I want to write more about my struggle with anxiety and depression, including some encouraging information in a book I'm currently reading, but I'm still processing what I want to share. For now, I'll just say that I'm feeling much better, after going back to my doctor and saying, "I downplayed how I was feeling two weeks ago, and then things got worse. I do need to make a change." He added another antidepressant (later we will probably try to increase the dosage on this one and taper off the one I've been on, which apparently stopped being fully effective--a reasonable assumption given my symptoms and the fact that I've been on it for nine years.)
So. Today I want to write about how my struggle with mental illness has given me a gift.
It's really freaking hard to be thankful for anxiety and depression, because this silent illness has stolen big chunks of my life.
This time it was a month. If that doesn't seem like a long time to you, imagine spending almost every minute wishing it would pass and that you could take your medicine and go to sleep since that means you don't have to feel your horrible feelings any more. Wishing you could tear off your own tensed-up skin and float away. Fighting away thoughts of how much you are ruining your family and how much better off they'd be without you. Constantly, for thirty days.
It sucks when you can't enjoy anything in your life, even when you know you have so much to be thankful for . No wonder that when I feel better, everything seems so much more precious and my gratitude overflows.
But I have always known that human beings can bear almost anything if they can find a purpose in their pain. I knew that others had found that purpose in helping others on the same journey. But I couldn't see how that was supposed to happen, if I couldn't see any glimmer of hope for myself, much less anyone else.
"If you want me to help other broken people, You're going to have to hold me together a little better," I told God through floods of tears one night. "Because I'm way too broken to help anyone right now."
|It's so much fun to live with me.|
Then I went to the doctor and gradually started climbing out of the pit. And I had two opportunities within three days of each other to help women who were struggling.
Interestingly, neither of them seem to suffer from a mental illness themselves. They are dealing with diagnoses their children have received and trying to do the best they can for their kids. One mom whom I'd never met before told me about how her going-into-sixth-grade son, who has ADHD and Asperger's, has been consistently bullied at school. Another mom shared her mixed feelings about medicating her six-year-old, who has just been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).
It turns out I'm a pretty good person to tell such things to, for the following reasons:
1. I'm familiar with conditions and diagnoses many people aren't conversant with. I was a psychology major, then a teacher, so I have some experience with children and parents who are dealing with such challenges.
2. The Internets have educated me about what it's like to walk in these parents' shoes. If not for the stories I've read, I would very likely make some of the ignorant assumptions many people make (although I hope I wouldn't be as mean-spirited or selfish). Thank you, everyone who has written about your reality with painful honesty. I recently started following The Mighty, a blog written by people who deal with disabilities, either their own or their children's. It has changed the way I look at these children and their amazing parents.
3. There's some evidence that depression and anxiety affect highly sensitive people more than others. While this is a bummer when it strikes, it means that I can deeply feel others' pain and empathetically connect with them, like fellow veterans in the war with faulty brain wiring. I listened to both of these wonderful mothers, both of whom were trying with all their might (along with their husbands) to help their children. I listened, and asked questions, and empathized.
And then I did something that isn't always a good idea. I shared my opinion.
I did it because both of them were experiencing self-doubt that they were doing the right thing for their child. Whereas I, the momentary observer they had briefly invited into their world, could immediately see that they were absolutely doing the right things for their kid.
"I'm just not sure about the medication," the mom of the six-year-old said, "because it feels like I'm giving up on him."
I felt like an old, wise woman, even though I'm only about five years older than she is. "Oh, honey, no, you're not! You are not giving up on him at all! You've done the hardest thing and admitted to yourself that your kid needs help--and then you are getting him that help. You're not just saying, 'Medicate my kid so I don't have to deal with his issues.' You're taking him to an expert who can help y'all develop strategies that he can use later in life rather than staying on ADHD meds. But he may need to be on the medication for now just so he can get to a level playing field. But you are not giving up on him if you and your doctor decide he needs it," I declared, trying to be as convincing as I possibly could.
The other mom, whom I'd just met at a birthday party that evening, reached to hug me, her eyes filled with quick tears when I said, "I believe your son is going to be all right. The very best people I know had a hard time in middle and high school. And from what you said, he has you and his dad to talk to. Most importantly, he knows you are on his side. He doesn't have to face this alone."
I hope something I said resonated with those wonderful moms, because depression and anxiety have showed me that just feeling that you're not alone, that you will not be abandoned, that you are loved by someone who won't give up on you...is enough to keep you going for another day.
And if I can help one person feel that way...my life will not have been in vain.