I’ve talked the talk for a bit now, and it’s time for me to walk the walk.
Just a few years ago, I would have never had the courage to speak publicly about this. I would and have hid it from everyone, including my husband, my mom, my children and my closest friends. How could I possibly talk about this? Their image of me as this loving mom and wife, talented designer, homemaker, and business owner would certainly be ruined and they would all think I was a total loser and weakling. But the deaths of many people, some of whom I knew and others who I felt as though I knew, and my own breakdown and recovery have convinced me that I have to talk about it and to try to end the stigma associated with mental health issues.
I have recently (6 months ago) been diagnosed with PTSD and severe, chronic depression. I have been seeing a therapist who specializes in these areas and I also see a psychiatrist occasionally. I was prescribed two kinds of medications immediately because of my harmful thoughts and now I only take one. I have only recently begun to feel like me again and it’s been over 6 months since my diagnosis. My doctor and I both feel, that stopping the medication at this point would not be in my best interest. I no longer worry about what others think about my diagnosis or whether or not I take prescription medication. If I had a thyroid issue I would take thyroid meds. If I had diabetes, I would take insulin. This is/was a life threatening illness for me and if the professionals that I trust are telling me that I need to take an antidepressant right away, then I will. So, there! Think less of me if you will. That is your problem, not mine. I am doing what I need to do to get well, and I can no longer be burdened by what someone else’s opinion of me might be.
I am writing this post in hopes that I might help at least one person who is struggling with some type of mental health problem, or knows someone who this could help.
Depression is a sly little bitch. She will sneak up on you. No matter who you are, no matter what your age or race, your income or education level. My life looked pretty damn good to almost anyone looking at me. Wonderful husband, two great kids, nice house in a great area in a beautiful destination town, nice car, small business owner, fun travels, friends, social life, blah, blah, blah.
Now, when I look back on the last few years, I can clearly see the signs and the symptoms and events that all triggered my down slide. When you are in it, it is really hard to see. You don’t want to see it. “Everything is fine”, you keep telling yourself. And you just keep going. Then one fine summer day, while my family and I were finishing up our al fresco meal someone said something to me that was the proverbial last straw and I went running into the house crying and yelling and locked myself in my bedroom and did not let anyone in till the morning. I was in a puddle on the floor and could not get up. I did not care or think to care at that point about anyone else. Not about how it made my husband feel, how my children might be afraid for me, or of me, not about how they would get to school the next day, about who would care for my aging mom or get food to her, not about any of my obligations to others or my business. I was just done. I had finally crumbled into a sobbing heap and was not moving.
But back to how I got there. My life was pretty nice, or at least it seemed that way to others. To me it had become unbearable. I had no joy. I never smiled. I was always angry. I had always loved listening to music and singing and dancing, but I no longer turned on the radio in the car, I no longer played music at home. I never sang, I never danced. I hated my husband, and I was resentful of my two boys and my mom, who is 82 and needs my help with many things. I lost interest in my business and stopped trying. I lost all interest in sex or any type of physical closeness. I snapped at everyone and yelled a lot.
I think it all started when someone in my family whom I had always dearly loved committed suicide. (Later we found out that he had struggled with mental health problems for years, but, of course, no one talked about it, because it was just not done.) I just could not come to terms with his taking his own life when he was the sweetest person and would always be the one to try and cheer up someone else with a hug and a big smile. The guilt was overwhelming. The sadness of this type of death was unbearable and there was no way to make sense of it. Adding to this grief was the comments by well-meaning people of “Oh, yeah, it’s hard when someone dies”, or “oh, it was your cousin?” as if, because he was my cousin and not my brother or husband that I shouldn’t be so affected by his death. Recovering from a death by suicide, I now know, is unlike any other grief. There are so many things left unanswered and that you just cannot comprehend, and there is the guilt.
Then within months of my cousin’s death several high profile people took their own lives. One of which was Anthony Bourdain. He was one of my idols and he just seemed like someone you actually knew. Hearing of these two people’s similar deaths just brought up all of the feelings that I had learned to put in their place. I felt like I was back to the day I found out about my cousin. I began to obsess over every detail of these celebrities’ lives an deaths. I could not seem to stop reading, listening, talking about them.
I had just launched my business, an online women’s clothing store. I was learning and doing everything myself. The learning curve was steep and I worked from 6 a.m. till midnight most nights. I was exhausted, but the adrenaline of starting a new business kept me going. Just about two weeks after I began my business, I got a phone call from my aunt that my mom was not answering her phone all day. I got into my car and drove over to her apartment and found the screen door locked. When I finally got inside with the help of the apartment manager, she was on the floor and not in good physical condition. The paramedics could barely find a pulse. She had broken her hip. Finding her like that and watching them work on her was pretty hard. She had the surgery and went to rehab to live for a few weeks.
