Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Will Your Verse Be?

I've actually been sitting on this post since February 2012. I felt like it was too personal too share, too out of the realm of my niche as "plus-size personal style" blogger. But ever since I saw the news of Robin Williams' death last week, I keep coming back to this post. It's not the easiest thing to read, or to write, and there are no cool fashion photos---- just to give you a head's up before you continue.

Much has been written in the past week about Williams' suicide and how mental illness, if it doesn't affect you personally, is hurting the people closest to you. Many people have written eloquently on the topic, and I have shared multiple articles on my personal Facebook page. I have seen outpourings of love and affection for a man that many admired, but so few actually knew. It gives me hope that the stigma that has long surrounded depression and other mental illness is lessening, and it has been staggering to see the number of people in my life (both real life and online) who have come forward and announced that they too struggle with the dark side of humanity. Do I have anything new to add to this ongoing conversation? Not necessarily, but sometimes a story just needs to be told.



It creeps up on me when I least expect it. Like the sun being blotting away from the winter's night sky. It's so subtle, I don't even notice the change. And then suddenly I am alone- cold and in pitch-black darkness. Depression and anxiety belong in the night. They are dark, creepy subjects most people try to ignore or brush off.

I can't really determine when this latest wave hit me. For some reason I am usually the last person to notice when I have fallen into a "funk". I think I realized last week that I had been really "tired" lately. I'm always tired- it's a combination of deep-set laziness and slight medical issues. I've already blogged about how much I love naps. But this is always different. It's not the decadence of a midday nap, it's the necessity of crawling into bed as soon as I get home. It's not getting up when the alarm goes off the first time or the fourth time. It's waiting all day to get back under the covers and sleep away the world.

I am pretty sure I can pinpoint my first depressive episode to eighth grade. I don't remember much (it was a long time ago!), but I remember missing a ton of days and being so incredibly tired. I struggled off and on for years with depression and anxiety, always too afraid to ask for help. In college the stress of working full-time and going to school full-time finally became too much for me, and after some encouragement from a close friend, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist- one of the scariest AND bravest things I've ever done.

And thus began my ten-year journey through medicated depression and anxiety. It's a vicious cycle- I would go on an anti-depressant because I just couldn't survive anymore. Then in a few months when I felt better, I would take myself off of the drug (often with disastrous side effects and withdrawals). A few months later I would begin to feel bad again, and go to the doctor for a different anti-depressant. And so the cycle continued year after year. I have been on nearly every available anti-depressant on the market and can recite the litany of side effects like the commercial voice-overs.

To prepare for conception, I again took myself off my anti-depressants. I was wracked with depression and anxiety. I was sick with worry and finally, halfway through my pregnancy, admitted my problem to my OB who immediately put me on, you guessed it, another anti-depressant. I have already blogged about my experiences with post-partum depression and anxiety here at ModaMama, and it wasn't a fun experience. Looking back on it seven years after the fact, I can clearly see how those months following Sean's birth, which should have been the happiest of my life, were my darkest moment.

In the past three or four years I have continued my cycle of on-med/off-med, until this past May. As I sat at our high school graduation ceremony, I found myself struggling to breathe. I was sweating and nauseated. I was panicking, imagining the humiliation I would experience if I vomited on stage during graduation. The people sitting around me could tell something was wrong. I spent the entire ceremony planning my exit from the stage and desperately willing the time to go by faster.

As I recounted the incident to my physician, she gently told me I had experienced a panic attack, and despite the fact that I am an armchair physician and a WedMD hypochondriac, I had never realized I have panic attacks with some regularity. And then she said something that in the past ten-plus years no doctor has ever told me. She told me I was never going to get better. That my anxiety and depression were never going to magically go away, that I would probably need to be on an anti-depressant forever. For some people this may sound like horrible news or  discouraging, but this was exactly what I needed to hear. It's not my fault. It's not something I can control or fix on my own.

In high school I took a creative writing class, and in that class I expressed for the first time the depths of my pain and sadness. Now we are required by law to report students exhibiting suicidal or self-harming tendencies, but the laws must have been more lax because I just can't believe that I didn't get locked up immediately. I recently tracked down my journal from that class to share with my current creative writing students, and I was shocked at the contents. Yes, there was plenty of super-cheesy, lovey-dovey poems, but the vast majority reflected the inner demons I was battling on a daily basis. In one, dated just ten days after my 16th birthday, I wrote: "I remember the first time I wanted to die/ The gun held against my head/There were no more tears left to cry/ I felt I was better off dead."

Original poetry and artwork, my poetry journal from 11th grade and me at 15-years-old
I know that this dark side will always be with me, sometimes just under the surface and sometimes pulling me down. I know the fragility of human life and the tragedy of suicide. I have lost people close to me and I have mourned the death of a man, that through his beloved characters of Peter Pan and Genie and Mrs. Doubtfire, was more of a father figure than anything I had in my life at the time. I know what to look for in my own son as he gets older. I know that there is help available if you are able to ask. I know it can get worse. But I also know it can get better.

