Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finding Peace with the Past

Last year, Lindsey wrote a post titled: Naming my Anxiety, in which she chronicled her recognition and acceptance of her own personal battle with anxiety. I remember reading it and thinking about how brave she was to come forward, and that I could never be that brave.

Then my little sister Megan started a blog for her senior project at BYU-Idaho called: Brave Hearts, which she confronts her own demons with depression and anxiety, and shares other women's stories as they deal with mental illness. Because of my sister's bravery, I decided to share my own story.

The period of my depression is almost completely blocked out in my mind. My memories are only fragments, and of the memories I’ve retained, I try to push them back as much as possible. I try to drown them out of my past. Even though I have very few memories, the feelings remain, and more than a decade later I feel haunted by my depression. In fact, one of my biggest fears is that my depression will return, and I’ll be unable to care for my small family.

It’s hard to really believe but, eleven and a half years ago, depression and mental illness were way more taboo than they are now. I remember when we were kids, my cousin Jeremy said to me once that he couldn't understand being in a wheelchair. He said that if he were ever paralyzed, he would somehow will himself to walk again. I think that's how some people view mental illness, as something that you can think your way out of, which is why it is so taboo. There is a divide between those who understand, and those who never will.

Who knows how long I was carrying my wounds, undiagnosed? It is my personal opinion that I was depressed for almost a year before the idea of seeking professional help was even thought of. For almost a year the feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, hopelessness, lethargy, and withdrawal were becoming bigger, and less manageable.

Because nobody knew what was going on, the effects of my depression wreaked havoc on my seventeen-year-old self. I lost all of my friends. Every one of them. I was having trouble at home with my parents. I was struggling in school to keep up. It felt like I was on a hamster wheel going nowhere while everyone passed me by.

I remember the feeling of wanting to scream, just so that I could be heard, and maybe someone would turn their head and look at me, to stave off the feeling of invisibility and utter loneliness I felt. The best way I can describe how I felt socially is that I was the only one aware of myself, and that made me feel certifiably insane.

Recovery for me is a blur. I remember seeing a counselor. I remember taking Zoloft and then Wellbutrin before the medicine started taking effect. There are only a few things I remember:

            I remember a doctor explaining to me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that could be fixed using prescription drugs, much like medication could heal someone with a physical illness. For some reason, even though I’d just been told that I had an uncontrollable (by me) imbalance, it was superbly comforting.
             I remember right after I started the medication I opened up to a friend. While most of my memories are blurred and fragmented, this one is perfectly clear. We were sitting in a parking lot and I explained that I was taking medication and talking to a counselor. He was disgusted with me, and berated me for not having faith in Jesus Christ. He believed if my faith was strong enough, I wouldn’t have to resort to medication. He basically told me I should repent of my illness! Even now, the memory brings such pain it’s difficult to think about.
            I remember the few people who stood by me. My mom advised me not to tell anyone about the depression, because she wanted to protect me from the stigma of mental illness, but a few people knew.  My parents were always there for me. My dad has always been ready and willing to be a listening ear and provide priesthood blessings, but my mom was especially proactive and a huge source of stability. My school counselor Mr. Malcolm Johnson, who was like a professional friend. I went to him extremely frequently, and even after graduation I kept in touch for a few years. My grandparents Bea and Alan Marsden, who I confided in, and allowed me to spend a couple weekends at their house to be pampered and loved. They never tried to do anything, but just wrapped me in their love and support and I’ll never forget that.  The ONE friend I had in the world, Logan Benhard. She was a bright ray of sunshine in my life, and the only peer who wholly accepted me. She somehow understood me in a way that nobody else did, or cared to try, and was a constant listening ear and shoulder to cry on. 

The healing was slow and nearly imperceptible, even by me. One day, I was driving down the street with my mom and she noticed I was singing in the car, something that I used to do frequently but hadn’t done in more than two years. The rays of hope were slowly coming through, and though it would be a while before I would bathe in the warmth of the light, there was hope smiling brightly before me, and I knew that deliverance was nigh.

Over a year and a half after I was diagnosed, I was able to wean slowly off the medication. I remember my mom driving me up to BYU-Idaho to begin college. As we drove out of town I played for her my anthem, “I’m Moving On” by Rascal Flatts:

I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on

Though I’m STILL afraid that I will one day succumb to the anxieties and emotions that still so often beset me, and that I will not be able to cope with life once again, I know there is hope. 

My depression is always at the back of my mind, and I don’t know if there will ever be a time when it will go away and I’ll be completely free, but for now it serves as a reminder of unseen battles being waged inside those around me, and that I should never judge another person’s actions or reactions because I cannot know their heart. This is difficult at times, when other’s actions are hurtful to me or my family, but I try to remind myself that I am not the judge and that my patience is required.

1 comment:

Laura Anderson said...

I'm one of the women whose story is on your sister's blog, and I completely agree with everything you have written here. I get so tired of people saying that you can think yourself out of depression or that you need to have more faith. It drives me crazy!

Thank you for writing this. I am going to share it on my facebook wall :)