When I was in college, I half-heartedly complained to my doctor that I was lazy and sleepy. He said “oh, you must be depressed” and wrote me a prescription for Paxil.
It turns out I wasn’t, I was just tired and lazy. So I stopped taking the pills, which turned out to be really hard cause I got all twitchy and nerved up.
The doctor kept telling me there were no withdrawl symptoms, so what I was experiencing was impossible. But, it felt like I was being electrocuted every now and then.
Since then, it’s become known that the pills are hard to quit. It’s a good example of the difficulties in dealing with depression – not everyone is misdiagnosed, but even more people aren’t diagnosed at all.
My friend Heather was diagnosed, but not until she had spent years thinking about how to kill herself. Nine trips through the psyche ward later, she’s now a vocal advocate of treatment. She has also blogged for the Ottawa Citizen.
When did you realize you might have a problem?
I was 17 when I first felt depressed. At the time, I was not aware that I was actually suffering from clinical depression. It was also the first time I had suicidal thoughts.
What does it actually feel like?
Trying to describe what depression feels like is tough. For me, it was a a constant feeling of anger, sadness and complete loss of hope for anything in life. It came in ebbs and flows over the course of 17 long years, before I was actually professionally diagnosed. There were times I was “okay”, but for the most part it was an internal battle to hide my sadness from everyone who knew me. I was really, really good at putting on a strong face but, as you can imagine, that became more and more difficult to manage – to the point of being impossible. Seventeen years of depression, bulimia, anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviours was a lot to hide. I often tell people that during those times, all of my happiness was “manufactured,” if that makes any sense.
How bad did it get?
The worst point it has ever come to was my attempted suicide in August, 2004. I had endured the postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter in 2000 – but the next fours years would be an exercise in self-restraint from the daily temptation of ending it all. Suicide pretty much consumed my thoughts, on a daily basis, for a very long time. I first sought treatment only in 2000, after my daughter was born. By then, I think the doctors knew that I had a long recovery road ahead of me. Medication, hospital stays in the psychiatric ward and weekly doctors appointments became a normal part of my existence for the next four years.
What are psyche wards actually like?
Well, I had never been in the hospital before I had my daugher. I was expecting my own room with a phone and meals delivered to me. When I first arrived, they took everything sharp from me, like razor blades. Then I was assigned a room with a roomate, no phone and I had to eat my meals in a dining hall. If you have ever scene the movie Girl, Interrupted….it was very, very similar to that. It sucked being woken up by screams in the night by other patients and being checked on every hour by staff. I survived nine 3-week hospitalizations.
Was help easy to find?
It is not easy to seek help and finding great help is not easy. I was so fortunate to get the two doctors I did – they helped save my life. The biggest issue I have with the health sector in Canada is that mental illness is still the “poor cousin” of the entire system. I think the biggest misconception about depression is that so many people do not view it as a serious health issue. It is as much physical as it is mental; not unlike diabetes or cancer. You can die from it and it has the ability to completely ruin your life. One in five people will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime – is that not enough reality for people?
What would life be like if you hadn’t been depressed?
I do a fair amount of public speaking on my illness and am often asked: “If I could go back and change anything, would I?” Not one thing. It has made me who I am today. I have become a much kinder, understanding and patient person. I also know, intimately, how short life is.