Guest Post by Stephanie M. Hughes
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it” Brene Brown The Gifts of Imperfection
I have lived with depression and suicidal ideation since I was at least 15 years old. I still remember the day that I had what I now know was a major depressive episode. It occurred during the summer before my junior year of high school. Late one afternoon I was home alone when I felt a strange heaviness settle upon me. As if pulled by an invisible thread, I went upstairs to my room. Once there I locked the door, closed the curtains, and laid on my bed. The semi-darkness of my room was oddly comforting. Eventually late afternoon turned to dusk, and then evening. At 15 years old, I did not have the language or life experience to understand the heaviness clinging to me. I certainly did not know how to explain or ask my parents about it. I experienced that heaviness again and again throughout the decade that followed. By my mid-twenties I was a single professional woman ready to begin my legal career. I had mastered the art of navigating and holding emotional space for my depression without getting stuck. But, I could not have predicted the complexities that I would face during my thirties and beyond. These complexities would permanently alter my depression and how I managed it. When I was 43 years old this emotional space burst open revealing the insidious depression that I had unwittingly carried for more than a decade. My insidious depression required a more comprehensive and intentional treatment to control it.
Last month, I was simultaneously struck by a major depressive episode and raging thoughts of suicide. I did not experience the heaviness that foreshadowed earlier major depressive episodes. Because of this, I was caught completely unaware. I did not have time to reinforce my physical and mental foundation before I was flattened by the full weight of another major depressive episode. Suicidal thoughts surreptitiously seeped through my skin, traveled directly to my brain, and wove a seemingly impenetrable web around it. Then the internal battle for control of my mind began. It is a battle that I have fought many times over the last forty years. After a few anxiety filled days and nights, I decided to take an extra capsule of one of my antidepressants that I can increase or decrease as needed. Slowly, my major depressive episode relented and the web around my mind disintegrated. I regained my footing within a few weeks and started to mentally rebuild.
The end of my major depressive episode coincided with my three month medication check with my psychiatrist. I did not want to tell my psychiatrist about my episode. Two years ago, after my last major depressive episode, my psychiatrist increased one of my antidepressants to the maximum dosage allowed. Because of this, I was concerned that he would change my entire medication regimen. Changing antidepressants is not a 1+1= 2 process. It is trial and error under medical supervision. That said my psychiatrist cannot properly treat me if I do not tell him the truth. So I spilled all of the tea about my recent major depressive episode. To my surprise, my psychiatrist did not increase my dosage or change my antidepressants. Instead, he told me that my major depressive episode was likely due to a change in my circadian rhythm triggered by the transition from summer to fall. Sometimes a temporary change in medication or substitute treatment modality is necessary to navigate seasonal transitions.
No one knows my depression more intimately than I do. Going forward I plan to disarm my depressive episode before the next major seasonal transition triggers a crisis. As with most things, planning requires careful preparation.
As a person of faith, I prepare to meet my depression in the morning with a prayer for grace, mercy, forbearance, and the renewing of my mind. Throughout the day I pray for clarity in my thoughts and words. I take my antidepressants as prescribed, eat food that feeds my physical body, and exercise two to three days each week. I close my day with a prayer of gratitude for the grace, mercy, forbearance, and renewing of my mind that I experienced.
What is my point? I did not tell my story because my life is in perfect order. To the contrary, my life is not perfectly ordered and never will be. Yes, I still have days when I am hanging on by my fingernails. I am just one person of millions from around the globe who arises and fights through depression everyday. Sometimes mine is an ugly, exhausting, scary, and messy fight. I encourage you to stay in the fight. After every ruthless body blow that depression lands, keep getting up. Prepare, take your stand, and fight. When you have done all that the crisis demands just stand.