Everything seemed to happen at once. Most of our community of friends moved away due to job changes. People I saw on a regular basis suddenly weren’t there anymore. Our relationship with our best friends broke down. My husband was in school, working and studying long hours. It put a strain on our marriage. We moved to a new house, and I experienced the loneliness of stay-at-home mommyhood for the first time.
It all happened at once, and something in my mind broke.
I thought I was just in a funk–that it would pass in a few days or weeks and I would be better again. There was no history of mental illness in my family, and I really didn’t think that it would happen to me. But it did. I was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings. I struggled with the motivation to do anything, really. Things I once enjoyed lost interest for me. I began eating lots of junk food and gained pounds. Then I replaced my wardrobe with bigger pants and baggy shirts to cover my weight gain. I was not myself. I was easily overwhelmed, subject to huge mood swings, and struggling with deep self-deprication. Through it all, my husband walked by my side. Through my emotional spirals, my lethargy, and my illogical moods.
Finally a friend–an older woman–sat down with me and said the words I will forever be grateful for, which helped bring it all to light: “Laura, I think you are physically depressed, and you need to get some help.”
So I did.
A visit to my doctor confirmed the diagnosis. I began to get counseling, which helped some. Now that I understood what was happening, I was able to monitor my moods better, and I started looking for things that helped me. I began writing about my journey, and I connected with other people who had mental illness. I asked for prayer in my church small group. Regular exercise and an eye on what I ate helped me lose some weight, and I was sleeping better. I found music that resonated with me and listened to it a lot.
All of this helped, but the progress was not as much as we’d hoped. So finally, I made the difficult decision to try medication. A mild antidepressant. Three and a half weeks after I started it, I started to notice a radical difference. I began to feel like myself again. I felt normal. The normal ups and downs of everyday life–not the crazy gloom and sadness that used to hang over me like a cloud. I could feel joy again. I enjoyed my favorite activities again. The morning lethargy disappeared and it wasn’t hard to get out of bed anymore. I got out of the house, started forming new friendships, and enjoyed more activities with my family.
I still have bad days here and there. Days where all I want to do is huddle in bed and eat cake. It is a reminder that medicine is not a replacement for a healthy brain, but it does a pretty good job. Those bad days have become fewer as time goes on, as my mind continues to heal.
I am so grateful to my husband for sticking with me through all that difficult time. In the year since all this happened, I have become very passionate about the subject of mental health. If you or someone you know might be going through this–especially if that person is your spouse–I have some things I wanted to say:
Mental health does not have to be scary. Neither does mental health medication. Don’t be afraid to admit you might be depressed, because when it comes to light, you can focus on doing things to make it better.
If your spouse is not themselves because they are struggling with mental illness, understand that they are sick. Their mind is literally broken. Understand that it is hard and discouraging for them. Encourage and support them in getting help. There are so many options out there that can help all this get better.
Don’t be afraid to call it what it is. I was afraid to face the possibility that I had depression, and that fear kept me in the dark for far too long. But when I came into the light, things started getting better–and I am so thankful.
If you are suffering from mental illness, whether it is post-partum depression, depression that is genetic, or depression that is triggered by trauma, you don’t need to suffer silently. I know so many people who were hit unexpectedly with post-partum depression, and were helped by the same medication I take. So if you are that person, I encourage you to step into the light and seek help. And if you have a loved one who is suffering silently, perhaps you can be the one who has the courage to help them come into the light, and to walk by their side as they seek help and healing.