Finally, my mom came home and a few hours later, while she was home with the caregiver, I got a phone call. The caregiver said that she could not wake my mom up. Paramedics came again. I got there first and my mom was barely breathing. This was the second time in two months that I had found my mom near death. She had almost no pulse. They sped her back to the hospital again and this time she almost died while they tried to stabalize her. She had overdosed on her meds while I was not there. I spent the next week at the hospital with her and her doctors in the ICU while they tried everything to get her better. Finally she went to the regular ward and then back to rehab. There my mom developed pneumonia and again almost died. I was the only one trying to keep her alive. She would ignore all of the advice. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like I had no help with my mom. It was all on me. I felt like whether she lived or died was all on me. I just wanted to give up and I felt guilty about that. I have a husband and kids and I just felt like I could not do it alone and keep everyone happy. Finally, my mom decided to do her part and she became stronger and was able to go home.
Then, shortly thereafter we had huge wildfires near our home and in the middle of the night we suddenly had to evacuate our home, running out with the clothes on our backs, our kids and our pets. It was dark and very scary, and we did not know if our house would survive or if our friends’ homes would either. We lived in hotels for 3 weeks, moving 5 times, until we could go home. The first week was horrific. Many, many people had lost everything! Our community was hurting, our air was choking with smoke and the sirens were everywhere for an entire week as the firefighters fought the fires that surrounded our valleys. It was like Armageddon. We finally went home and the mountains just outside our home for miles in all directions, in full view, were charred black with many homes that used to be were in ashes. The daily reminder of that night and the subsequent weeks, and the broken hearts, homes and lost lives was too much. That was in October.
Then on Christmas night, one of my best friend’s had a fire at her house, and they barely made it out alive. They lost almost everything they owned. Now I was watching her and her family suffer through this and I helped any way I could but I felt helpless.
My behavior became very erratic. I was never in a good mood. I was always finding the bad in everything. I was alienating my family and my friends with my negativity and anger. I became that person that no one wanted to be around. I no longer smiled, a never called anyone, I rarely went out. I became a recluse. I stopped showering. I rarely cooked a meal for my family. I cried all the time. There was never a day when I didn’t cry or not want to get out of bed. I was exhausted all of time. I mean the kind of exhaustion where your feet and legs feel heavy, and you are just so sleepy all day. My body hurt all over. Things that used to give me joy, no longer did. I love to travel and now I did not want to go anywhere. I hated everyone. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I began to think that my family would be much better off without me around. I sometimes thought of killing myself, or just running away.
My husband is a good man. Everyone loves him. He is a glass half-full kind of guy, always. He loves me. He adores me. He would do anything for me (he is cooking a meatloaf right now so I can write this, but he could not understand me. He could not understand why I did not just decide to be in a good mood. After all, I had this “perfect” life, right?
When I would, subtly, try to tell my friends that I was having a hard time, they would become uncomfortable and avoid me. People stopped calling and texting. I never really said to anyone “I need help”. Not to anyone. I had said it to myself many times, but I never made the call. I was just barely keeping my head above water. I was a sinking ship with no lifeline and no one knew I was drowning.
Till that night outside with my family. That night as I sat on my bedroom floor sobbing, all at once I stopped. I just stopped. And I said out loud, to myself, “Ok, I give up. I need help. I need professional help.” The next morning I made phone calls and got an appointment for the next day (a miracle in itself) to see a therapist, and told my husband that I knew I was in trouble. He was scared. He had no idea how bad it was. I hid it and he stuck his head in the sand and did not want to believe that I was in serious trouble. He should have been scared. Lord knows I was.
Those first phone calls were the hardest. That first visit with a stranger, pouring my heart out and just pretty much sobbing uncontrollably in his office was hard. But it was the first step. I finally got real with someone. Someone who would listen and not judge. Someone who could really hear me and told me what I did not want to hear, but already knew.
Most times it takes a breakdown to reach a breakthrough. Don’t fear it. You may have to destruct to construct.
I am now, finally, after 6 months back to my old self and even better. I now know what it feels and looks like to be in a terrifying and hopeless mental state. I was on the verge of losing everything… maybe even my life. I now listen to music again daily and sing and dance. I started a new company doing what is closer to my heart. I have re-evaluated everything. I have re-prioritized everything. The light is back on and I feel lighter than I have in a very long time. But this did not happen overnight. It took months. It has made me truly appreciate this life, my husband, my children. I now can see how I got here and I am no longer afraid of what other people think.
And I am not afraid to tell my story. I am happy to tell it if anyone will listen and if it helps even just one person.
If you have any of these symptoms or changes in your behavior, talk to someone. Tell someone that cares about you and seek out professional help. Mental illness affects far more people than you know. More and more people are talking about it. Please start talking. There is help. Your life can get better if you ask for help. But you have to ask.
Take care of yourself.
Wishing you love and light,
Are you in need of a trip of self-discovery? Experience the unparalleled beauty of Italy, in a profoundly meaningful way on a retreat for women over 40. Come join me in the next Soul Trip!
As part of Curated Over 40, I am hosting a small, intimate and authentic retreat for women in Italy. “Soul Trips” will enrich your mind and soul. I call it the Soul Trip because it’s a retreat for women in Italy where your senses will be awakened and your soul will be enriched by this type of travel.