When I considered blogging my depression, it was a complicated decision. My blogging pseudonym, Daisy, allowed me a little freedom on my blogs Compost Happens and A Mother’s Garden of Verses. My family and closest friends knew, but that was about it. I maintained a semblance of privacy from coworkers, supervisors, neighbors, and others who might have thought differently of me had they read my online journal.
A blog was still a relatively safe place, a platform on which I wore a difference face. Daisy could be depressed. Daisy could be ill. Tracy, however, still huddled safely in relative anonymity, wrapped in blankets on the couch in the den, taking anti-depressants as prescribed and getting herself to counseling regularly and sleeping – sleeping a lot.
Then I got to thinking – a dangerous pastime, I know. I received emails from readers who suffered and blog comments from some who had helped their own loved ones deal with experiences that mirrored mine. In an attempt to lessen the stigma of depression, I summoned the courage to speak out under my own name. Here is my story.
It was a difficult school year for me, a public school teacher. One illness after another kept making it tough for me to function. Gout, influenza, and the possibility of heart trouble had me missing more days than I wanted. Add in a near impossible work situation, and I didn’t sleep well at night. Worries kept me awake, and when sleep did come, I’d awaken in a head to toe sweat. With stomach aches every Monday morning, heartburn and headaches Sunday nights, there were too many symptoms to ignore.
Between me, the doctor, and my family, we decided it was time: time to look into a long-term leave. A time to recover, to heal, both physically and mentally. A time to really examine my commitment to teaching and whether it could weather this kind of conflict. Before I made any kind of decision on my future, I needed to rest. Rest, recover, and feel good again – someday.
I wrote this early in my leave of absence, and it demonstrates how depression can feel – painful, unending, exhausting, and at time, hopeless.
Recipe for a Rough Morning
Take one dark and dreary day,
With the preceding poor night’s sleep full of
Dreams that upset and confuse.
Sore eyes wanting to close,
Shoulders tense with unease.
Pick up a soft and sweet rabbit asking for a hug. Snuggle and pet.
Find lumbar pillow. Insert behind lower back in recliner.
Reach for a flavored coffee: half caffeinated, so as not to over stimulate.
Add a layer of cozy blanket throws.
Take a deep breath.
Empty mind of confusion and worries.
Take another deep breath.
If you’ve had mononucleosis or cared for a teen or college student who did, you might remember the total exhaustion that often comes with it. My mother remembers (I was too wiped out to notice) that when I had mono, I slept about 20 hours a day. The exhaustion that comes with depression feels like that. It’s more than just tired. It’s more than just a little sleepy now and then. Together with other symptoms, my family doctor put the pieces together and diagnosed depression. He also recommended I take time off from my job and really, truly rest.
Healing and recovering from clinical depression doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not like a cold: treat it, it lasts seven days. Leave it alone, it lasts a week. Depression isn’t like influenza, either: there’s no vaccine or chicken soup treatment. Anti-depressants can help. Rest can help. Counseling therapy can help. Together, they’re all pieces of the treatments available, but none of these are quick or easy. Healing happens at a pace more like the tortoise’s than the hare’s: slow and steady.
I expected the road to recovery to be long, some of it uphill and some of it still under construction. That meant patience. I did my best to rest, eat right, see the doctors, take my time and look forward to the day I’d wake up in the morning and want to run around the block. All in good time, I thought as I clung to the possibility of eventual recovery. Slowly, steadily, like the tortoise, not the hare. When I look at early posts, I can still see the pain, but I also see the patience.
I sought out the short term therapy offered through my employer’s policy and searched for something more permanent. I languished on a waiting list for a psychiatric care and had negative experiences with more than one practitioner along the way. Making decisions while depressed can range from difficult to darn-near-impossible, but that one — to leave the care of a practitioner who wasn’t helping me — came fairly easily. I gave myself overnight to avoid over-reacting, and then called to cancel the follow-up appointments and then went back to waiting.
I’m grateful for having medical care, even though I’m disappointed in the long wait for less-than-optimum treatment options. I feel lucky to have friends and family who gathered and rallied around me, refusing to let me slide any more deeply into the pit of despair. They set up a figurative rope ladder, tied me to it, and held fast.
It’s now three years later, and I’m both encouraged and frightened – encouraged by a continuous recovery, and scared of the possibility of another severe depression. I don’t want to experience this level of suffering ever, ever again. I was lucky. No matter how deep the pain, I did not want to hurt myself or die. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death by suicide, I am telling my story to help myself and to help others.
Depression awareness is growing, but awareness is still the lowest form of knowledge. Too many people still think depression is a simple sadness, a case of the blues, or a mood swing. In order for people with depression to feel safe, our society needs to move on. Move on where? Move on beyond awareness into a deeper knowledge and true comprehension of this illness. Depression is treatable, and people do recover.
Tracy Ostwald Kowald is a teacher by trade and writer by nature. She started blogging in 2006 as a way to express herself and deal with everyday stresses. Using the blog as an outlet, she documented her journey through a deep and frightening clinical depression. She continues to blog as a supplement to therapy and an outlet for the creative writer that still raises its hand now and then and says, “Me! Call on me!”