Jan 8, 2020
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Back in June I experienced something that I’ve never quite ever experienced before.
It resulted in me having to take some unexpected time off work while I addressed what was going on, but in reality I was just trying to survive each day. Mental health is something I take very seriously. I try to be very outspoken on my social media about normalizing mental health and ending the stigma. As someone who lives with ongoing anxiety and PTSD I know firsthand how debilitating it can be to live with the effects of the illness and not just cope and survive but also try to thrive in this world.
Add on the mounting pressures of your career, motherhood, marriage, health and wellness and having some sort of social life and balance … well you can’t be entirely surprised when your glass house finally shatters. And that my friends is exactly what happened in June.
Depression is sometimes caused by an event or situation that brings on this onset of deep sadness and emotional pain. I wish I could say that’s what happened to me, because as I searched for answers desperately, trying to pinpoint what caused my “brain to break” I couldn’t. The despair I felt wasn’t caused by anything at all. It came on spontaneously, completely randomly and it completely broke me.
The catalyst happened on a Friday evening while I was shopping at Costco. I stood there frozen in fear possibly having a very intense panic attack while staring at a pair of jeans with this white ribbon. I stood there for 45 minutes staring at that ribbon until I managed to get myself to the check out. I’ll never forget the interaction with the cashier. She was aware something was very wrong. Her line of questioning and the concern on her face was sending me deeper into panic.
I just needed to get out of the f**king Costco and into my car and away from everyone. I spent the rest of the weekend in my bed.
Looking back, I can’t exactly tell you what triggered my depression.
Realistically I feel like it was slowly building over time but to be honest the onset and gradual decline is a bit of a blur. If I didn’t have all my notes I probably wouldn’t be able to recollect a lot of what happened in those two weeks, especially the beginning. My earliest, clearest true memory is sitting at the doctor’s office in tears saying something wasn’t right.
Maybe I have cancer. I don’t feel right inside. I don’t feel anything at all. I requested blood work, CT scans, ultrasounds. All the tests came back relatively normal. There was certainly no cancer and I was not dying. I was experiencing a state of depression. That was hard to hear, hard to take in and hard to accept.
I got a note to take two weeks off and to reevaluate and if more time was needed, I would need to consider alternate treatment. What that basically meant was anti-depression meds. I remember taking my note and being so ashamed that I would have to take time off when I had no idea what was actually wrong with me. I had called my work EFAP (employee family assistance plan) a couple of days earlier and had an appointment for that same day.
From Dr to Dr. Back to back. My husband drove me to all the appointments. We sat quietly for the car ride as I stared out the window, clenching my jaw, staring out into space. I remember occasionally noticing people and wondering about their lives and feeling nothing but jealousy as their ability to function freely.
It was the absence of emotion or feeling.
The way I can best describe the state I was in was — numb. It was the absence of emotion or feeling. I felt cold inside and devoid of any feeling. I couldn’t smile, I couldn’t even move my mouth without it hurting. My jaw was so sore from spending every waking moment clenching it. I felt stiff, my limbs and joints also ached – like I had worked out intensely… except I had been living in my bed and barely moving. The physical pain was truly the only reason I knew I was still alive because if I was to be completely honest, the numbness I felt inside of me made me feel non-existent.
My first appointment with the therapist didn’t go so great.
I wanted her to fix me. I wanted to spill my guts to her and have her identify exactly what was causing my brain to malfunction and then tell me what to do to fix it. She listened as I basically unpacked years worth of possible things that I thought could have caused my mental breakdown and once the session was done I was left with all of my vulnerabilities out and exposed in the open, left for me to figure out how to re-pack again. Everything I had ever experienced, every worry and fear, every trauma and childhood memory – what was once compartmentalized and kept neat and tidy – was now a complete mess for me to clean up. I had no answers, I had no solutions. All I kept telling her over and over again was I had no reason to be depressed, there was nothing wrong in my life, great job, wonderful husband, healthy happy kids, my own health, I just got a damn pool for crying out loud…I was fucking blessed, why is this happening to me?? All she could do was reiterate that there didn’t have to be a reason, it just sometimes happens.
I wanted her to fix me.
