How My Family Survived the Storm of Depression

Sea and beach with sky storm cloud, Over dark tone

Family is such a wondrous thing, isn’t it? We’re so interwoven with blood and memories and stories and even sometimes not with blood but with miracles or the precious gift of the resurrection of family by combining two. Our lives are swimming together in the same pool of life, sometimes in different depths and sections but in the same pool, nonetheless. So when good things happen or hard times hit, like ripples and waves in a pool, all members of the family feel the water changing.

In mine, it was like a big tropical storm hit our pool when depression reached its most severe for me a few months ago. Like such a storm, there were rains that preceded its arrival and indications of the strongest part to come, but everyone felt it differently and some never knew what hit them when the storm came. It left messes in its wake and confusion in the midst. And the clean-up process is still ongoing.

I’m blessed to say that my family has supported me beautifully in this most difficult of difficult times for me and that our community has worked to support them as well. It’s often misunderstood or perhaps even completely missed that the family of someone suffering severe depression deserves attention, too. Here’s how this storm affected my family. Here’s how people have helped. And hopefully, here, in between the lines, you will find help for your family or loved ones if a storm of this kind makes landfall at your family’s pool.

Effects on My Spouse

At the time things became clear that they were dire, my husband was faced with an ever increasing amount of worry and tasks before him. He had to research ways to help me. He had to consider financial costs of the help he wanted to get me. And, he had to consider whether or not I was at risk of taking my own life. He had to check in on me, like a lifeguard, a lot. All of this was on top of working and caring for our 5 children and household when I was unable to do so myself. These are heavy burdens to bare, some of the heaviest. But our community, friends and loved ones stepped in…a group of women that I meet with regularly brought meals to our family for two weeks straight while I was in an all-day outpatient treatment program. Our church family brought us money to help offset the cost of this program. My husband spent extra time with his disciple leader and men he trusts in order to make sure he had a place to share and get support. My mom flew in from Florida and stayed with my husband and our kids while I was in the hospital after I made an attempt to end my life. She hired a cleaning company to come in, she did laundry, she and my niece took turns picking up the kids from school so that my husband could visit me in the hospital and be free of these duties during this heart-wrenchingly difficult time.

In these ways our community lessened the blow to my husband’s whole world and lightened his load. He still had a lot of heavy weight to carry, but he had life preservers to hang on to when the waters got rough. He would also say that his faith was most definitely his life raft in all of this, and that is an unspeakable gift in itself.

Effects on My Children

Children are miraculous and resilient little creatures. Like new swimmers they find that they can do more than they thought they could when the water gets deep. We wouldn’t purposely throw a new swimmer into the deep end, but when they are forced in, most find that they can actually keep themselves afloat. That’s kind of like what happened to my kids, but like a child who doesn’t really want to be in the deep end, they showed their distaste and some even hid it.

My youngest went to be with family a state away for 2 weeks during this time. She is too little to understand what was going on at home and she is used to having mini-vacations with them. They provided her with familiarity, great bundles of love and lots of stability. She was pretty good with this transition but towards the end I am told she asked for mommy quite a bit. Our extended family provided a huge gift to us by loving on her and caring for her during this time.

My 10 year old stayed afloat by expressing irritability, some irrationality and asking lots of questions. Thank goodness his favorite person in the universe was with him (my mom) during the hardest times because she answered his questions, was patient with him and provided great distraction.

The teenagers were different. Most acted like the cool kids going off the high dive. No big deal right? But inside I know they felt unsure and scared. We were able to talk about things more as the storm passed but what they wanted and needed more than anything during the eye of that storm were honest upfront answers and to feel like everything was going to be okay. My husband and our extended family, as well as their peer groups, did this while I was unable to.

All the kids, on some level, internalized their fear and confusion. But with extra attention and TLC, reassurance that everything was going to be okay, as well as the ability to be open about it with others, they have come through the other side of the storm.

Effects on Friendships

Friends swim in our pool, too, right? Two of my closest friends in particular were dramatically impacted by this storm. They felt lots of fear and even anger. One expressed quite a bit of anger after my overdose, but we talked about it, acknowledged it, and I took ownership of the pain that it caused her.  One made lots of phone calls and felt like she needed to check on me all the time. She really wanted for me to talk about the nitty gritty of things with her and that was a little too hard for me, but those were her needs. We were able to talk about that and then support each other’s needs. Both friends were deeply impacted, no doubt about it. Honest communication with me and with my spouse throughout the storm kept them in the loop and gave them a sense of hope and optimism.

The Rainbow after the Storm Has Passed

Like so many storms, there is beauty in the renewal that comes afterward. Sometimes it takes the clean-up crew a long time to get things back in order, but often there are glimmers of beauty even in the midst or immediately after. For us, there was beauty in the way our community, family and friends surrounded us while our family was trying to stay above water. There was beauty for my family in the reassurance of my presence when I came home from the hospital. And there was so much beauty as I witnessed endless supply of concern, love and patience poured out, on and to me. While many people were sad, scared and hurt, right along with us, there was beauty in the coming together – kind of like a pool party on a perfect summer day but maybe no cocktails or music! And there is definitely beauty in the healing process, for us all.

