WRITTEN BY SARAH JEAN – 12/11/2018
It has affected so much of my life since before I can remember: my dad, my brother, my mother, friends, lovers. I believed for so long that it was a monster, a chemical imbalance that could rattle and rail and then subside, but always living dormant within everyone who “suffers from depression.” My early memories of deep, resounding sadness are hazy; they are bookended by an unrealistic desire to please everyone and impossibly high standards of educational and social prowess, all self-imposed and nearly masochistic. I tried medication, diet, exercise, bad behavior, good behavior, but moments of numbness were punctuated with crippling hopelessness. It was always surprising, but predictably so. And in the depths of it, I felt blanketed by a hot, stifling heaviness of self-doubt, paranoia, and tragedy. Every song, movie, conversation, interaction left me in tears, my face burning with humiliation.
It took 10 years of alternating despair and resignation and five gynecologists to see what was staring me in the face: my depression is hormonal. A patient and supportive doctor diagnosed my PMDD and helped me work out a plan. Experimentation with birth control pills consisted of months of non-stop menstrual spotting, one terrifying evening where I shed my entire uterine lining onto the floor of my shower, near constant nausea and fatigue, a complete lack of sexual desire, and countless hormone-driven emotional fluctuations. Finding the right pill was stressful, expensive, and often disappointing but finally I was able to minimize the frequency of my menstrual cycle which means mitigating my PMDD. I figured I can’t get wet if I don’t go in the water.
Now I’ve found a hormonal contraceptive that works for me. I only have a couple periods a year which means I only feel extreme depression a couple times a year. I feel more in control than I ever have. This gives me the time and emotional clarity to be angry. Angry at the patriarchy that balks at women who admit their suffering, at a society that makes no attempt to understand mental health, at my soon-to-be ex-husband who felt little need to listen to me when I asked for help. While I rejoiced in the discovery of a solution to my depression, he could only vent his frustration for my waning libido.
My mental health trajectory stretches out in front of me, although I cannot say where it will lead or how bumpy the road will be. It often feels as if my mood swoops up in heavenly arcs only to crash down within minutes but isn’t it always easier to remember the good and the bad, rarely considering the average? And there is the contrail that follows; the effects of my mental health on those I hold close and the memory of moments we all wish to forget. Despite it all, there are lessons learned and this is what I hope resonates, both in me and in you.
Try as hard as you can to be honest with yourself and those you can trust around you. If you are depressed, it can feel impossible to see through the cloud. It is only after you emerge on the other side that you can acknowledge the thoughts that are irrational and illogical. But when you’re in the thick of it, or before you get there, tell yourself and those around you what you’re feeling. Tell the people you love what you need. They want to help you. This communication serves a dual purpose: expressing what you need means you are more likely to receive help while assuring others that you will be there to help them too. Talking openly about depression is like opening a long-closed window in a dusty, dark house. You will hear fresh perspectives, allying experiences, and your feelings will be validated. Try to communicate freely and openly.
Your depression does not define you. Mental health is not something that you have to answer to or for. My partner made me feel guilty for moments of severe depression and brought them up whenever he sought to make a point about my weaknesses. Instead of endeavoring to understand why I felt, he criticized how I felt. Because I trusted him and loved him, I didn’t question his motives. In the light of day (and in the words of two different therapists), I see that this inability to support a loved one is narcissistic and reprehensible. If you cross through a period of depression, whether it lasts a minute or a year, you should be proud. You made it and you can make it again. No one should ever make you feel like those moments reflect your character, your goals, or your future.
Depression is everywhere. Why does it feel like we all exist detached and alone, independently suffering the same pain?
Try to get closer, reach out, listen.
Transparency is a shared journal that is curated by Tiana Petrullo in collaboration with a beautiful community of contributors who have offered to share their personal experiences with mental health. To encourage a contribution of the most raw and real experience, minimal guidance was given. All stories have been willingly shared and are written to reflect what is personally most prevalent to the writer. Together, we offer an expansion of knowledge, awareness, and acknowledgement.