People often comment on my sunny disposition and my smile. I’ve been told I have a wonderful attitude through the most difficult of circumstances. It is a mask. Behind it lurks something dark and sometimes frightening. It is depression and it has been a part of me since childhood.
Even as a small child I had periods of excruciating sadness and anxiety. I had nightmares, crying jags and panic attacks. I worried excessively about school, unlikely accidents, my parents being killed or injured, being left alone and even growing old. These episodes frustrated and sometimes angered my parents, which only intensified my feelings. I found myself withdrawing and putting a smile on my face and it pacified them. I realize now that my whole family was struggling with the same dark monster. For my parents, perhaps their whole generation, admitting a problem was the same as admitting weakness. It meant one was doing something wrong. So we put on a mask to the outside world and tortured each other for the truth we saw behind them.
Until I was about 30 years old, I wore that mask and berated myself for the truth behind it. I didn’t know where it came from exactly. I knew I had felt that way a long time, but my past was something that was vague and I had no desire to revisit. But life changed about that time. I met someone that I was falling in love with and I suddenly found myself with those intense feelings of childhood had returned with a vengeance. While the relationship did not work out, it was the catalyst to my taking a hard look at where the monster had come into my life. I had to truly face my past.
I talked to a dear friend that I trusted. I told her some of what I was dealing with and she encouraged me to “talk to someone”. She found the name of a therapist, made the appointment for me and even went with me the first time. It was there that I first gave the monster a name: clinical depression. For over a year we discussed the highs and lows of my current life and she helped me to realize how genetics and abuse had shaped the monster. It was the first time I understood that the depression was not a sign of weakness and it did not make me less of a person.
Since then, I have learned to recognize when I need help. I have returned to therapy several times to get me through difficult times. When I eventually lost my father to cancer, however, depression took over in a way it had not before. I was barely able to function. I struggled at work. At home I slept almost every moment I was not at work. I stopped doing the volunteer work I loved. I stopped going to church. I stopped talking with friends. I didn’t answer my phone or my door. I didn’t clean my house. Everything required more energy than I felt I had. Thoughts of dying wandered through my head often. Finally, my sister fearful I would take my own life, intervened. She begged me to talk to my doctor.
At her insistence I did see my doctor. Though I had always had a negative opinion of antidepressants, I agreed to at least try. Zoloft was a miserable failure, making sleep impossible. Effexor was our next attempt and it was helpful for a while. Eventually, my doctor added Wellbutrin and it was like night and day. I have since given up the Effexor and recently added a low dose of Celexa. I might have been afraid to try medication, but they have changed my life for the better. They have not changed the person I am, the way I feared. The medication has helped me to control my thinking. Some days are still hard, but I no longer find myself sinking deeper and deeper. I have had to make some occasional changes in medication and dosages in order to have the desired effect. I have more control over the monster and more often the happy face people see is really me.