worry, obsessive thoughts, planning, anticipating, etc. etc. etc. (If you have these voices, you know what I mean.) My brain was quiet for the first time in my life! And the timing of all of this could not have been more perfect because now, the true unraveling of my marriage began.
Where Things Get Really Interesting
This is where things began to get REALLY interesting. It became obvious to both my husband and me that we had been beating a dead horse and that perhaps we should just let the horse die. We accepted divorce as the best option. Then one day, I simply forgot to take my Lexapro. Then the next day I forgot again. On the third day I decided, “Let’s see what happens if I just don’t take my pills.” (PS, I’m NOT advocating that anyone do this without the guidance and support of your doctor!!!!!) What happened was nothing. No side effects. No withdrawal. (unlike when I had tried to wean myself). No panic. No depression. That was two years ago. Now….does that mean my depression is gone for good and I will never have another panic attack? NO!!!!! I still have situational depression. I still experience anxiety and I have had a few situations of minor panic. AND…..the voices are back. BUT…..I am not paralyzed or sidelined by any of these symptoms and I have learned effective tools of self-care, meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices that have helped manage these symptoms. And the most effective treatment I have found to date? SPEAKING and WRITING my truth. Does this mean I won’t need medication again in the future? Who knows? But for today, I am happy for the relief that medication, therapy, Spiritual Direction and complementary medicine have given me. And I know that the journey through depression and anxiety is unique to each individual and to each life situation.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
The biggest lesson I have learned in all of this is that I AM NOT ALONE! Mental illness, especially depression and anxiety are epidemic. Nearly everyone I know has somehow been touched by mental illness. And the good news is that today we have effective methods of diagnosis and treatment and most importantly SUPPORT! So if you are suffering or know someone who is……please get help. There are therapists, medical doctors, pastors, spiritual directors, teachers, alternative health practitioners out there who are willing and able to help. And don’t be afraid to share your story with others…..you are not alone and you might just find that the person you share your story with needs your support too.
If you want to learn more about mental illness, check out the NAMI website: http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=about_mental_illness