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Depression Stories - Riley

I've been struggling with depression since the late 90's, when I was in my late 20's. When I first started noticing symptoms, I was in a pretty good place in my life. I had a good job that I enjoyed, I made decent money and had extra income from an outside source which made up for my husband not working. I had a whole room in the house just for my artistic pursuits and a garden in the back yard. My husband wasn't drinking and spent a lot of time counselling his AA sponsees. We communicated well and were in a good place in our marriage for the most part. All in all, it was a life that should have been satisfying if not joyful. Instead I was crying all the time for no reason, waking up in the early morning and unable to get back to sleep. I never felt happy, but I wasn't always sad. At best I just felt numb.

I didn't want to take medication. I felt like that was an easy way out, a trick to replace feelings with drugs. So I resisted going to the doctor. I tried exercising, eating healthier, getting more sunshine. But then I started feeling like I just wanted to be dead. I constantly imagined ways to kill myself, particularly driving my tiny compact car at a bridge pylon at full speed. Lights out. Peace.


My husband and our friends finally convinced me to see a doctor. I cried through the whole interview and she convinced me that I needed to be on medication. She told me that the chemicals in my brain were out of balance, and that at least for a short time I needed something to help me get back on track. Severe clinical depression with anxiety was my diagnosis.

The medications didn't work the way I expected. Tabloids were always talking about people being "addicted to prescription anti-depressants" which made me think that they were uppers that would make me feel good artificially or at least immediately. Neither was really true. It took a couple of weeks to start feeling anything, but then I finally felt normal again for a while. Normal, with a range of emotions that went above a numb mid-line. I could be happy or laugh for more than a few seconds at a time. It was like I could breathe again.


Then the side effects started. I blinked all the time and felt like my coworkers were talking about me when logically there was no reason for them to. I had a very specific urge to do back-flips off of my desk as though it were a diving board. I went back to the doctor and we tried again. It took several prescriptions and dosage changes to find something that worked, but finally I was back to normal again. I looked forward to not needing the meds anymore.

Eventually though, the prescription stopped working. It was a year or more, but we needed to try something else. This was the beginning of a cycle. Part of the problem was that my marriage had long-standing problems that were also cycling. When I got pregnant I had to go off of my medication because I feared birth defects related to my meds. (Medication just becomes 'meds' when you are a seasoned taker of meds.) I became emotionally unstable at work and quit when they asked me to take a leave of absence. I spent most of my pregnancy doing temp work or on the couch. I couldn't watch or do anything too emotionally taxing, so mostly just Animal Planet.


After my son was born I was a wreck. When my son had a breath-holding seizure and turned blue, I called an ambulance. The paramedics called the police while we were at the hospital getting a CAT scan for my son. They were concerned by the mess. My dishes hadn't been done in forever, laundry was piled up, and one of the two bathrooms was littered with cat feces (it was barricaded by a baby gate to protect our son). The police threatened to call social services if I didn't clean it up. My husband did the cleaning (most of which was his to do anyway). I played solitaire.

I got back on medication as soon as I could, but I was breast-feeding, so it was a struggle. I felt better again for a while. When my son got older, I would say, "Mommy has to take her brain pills," when I was taking my medication. I got divorced. I dated. My medication didn't seem to be working at all again, but instead of the constant crying, it was just a numbness. My insurance was cancelled unexpectedly and I stopped taking my medication. I didn't feel any different without it. My house stayed pretty clean. I employed a house keeper.


I haven't had medication for about five years now. I just got confirmed for Medicare on Friday which is the first time I've had insurance in five years. My emotional range is limited. It is a rare day when I feel good. On bad days (which are frequent) I don't leave my computer. I eat and pile the dishes around me. I haven't had a clean house since my housekeeper quit about two years ago. I took out four bags of trash yesterday, but I have eight more full bags that need to go out and my house will still be a mess. I am a borderline hoarder. I turned my chair just now to count ten pizza boxes on my living-room floor. There are probably more under the piles of art supplies, empty boxes, and random things strewn around my house. I have days where I feel a bit better and do some things around the house, but it rarely amounts to more than two sinks worth of dishes (I don't have a dishwasher), or the laundry. The bathroom once in a while. The kitchen sink and counter. There are clean spots, but only spots. I have paid art projects that I haven't worked on in months. I have anxiety attacks where I can't be around other people, where I have to avoid events that I know I would enjoy. Sometimes I don't bathe for most of the week. Once I got a rash from not bathing that I mistakenly thought was from bedbugs, and freaked out that I would never be able to get rid of them because my house was such a mess. (It was not bedbugs.)

I have a serious problem. I hope that I'll get my insurance card soon so that I can get some help, but I know from experience that it will take months to find a doctor and get an open appointment. It will be months more before we find the right medication and the right dose. Even then, I'm not optimistic that it will last for long. I would never kill myself because my son needs me, but I fear those powerful feelings that can sometimes get worse with the wrong medication. I fear trying and failing to treat my depression. It seems easier to just do what little I can and hope that happiness will come around again.


My friends don't know about this. I feel almost normal when we are together playing games. I can laugh. Sometimes I even feel good enough to laugh when I'm alone. Sometimes I feel hopeful. I date. I have sex. I harbor a private hope that being in a relationship will bring my mood up enough that I will find the energy to clean my house, and that I won't need the meds again.

I have constant arguments with myself about these things because my intellect is high enough to recognize the fallacies of my hopes and beliefs, and I logically know what I need to do to get help and get out of this rut. But the hopes and beliefs still have a hold on me. You can't talk me out of my feelings. Trust me, I try it every day.



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