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The Reality of 'Recovering' From Chronic Depression

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In the past five months I’ve struggled with depression so bad I was suicidal, had extreme mood swings and severe agitation. I lost my job, came close to loosing my partner of three years and in all honestly probably should have been hospitalized.

In an effort to get better I have seen a therapist over 20 times, spent eight hours in a clinic for the uninsured, gone to urgent care twice, seen three social workers, four psychiatrists and started and stopped a variety of psychiatric medication. Somehow through the numbing depression, and all consuming anger and agitation, I keep fighting. Fighting for the care I knew I needed, fighting for my relationship and, in all honesty, fighting to stay alive.

I kept going to therapy. Every week. Kept pushing and trying to uncover my triggers, to learn new coping skills, to better understand what it was that was happening. This is not the first time this has happened to me, so in some ways I feel I should have been more prepared. I should have known, should have recognized the signs. But I didn’t. I existed in a bubble. One where I believed I was better, I was healthy, that all that trauma and depression was in the past. I believed I recovered. And maybe I had. Maybe I was doing well for awhile. But I certainly am not doing well now.

Being human I have this need to understand, to contextualize, to put into neat order the things that have happened to me. To somehow put together my past experiences and my present ones, and make connections. Doing this only increases my anxiety and restlessness, and makes me feel like a failure. If I believe I was recovered, healed, that I had overcome, then to be here now — experiencing this all over again — means I have somehow failed. That I wasn’t truly recovered, that I didn’t do enough work, that I did not stay vigilant enough to prevent this from happening again.

This exercise is futile. There isn’t always complete and finite recovery in mental illness. Sure there may be times where you’re healthy, functioning, seemingly fine. There may be periods when you can go off the meds and move through life like a “normal” person. But as with any chronic illness, there isn’t always true healing. It is more of a remission, a time where your mind has calmed, where you have learned enough coping skills to manage your daily life. But it can resurface.

For me it came back, guns blazing.

It came back with new fun additions, like racing thoughts, explosive anger and a true and utter hopelessness. Seeking help this time around was different. I am an adult now. I no longer live with my parents. No longer have an intact family unit hovering about me, watching me, noticing even the most subtle mood changes. I have a partner now. One who has never dealt with mental illness, one who through no fault of her own did not know what to look for. One who believed me when I said I was fine. This time asking for help was on me. Reaching out, finding care, finding the right care — that was on me. It might be both the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done. Coming to grips with the fact that you need help is not easy. Admitting to yourself and the people around you that are not going to get better without medication is not easy. But what is even harder is admitting it to yourself. Acknowledging that my own head was in such turmoil I was not going to be able to get through this on my own was so hard I almost didn’t do it. Asking for help managing your feelings is not the same as asking for help moving a couch, or using crutches when you have a broken foot.

Asking for help because you are just too sad to get out of bed makes you feel weak. The depression tells you that you’re a failure, a loser, that you are nothing and that no one cares about you. And you believe it. You buy into it hook line and sinker. Nothing has ever or will ever feel as true as the lies the depression tells you. You have to fight to even see a shred of hope. To believe for just a moment that what is in your head is not true, and that there may be someone out there who can help quiet the storm.

The day I sought help was the most important day perhaps of my life. I truly believe if I had not reached out, I would have ended up at the very least losing my relationship, hospitalized after a suicide attempt, or at the worst I would have succeeded in ending my life. Now two months after that first meeting with the psychiatrist, I have a diagnoses that feels accurate, I have medication I’m hoping will work and the depression has lifted to a manageable level.

The anxiety, the racing thoughts, the sadness are all still there swirling together in my head like some sort of intense emotional stew, but they are lessened. They have returned to what for me is a normal level. I am hoping that with the right medication, continuing therapy and my newly developed coping skills, they can one day disappear completely. The stopping and starting of the medication has left me feeling raw. The roller coaster of the ups and down induced by the wrong medication, the uncovering of trauma in therapy, the endless conversations with my partner where I try to explain what is happening, the apologies I’ve made over my anger, the cancelled plans I had to make excuses for, all of it leaving me feel spent, splayed out and empty. The guilt creeps in every now and then, telling me how much time I wasted, how lazy I have been. I feel that I have been excavated, dug out to my very core. And as I sit waiting for the new medication to kick in, practicing self-care, crying tears of grief, of relief of utter exhaustion, the tiniest bit of hope presents itself in the corner. And with whatever strength I have left, I reach out to it. Grasping it. It’s not yet enough light to burn through the darkness, but it is there, and for now it’s enough.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: September 2, 2016
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