I’m a glass half-full kind of girl. I wear my Little Ms. Sunshine t-shirt proudly. I am often described as an encouraging, cheerful, happy optimist.
Depression is characterized by a fairly lengthy period of time (at least two weeks) during which a person feels sad or hopeless or lacks focus in life, on a daily or almost daily basis, for the most part of each day. This condition is associated with many other symptoms which can have repercussions emotionally, socially, professionally and in other significant areas of life. (American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision. Washington, DC; American Psychiatric Association. 2000.)
In March, 2012, my glass drained, my t-shirt disappeared and I became a person unknown to myself, my family and friends. After another sleepless night of tossing and turning I had finally dozed off only to be woken by my husband Chris’ pleads to get up and get our girls ready for school. We made it to school on time after much complaining and frustration – all on my part. I returned home exhausted and defeated. I called work and told them I wouldn’t be in – again. Then I crawled back into bed to hide from the world.
That night Chris suggested I see my doctor. He gently described the changes he had seen in me over the last couple of months. I was exhausted, sad, unable to concentrate and completely uninterested in anything or anyone in my life. I knew he was right.
I saw my doctor two days later. I gave her a snapshot of life: Chris working three jobs, me working two jobs, two girls ages 4 and 6, my Mom’s ongoing health concerns, a couple of volunteer gigs, etc. My doctor listened and then asked one question, “And when you take time for yourself what do you do?” I was unable to answer that question.
My depression was a result of burnout and self-neglect. I changed up my priorities, schedule and lifestyle. I started taking an anti-depressant. Things slowly improved but I wasn’t happy with some of the side effects of the medication. It had done away with the sad but also the happy so under my doctor’s supervision I slowly went off one medication and started another which had minimal side effects and made me feel like my old self. I continue to take this medication and monitor my workload, stress level and alone time to ensure a good life balance.
I am sharing my story now for several reasons:
- I have been inspired by Bishop Keith, Kim Henderson, Dale Harris and others in our movement who have openly shared their experiences with depression, anxiety and burnout.
- The stigma should end. Depression is a medical condition with emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms. It is not something that will just go away by trying harder not to feel sad or getting a good night’s sleep. It is a serious health problem for which help is available but due to misconceptions, shame or guilt many people are afraid to seek the medical attention they need.
- Depression rates increase at this time of year. Studies have shown that suicide rates do not increase over the holiday season but telephone help lines and distress call centres report that both the number and severity of calls by depressed persons increases in November and December and then return to normal levels at the end of January.
This is a very brief blog-like description of my experience. I haven’t touched on the shame, guilt or other emotions I felt during this time. It was difficult but my family and friends really got it and walked along side me.
My depression and its cause were pretty easy to identify and manage. For others it is much more difficult. Symptoms and treatment vary greatly and for many it is a life-long struggle.
I encourage you to learn the symptoms of depression so you can recognize them. You cannot replace the treatment of a healthcare professional but you can provide much needed emotional support. One in ten Canadians will experience an episode of depression in their lifetime. Take a look around, you may know someone who is struggling with depression.
Hope, love, peace and joy friends.