Please know the warning signs of depression and suicide. Please don't be afraid to speak up if you need help or if you think someone else needs help. Too many people have complained that the media and others have glamorized Robin Williams' death and made suicide mainstream or cool. I don't see that at all. I see that through his tragic death we've all been able to open up about a topic that is too often ignored or trivialized. However, I do want to end with probably the most touching tribute to Williams I've seen. Have a tissue handy because if you haven't already seen it, you will probably tear up.


17 comments:

Katie Frost said...

Thank you so much for your honesty and for sharing your story. I fight the same battles, but I'm not strong enough yet to be open about it. I'm cracking the door open slowly, but I'm still "in the closet" as it were. Thanks again for your openness!

Katie Frost said...

Katie, that was incredibly brave of you. Thank you for being so open. I also deal with depression and anxiety, and have been in and out of therapy since middle school. I am trying to open up about it, but fear of being judged is a real concern. So I appreciate your honesty. Awareness is so important, both to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and to let those who are suffering know that they are not alone. You are a beautiful soul.

Katie Frost said...

Oh that tribute was beautiful! Thanks for sharing.


I loved this honest post, Katie. And though I feel like I know you pretty dang well at this point, I don't think you've ever been so honest with me about your struggles with depression and anxiety. It's true that there is no fix-all cure, and it's also true that you're not alone. I love you!

Katie Frost said...

What a powerful and brave post, dear Katie. Thank you for sharing your story, one that many many can relate to and can find strength in from reading. <3

Katie Frost said...

I really don't have words, Katie. Thank you for being brave and sharing.
-ash
www.stylizedwannabe.blogspot.com

Katie Frost said...

Bless you and thank you for your honesty

Katie Frost said...

It feels weird saying this about someone I don't know IRL but I am proud of you, Katie. You are brave and strong and amazing. I IG under the name so_runs_the_world_away and finally opened up about my struggle with depression. It was hard to write a few sentences so I'm sure this post was extremely difficult but your honesty truly makes a difference. I work in mental health and I fully support ending the stigma. You are contributing to that and I thank you. I've been following you for years and I think you are a truly beautiful human being inside and out. Thank you.

Katie Frost said...

Thank you, Katie.

Katie Frost said...

Thank you for writing so eloquently about a subject that many of us deal with, on a daily basis.

Katie Frost said...

Thank you for sharing. My husband struggles with anxiety and goes on and off medication all the time. It's like a roller coaster. I made him read your post. I"m hoping it will help him stay on his medication.

Katie Frost said...

Thanks for sharing. I too have had panic attacks with some regularity. They're horrible. Even worse than major depression, which I can deal with because it forms a sort of pattern of symptoms in my life. But those panic attacks come out of nowhere. And at the least opportune times for them.

Katie Frost said...

Thank you for your honesty. Every person who shares their story lessens the stigma. Thank you thank you!
Cindi

Katie Frost said...

I struggle with anxiety also. It's the worst feeling in the world. Recognizing and treating anxiety is the key to survival. Don't be ashamed of these evils, it somehow shapes us and gives us empathy for others.

Katie Frost said...

Katie, I don't really have anything else to add, but that I am SO proud of you for writing this post. I also have experienced anxiety and depression, and it really sucks. Sharing your struggles with others is therapeutic in itself, so I hope that you've been able to find this experience - while scary - to be positive and empowering. XOXO

Katie Frost said...

Your comment about it not being your fault resounds loudly for me. I, too, struggle. I have been on and off anti-depressents for several years. I struggle with not being able to pull myself out of it. I belittle myself for not being able to relax and be confident. I hate myself for the fact that the feeling of an impending anxiety attack is always just under the surface. I just hate it. Ugh.

Katie Frost said...

Oh, I know, I know. Thanks for writing this, and being yet another person to be honest, and by doing this making more people understand. I'm not brave enough yet. Love your blog too.

Katie Frost said...

Thank you for sharing your struggle with your readers. I found your post after following a Pinterest link from one of your cute outfits, then exploring your blog. Your words really struck a chord with me. I've always had issues with anxiety and depression paired with ADD. I'm able to manage it with antidepressants and the occasional Klonopin. I can't tolerate the ADD meds because they increase my anxiety and exacerbate facial tics. My issues pale in comparison with what my husband goes through. He has Bipolar II. It's like Bipolar, but the highs and lows are not as extreme. He reached an all-time low about a week before Robin Williams' death. One of the meds that had served him well for years had suddenly stopped working. If he'd had short-term disability benefits, the psychiatrist would have admitted him for inpatient treatment. Because my husband is a contractor and doesn't get paid unless he works, the doctor opted to put him on a different medication. His spirits were beginning to lift when we got the news that Robin Williams had died. This sent me down a spiral of sadness. Picturing the always jovial actor ending his own life in such a desperate way made me realize that my husband was having similar feelings during his darkest days just weeks prior. No matter how good his support system and resources are, he will never be "cured." It's hard to live with, but there is no choice but to keep moving forward.

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