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As a Mom With Depression, the COVID-19 Pandemic Was the Wake-Up Call I Needed

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The COVID-19 pandemic is potentially saving my life.

Before I begin, I have to admit I had great reservations about saying that in a story.

“Do it!” my friend Janis said when I ran the idea by her.

“But I don’t want to seem flippant about COVID-19,” I protested, “People are really sick and dying.”

No sooner had I said this when I remembered the staggering suicide statistics that continue to climb nationally every year.

Approximately 48,344 people in the United States died by suicide in 2018, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That same year, 1.4 million Americans made an attempt.

Amidst the serious and rapid spread to COVID-19, it is easy to forget that suicide continues to shatter the lives of millions of Americans every day. And considering the economic devastation, the increased social isolation and the ongoing threat to our collective health caused by the virus, suicide prevention is an important topic to consider.

Given these facts, the first sentence of my article may seem even more puzzling. But hear me out.

For the three years leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been battling treatment resistant depression (TRD) and debilitating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This has left me unable to work or properly care for my family, including my three beloved children ages 11, 14 and 16.

In an attempt to get well, I have been under the care of seven psychiatrists, hospitalized three times, undergone 17 rounds of both unilateral and bilateral ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and tried over 16 different depression/anxiety medications, sometimes taking up to six in combination at a time. Add to this years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), various modalities of psychotherapy including CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectic behavioral therapy), yoga, meditation classes and daily deep breathing exercises, to little or no avail. My story is not unique. For those of us facing TRD the recovery path is often long, exhausting and marked by little progress.

Beginning in 2017, I slowly developed a coping mechanism that, at first, seemed understandable and therapeutic. I started sleeping.

A lot.

But before long, staying in bed and getting the extra “rest” I needed took an ominous turn. Sleeping for long swatches of the day soon replaced eating, drinking, seeing the sun or breathing a wisp of fresh air. I stopped brushing my teeth, showering, keeping therapy appointments and, most importantly, being a trustworthy and consistent presence in my kids’ lives.

Each day began with a string of flimsy excuses about why I couldn’t get up in the morning to make my kids’ breakfast or bring my daughter to and from the bus stop. Weekends were often spent close to home because the thought of being out of bed for more than a few minutes caused me to panic.

Refusing to leave my bedroom meant missing meals, constantly skipping exercise, severe dehydration and the rapid loss of 18 pounds.

“You realize you are killing yourself,” my therapist told me on a morning when I had actually managed to show up to my appointment.

I tried to chalk up her words to an unnecessary exaggeration. But the more I attempted to ignore what she had said, the more it consumed me. Nearly two and a half years after what I have come to call my “addiction” to the bed began, I couldn’t deny that my therapist was right. I wasn’t just “killing myself, I was actively attempting suicide — right before my family’s eyes.

This is the part of the story where such a realization should have galvanized me to kick the covers aside and catapult myself back into the world of the living. But it didn’t happen. Even though staying in bed had long lost its comfort and sense of safety from the world, I was hooked and couldn’t see a way out.

This dragged on for many more months. Fall turned to winter which quickly (too quickly) melted into spring. The ravages to my body escalated, as did the relentless sense of guilt and shame that consumed my every waking moment. The more shame I felt about staying in bed, the more I stayed in bed. An infinity-shaped loop had taken hold — a never ending spiral that lead to a debilitating, learned helplessness that left me frozen and unable to accept the seriousness of my situation.

Then COVID-19 swept through our neighborhood.

Schools closed and with it, the opportunity to stay in bed for the stretch of time that made up my children’s school day. With the complete upending of their lives, the loss of a regular schedule, friends and after school sports and activities, I suddenly became their everything.

All eyes were on me and there was nowhere for me to hide. How I reacted to this global disaster would have an indelible impact on my children’s sense of trust and safety in the world. Seeing my bedroom door closed for large swatches of the day would surely leave the people I loved most feeling abandoned, alone and in peril.

Cue the “aha moment!” Recognize this global catastrophe as an immediate wake-up call. Pull yourself up by your proverbial bootstraps and pop out of bed like an adult sized “Jack in the Box.”

Freeing myself from the bed, however, has proven much (much) more difficult. The first week found me getting out of bed at 10:00 a.m., sneaking in a two-hour nap and then going to bed soon after dinner.

By the beginning of the second week of our “shelter in place,” I was up and out of bed every day, all day. But on the couch. Literally for 10 hours at a time. But I had brushed my teeth, snapped myself into a bra and was wearing clothes rather than pajamas.

And while the grip of the bed has loosened a bit with each passing day, the depression and anxiety have not. As my friends visit over virtual cocktail hours, swapping recipes for chicken cutlets and binge worth shows on Netflix, I sit on the couch, flooded with fear, exhaustion, guilt and agitation. My thoughts race and the self-critical rumination is deafening. Recovery remains elusive but floating on the surface of my despair are newfound glimmers of hope — listening to my daughter singing in the shower, hearing my teenage son call for me the moment he opens his bedroom door in the morning and seeing their faces light up when they come downstairs during  the day to find me there.

* * *

Today is two weeks of being out of bed, a very small feat in comparison to those who are working so tirelessly and courageously to curb the devastation of COVID-19. And while this virus has caused unprecedented tragedy, heroes have been born, our collective humanity has been strengthened and for one mother a life, and a family, have been unexpectedly saved.

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay informed with these articles:

Getty image via jacoblund

Originally published: April 9, 2020
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