It's been 11 days since I posted and my stats counter (if I were needy enough to look at it, which I'm not, but I did) looks like the downward slope of Everest. Honestly, I understand the stats and I'd be surprised if I have much of a following beyond a few curious lurkers from my real life and family members who read to see what I say about them. In this post I have firmly committed to not writing about a single family member or friend, there will be no deflection. Although, I will talk about my new therapist.
For many years I have been open in discussing my depression as a past event. When I would say, "I had depression," it was gloating. I took some amount of pride in thinking I had overcome the Beast of depression; put it in a cage, hid it in the basement and sent my husband and a few close friends down there to feed it periodically. After the difficulty of the past several months and a visit to the therapist, where she nailed me to the wall with my illusions in less than an hour, I now understand that I have been white knuckling a 15 year ride on the Beast.
We went through the usual things that you talk about on a first visit with a therapist - family structure, job, mental and physical health history, what brought you in (as if you could talk about it as easy as a sore throat), symptom check off list, disclaimers, etc. - which took many tangents, towards the end we talked about my recent doctor appointment. I told her that I had been diagnosed with low vitamin D, severe enough to require prescription strength vitamins.
Looking at the floor I said, "She gave me a prescription for anti-depressants, but I haven't taken it."
"Once my vitamin D levels are back up it'll be better, hopefully I won't need them."
She sternly said, "You have a chemical imbalance in your brain... it will not just go away."
I reasoned that I had been fine for the last 15 years, after starting exercise I didn't need meds anymore, and I still exercise regularly, I understand and practice positive self talk, I'm social, I take care of myself...
"I've done research on this, it is neurons and serotonin and brain chemicals and it does not change. No one likes to take medication... Okay, very few people do, and you're not one of those people. You have been coping without medication, but you need to take it."
On Monday when the doctor's appointment was very quick, when I told the doctor about the medication that worked before and she typed it quickly into her laptop, when she didn't question my depression, when she recited the medication directions quickly as she picked up the laptop and walked towards the door, I felt the shame of depression. I felt the stigma weigh down my heart. When she closed the door and left me alone in the exam room I cried. Then I wiped my hasty tears and waited for my eyes to loose their redness before I walked to the checkout desk where the receptionist had given me puppy dog eyes when, upon my arrival, I had said my appointment was for depression.
I delayed accepting reality a few days longer by tossing the white bag with the pill bottle inside onto a side table in my bedroom.
Yesterday, the day after my therapy appointment, I ripped the bag open, read the ridiculous list of side effects aloud to my husband and laughed, then swallowed the little pill of my pride.
While trying to accept what my therapist said about this chemical imbalance in my brain existing regardless of what else I tried to alleviate it, I talked to my husband about it. With a still aching heart I wondered aloud to him if the last 20 years of our marriage could have been much better if I had been taking medication. He didn't answer. And I started talking about something else.
It is difficult to reconcile my depression with my faith. So many people in my religion don't understand mental illness, there is still a great amount of stigma. When it is talked about the compassion and care that might be given, with the understanding that it is a chemical imbalance out of the control of the sufferer, is tempered with a knowledge that sin also can cause depression. Scriptures like "wickedness never was happiness" combine with "and how great shall be their joy" to make it easy to jump to the conclusion that people who suffer from depression must be doing something wrong. The irony being that we're all doing something wrong.
Another reason it's difficult to reconcile is because it's hard to grasp the very real feeling I have had that God loves me, that He is omnipotent, and that I have this ugly thing inside my brain that at times makes all that He is, has blessed me with, and does for me, into grey ash. At those times I've learned that the ash is not reality, I press forward knowing that it is an illusion, that I really do love my kids, that I do like people, that I have felt the Spirit, that life is good.
To live a life of faith, depending on the merits of Christ to help me, while also suffering from depression, takes a great deal of humility - to accept the persecutions of others, even from within my faith, to accept that I will need medical and psychological help to live a good life, to accept that this difficulty will last my entire life.
At the same time it takes a great deal of strength - to stand up for myself, to dispel stigmas, to know that I have something valuable to contribute (my depression is not like a reverse Midas touch, it doesn't turn everything I come in contact with sick or bad), and most of all it takes a great deal of strength to continue fighting the Beast every day.
Humility and strength are two difficult attributes to juggle, especially when the Beast is throwing off your mo-jo.
There was only one point during my therapy session that I cried. My therapist asked why I'd rather tell people that I have vitamin D deficiency, instead of depression.
"Because if I tell someone that I have vitamin D deficiency, they know I take a vitamin and things get better. If I tell someone that I have depression they don't want me to babysit their kids."