The day after the appointments with my Dr. and therapist I was basically comatose. I had emptied so much of me the day before… I had shed so many tears, watched my husband cry as he shared his concerns with our therapist… I truly felt there was nothing more inside of me left to operate on. I laid in my bed as my world carried on without me. It was like everyone around me was operating in hyper speed. I felt like I was living inside my body unable to move/speak/act and just helplessly watching a movie I couldn’t stop or rewind. The kids would come to my bed and kiss me goodbye as they went to school and my husband would step up and solo-parent them because there was no choice — I didn’t exist. I was just a breathing shell of the wife he knew and loved and my children just knew that mommy wasn’t feeling well or mommy was sick. I wanted to shake myself out of this so bad but I physically couldn’t.
It took me the full two weeks to truly come back from where I was but even then I wasn’t quite 100 percent. During that time I actually didn’t think I was ever going to be ‘normal’ again. I know what anxiety feels like, I experience it every now and then. Not like every day, but I have gone through intense bouts of it where all I wanted to do was hide under my covers for a day or two and just sleep and be held. No words, no noise, no light, just let me sleep, come and check on me and hold me and let me find my way out of the hole.
Depression on the other hand didn’t quite have the same prescription or solution. I felt so heavy. Walking from the bed to my bathroom was a journey.
On day two I managed to “wash” my face with one of those face wipes you use to remove makeup, tie my hair up and change into fresh clean clothes. This to me was a win. I wrote everything I “accomplished” daily for those two weeks in a journal. I tracked my feelings: Numb, so-so, okay, good, great.
I tried to journal my gratitude. I deleted all of my social media, I compulsively monitored the weather app, I took so many vitamins and minerals that my kitchen counter looked like a pharmacy. I listened to podcasts and watched Ted Talks about depression and mental health. These resources helped me feel much less alone at a time when I felt invisible.
One of the most difficult moments for me during this time was when I felt nothing when I looked at my kids. As a mother it was incredibly hard for me at this point because I was so empty inside. The guilt I felt inside for feeling this way overtook the rational side of me that was trying to use all my knowledge and experience in this topic to reassure myself that I was not a monster. I hugged my boys and felt nothing. At one point I became so cold inside I truly began to believe they would be better off without me. I was so wrong, and I didn’t know it.
I am something. I am someone’s everything and so are you. You may not see it. You may not feel it. And at that point you need to truly be honest with yourself and admit there is a problem. I was riddled with fear. Every waking day I was terrified that I would never feel love again, never feel joy again, never smile again. Towards the end of week two I felt like the most ridiculous human being. I would drive from my appointments and literally practice smiling. I hadn’t smiled or laughed in so long that I had convinced myself that I had lost the ability to do so, that I would never feel happiness again. I am here to tell you that did not become reality.
Stiffly. Slowly. Silently.
On day 10 of this, I rushed back to my family Dr. with Adam in tow, and in the room I broke down in tears and explained everything I just said above. The fears I had – the bleak despair I faced. My Dr at that point believed I was in a state that required medication. I did not want it. He wrote the prescription. I never filled it. I held that piece of paper in my hands and fear overtook me. I am not strong. Anti-depression medication does not make you weak. I truly believe that that moment I psychologically pushed or forced myself to dig deeper and find a drive to go on. A million thoughts raced through my head. The long drives over the Burlington skybridge and my thoughts that raced, my children kissing me goodbye, my husband in tears. I took everything that I held dear inside of me and it came out angrily and aggressively. I cried that entire day. Like an ocean of emotion I had kept inside of me, the flood gates opened and I allowed myself to feel every pain I have ever felt.
Today I am in a much better place.
From that moment I began to feel again. I began to heal and move forward. Stiffly. Slowly. Silently. I had setbacks in July when an incident at my sons daycare caused me to propel myself into fight or flight mode. I chose to fight. I didn’t stew in sadness but I festered in anger for a while. I had to navigate this challenge taking everything I had learned in terms of my coping mechanisms and rally my support team (husband, friends, family) to keep me strong and focused on what had to be done – for my child. When I took care of business, when I finished putting on the brave face I would empty my real emotions with those I trusted and I knew I had a safe place with.
Today I am in a much better place. I don’t want to say that I won’t ever experience this again but I now know that I can find my way out. I couldn’t do it alone and neither should you. You need to reach out for support. You need to lean on people who love you. You need to dig deep and do the work. If you need the medication, take it. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong as f**k.
And lastly, you need to never ever give up. Life is not always roses. Life is not always picture perfect. We all have our challenges, our setbacks, our crosses to bear. But these things do not define us. And for those of us that are mothers, I truly believe that inside of us there is a strength that can overcome the darkest and bleakest of times.