When a Doctor Finally Asked the Right Question About My Depression
My depression story officially began at age 16 when I first got help for my debilitating symptoms. The help I’ve gotten for my depression has been kind, gentle and compassionate; the help was from people who loved me and who wanted me to feel better.
Yet, I was never sure if the help was the right help. For 19 years, it came in the form of medication and talk therapy, designed to help my body have more of this neurotransmitter I lacked and to talk about what must have led to the neurotransmitter’s disappearance. As long as I’m compliant with the plan, my worst symptoms are at bay. But underneath the Prozac, my body was still not well. My body was still tired and weak and foggy — just with the volume turned down. What I’ve really wanted? To be alive and well.
My treatment plan forgot a basic question that no one — no doctor, no psychiatrist, no counselor, no nurse — ever asked: why does Amanda’s body not make enough serotonin? They created solutions that would alter my mind — and I knew all along that my depression was in my body.
Do you notice the disconnect? That we even talk about the mind and body as two separate things? We accept the assumption the mind is separate from the body, in a command center miles away. No one understood that my entire body needed attention.
It wasn’t for lack of clues. I gave them clues. Every person I’ve shared my depression story with has heard the same line: “It never starts with sadness. I’m great with sadness. I feel it, I value it, I learn from it, I embrace it and I eventually allow it to pass. It always, every time, starts with physical fatigue. I’m really tired. I’m so tired in my body all I want to do is sleep. I sleep so much that my appetite goes away. It’s like I’m hibernating. I physically shut down. And going days and days like that starts to take a toll on my mind. What I first notice in my thoughts is not sadness or anxiety, but simple fogginess — like I can’t remember what I just read in a book or I glaze over when people are talking to me. I’m zapped of energy and am physically unable to do anything of value. Everything is a chore. Within weeks of the first signs of fatigue, I’m withdrawn, lonely, unable to cope with any amount of stress. All symptoms of major depression.
At times, the symptoms landed me in the hospital. One time, a sophomore in college, I drove in the dark and turned my headlights off, hoping some other car would crash into me. I wanted someone to help me, but I didn’t want the same kind of help. I wanted help for my body. I wanted, too, a good and socially acceptable reason to be “nowhere” for a while. I wanted my body to feel alive again. And for some, it seems like a woman in a hospital bed from a car crash is more OK than a woman in a hospital bed because she’s “crazy.”
I found my way out of there only by promising I’d return to the treatment plan. So I did. Prozac, counseling.
There are more of these stories, although they didn’t all lead to the hospital. But every single one of them begins with fatigue. Not sadness.
This summer, I tried something new. I went to another doctor — one who practices functional medicine. I told my story and said I wanted to find a way into the depression to find out what it had to tell me about my body. That I didn’t believe the old solutions really made me well. That even if it didn’t help, I wanted to try a different way — a way of inquiry instead of patchwork solutions.
And for the first time in my 19 years of seeking help, someone listened. Someone asked, “I wonder what’s going on in your body?” Someone said, instead of just treating the symptoms, let’s get curious. Let’s figure out why. And for almost three hours, this doctor and nurse team listened to my story. They mapped out my symptoms, major life events and other details. And they’ve tested my blood, my spit, even my shit. (I mean, if dogs can get a stool sample once a year, why not, right?) And my body gave the doctors all the clues they needed. It was there all along, running through my veins. My body had a story to tell my mind could never express.
I’m Prozac-free today after more than six months of this deep inquiry into my body. After about a 3-week period of adjustment off of the medicine — during which I was a mess — I’m experiencing health like I must have had as a kid. I have a healthy appetite. I eat good food when I’m hungry and I quit eating when I’m full. I don’t want to nap. I finish my days at work with energy to contribute to my family. I’m able to give baths and cook dinner and play outside. This is a miracle.
The miracle was possible because someone approached me as a woman capable of wellness and wholeness; a woman worth asking the hard questions about.
I’m most grateful for the spirit in me that would not give up — that believed there were answers worth getting. I’m grateful for the field of functional medicine that asks the harder questions about root cause.
I’m grateful that I didn’t end my life before I found a way to really live. I’m grateful the help I got was given in love.
But running on a parallel path beside my gratitude is a path of deep grief for the 19 years I believed I was crazy, poorly-designed and defective. I’m sad for the days I lived in a fog. For the moments of my kids’ lives I’ve missed. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are also living in a story that says they’re not worth asking hard questions about. For the countless adolescents, young adults, middle-age people and elderly people who are living inside a story that says they aren’t enough. For all of those who still need help. I grieve for you and I grieve for me. So I tell my story. You aren’t alone. And you are powerful beyond all the labels and cures you’ve been given.
Follow this journey on Balcony Falls.
The Mighty is asking the following: If you live with a mental illness, what barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system you’d like to see? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.