*This post first appeared on The Home Living Wife as a guest post. I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to have my post featured on this beautiful site full of beautiful things and people. Please visit Kelsey’s blog today! You simple won’t find a more loving and sweet blog host as her.

Please: If you or someone you know is struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to LIFELINE.

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Feeling Heavy: That Depression Kind

I started this blog with the intention of utilizing it as a therapeutic outlet. Then I got caught up in the idea of getting a lot of followers and visits and views and I forgot to keep doing that, in a way. So today, I’m gonna write about what’s really going on with me in my head, because I need to share it, and it might as well be with you, right?

I can feel this depression thing hanging on or hanging on to me again today. But wait, I told you I had turned a corner previously…I still think I have (I haven’t had a suicidal thought in quite a while it seems), but today, I feel heavy and up and down and irritated and sad and the sad feels big. I woke up feeling positive. I did a little shopping and enjoyed that. I put together a new flower arrangement for our front door and that was fun! But slowly, as the day crept on, the heaviness grew heavier and my ability to cope with the loudness of my home and youngest child (she lives with autism and can be quite loud) lessened more and more.

In order to get through it I isolated. I went to my room and locked myself in, literally, and did some bible journaling. I find this to be a great refuge for my mind and it does my soul good. I liked my finished product even though I am noticing that I am comparing my entries more and more to others recently. (red flag) It really did turn out quite nicely. (How I wish those self-loathing thoughts would seriously and completely disappear forever!) Then I tried to be present with my husband and youngest in our living room, but I felt like I had to tune out…I focused on social media and reading blog posts of others and colored some of a drawing I recently created. I was completely isolated in my mind. I truly just couldn’t cope. I wanted to run away. I wanted to go back into my bedroom and lock the door and never come out.

Something has shifted in me recently. I had experienced a couple weeks of what I now know was hypomania and naturally my doctor adjusted my medications. I want that hypomania back. I want to feel happy or excited or something. I don’t want to feel this heavy heart that’s beating in my chest tonight. I’m scared of these feelings. I don’t want to feel them. I don’t want to go back to that dark place. Please don’t take me back there.

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I’m going to try really hard to remember that although this has been happening more frequently lately, it doesn’t mean I’m there, stuck in the darkness. I’m going to remind myself that tomorrow is a new day and help is on the way. This heaviness may lighten up. I’m going to try again. It’s Easter tomorrow and we celebrate the resurrection of our savior, perhaps tomorrow will be a resurrection for me as well.

There, I got it out. That felt good. I’m glad I wrote it down.

I Felt Joy

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The other day something strange happened. It almost alarmed me.

I was in the car with my two youngest children. I had just picked up my son from school. Many days he is grumpy and tired after school. He tends to be a bit moody. But this day, he was in a quite pleasant mood and I was grateful. As we began to make our way home I noticed some things that I had not seen in what felt like an eternity.

There were blooms on trees. They were pink and white and a deep rose color and on some they were just beginning to burst out. There were trees in full bloom that I had not noticed the day before. It was a stark contrast to see these beauties next to the many trees without leaves that line our streets right now. The colors were beautiful and almost glowing. I pointed out the first one I saw to my son. I said, “Look! A tree is blooming. Spring is really coming!” And he smiled.

I never thought that Spring would come. I got lost this past winter, lost in clinical depression. I was lost in a big dark deep cavernous hole. The hole got so deep that absolutely no light shined through. All I could see was darkness and all I could wish for was escape. It became so dark that I thought there was no escaping and that things like flowers, trees and plants would never come to life again. The darkness took over me and I tried to end my life.

But somehow, I’m here. I made it to now. And somehow I am seeing light again. And somehow, the trees are blooming. Miraculously, a gift from God, I saw these trees, really saw them, and I felt joy.

I felt a joy that lasted more than a moment or a flash. I felt joy at the prospect that spring was actually really coming! With that joy came hope. Hope for the spring and renewal of my spirit. And with that hope came faith, faith that God was at work all this time and pulling for me, holding on to me despite my mind’s tricks and and travels into the darkness.

Joy is lasting, joy is pure. Joy is something that fills your heart and soul and gives you peace. Joy is a gift. Joy is seeing things with clear vision again. I’m just so very grateful that I felt joy.

 

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

 

This post is being added to the #momsterslink linky!  Check it out here!

I’ve also added this post to the #sharethejoylinky!

Share the Joy linky at TheJoyChaser.com

It Really is Bipolar Disorder

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I was diagnosed just a few months ago. I suppose I always had a hunch. Others in my family history have dealt with this disease. But I thought I only had major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (along with it’s friend social anxiety) and ptsd and oh yeah, I’m a recovering alcoholic, too. (This long list just made me laugh a little out loud, I suppose it’s because I have an odd sense of humor. . .I think it’s called gallows humor.)

I’ve experienced symptoms of these other mental health issues since my teenage years. I have always been told what I was dealing with was major depressive disorder and major depression I have always had, off and on. I’ve had 3 hospitalizations now, 4 if you count the outpatient partial hospitalization program I went through a few months ago. But maybe it wasn’t until I became more knowledgeable about the symptoms of these different disorders, or until I noticed the times when I overspent money and/or times I felt super euphoric for no real reason or for the littlest reason only to come crashing down in mood quite rapidly. I’m not sure exactly when, but something in the back of my head thought it was possible. Something else in my head said, “No way! You don’t do the extreme things that are said to be symptoms of bipolar disorder.” Even my psychiatrist said I didn’t meet the criteria when I mentioned it to him a few years ago.

But this Fall, when the most severe symptoms of depression worsened and I began my descent into the pit, my therapist at the outpatient program I mentioned previously confirmed my concerns, then in November, the doctor at the hospital where I was an inpatient confirmed my concerns. And finally, my new psychiatrist after the hospitalization confirmed it as well. Bipolar Type 2 was the general consensus.

Something in me really didn’t believe it though. Something in me didn’t want to have that diagnosis. Something told me that I was going to face a whole new set of stigmas and I did not want to deal with that. Something in me said, no way.

But I took the new medications. I hated the new medications. We switched around some of the medications. We’re still switching around some of the medications. And, believe it or not, I think I’ve turned a corner and I don’t feel like dying, most of the time. (Praise God.) But something different is going on with me now.

I’m waking early in the morning before my alarm clock goes off. (This is really odd for me, as I am a sleeper!) I can’t fall back asleep these days. I now have new found hobbies and interests that are consuming most of my thoughts and time. As in, I can’t stop thinking about them and all the things I want to do and what I should do next and all of the ideas are flooding my brain at once. My mind is racing, as if it’s trying to catch something and I’m running with it (and running really isn’t something I do). It’s not simply that I have a lot of thoughts, I have a lot of thoughts all at once and they are grand and filled with the greatest of optimism and I feel high. My days are full somehow. There are so many things to get done! But guess what? None of them are things that I really should get done. If it weren’t for my meds I doubt I would go to sleep at night at all here recently, at least not until very very late. Additionally, I may or may not be spending money on things I shouldn’t be…and rather impulsively.

I added all these thing up in my head and I did a little research on “what hypomania feels like” and it turns out, I could so relate.

I had an appointment with my psychiatrist yesterday. They took my blood pressure. It was unusually high for me, not dangerously high, but high for me. I found this interesting considering how I’ve been feeling. I told my doctor about all of these symptoms I’ve been having and yep, she thought I was definitely experiencing hypomania. She believes I’m in what’s called a mixed state right now, because I still have depressive thoughts and moods, but am also experiencing the hypomanic highs. She’s made a few adjustments to my meds (again) and now I’m a little worried I’m going to feel sad all the time again.

And truth be told, I’m also a little sad that it’s true. I really do live with bipolar disorder and I have been for a long time. I suppose there is a little bit of grieving that goes on with any new diagnosis, a grieving for the health we had or the health we thought we had, whether it be true or not.

The good news is I finally know what I’m dealing with and I honestly have no reason to attach any kind of stigma to myself. Living with bipolar disorder is no more shameful than living with arthritis. Unfortunately, if I’m really being honest, it’s going to take me a while to believe that in my heart, because for some reason I feel a little more faulty and a little more broken right now.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling right now, please reach out to LIFELINE 1(800)273-TALK for help and support.

 

Anatomy of Suicidal Thinking

You may or may not know that in November I made an attempt to end my life. (It feels rather bold, unusual and uncomfortable to start a post that way.) Since that event, and before, it’s been a long and difficult road to trudge, to say the least.

In October my husband and I became keenly aware that the depression was becoming severe. I was becoming more frequently plagued with thoughts of suicide and self-harm. (Are you thinking self-harm is just for teenagers? Well, you’re wrong.) In an effort to stave off the beast, I was admitted to a partial hospitalization program where I spent the day with other struggling folks and a therapist for group sessions Monday through Friday for three weeks. I learned a lot, felt very safe there and enjoyed the structure, as much as a severely depressed person can enjoy these things. 

I guess I felt like I was supposed to be all better after that, but I wasn’t and that was frustrating. I began my search for a therapist and went on a couple visits but I felt just as bad as I had before I started the treatment. Efforts to diagnose me accurately and to find medication that would be therapeutic were rather conservative. It’s clear now that neither the treatment nor the medication protocol were as aggressive as they could have been or should have been. 

I was diagnosed with bipolar II, a diagnosis I am still a bit unsure of, as I think I might be of the rapid cycling nature, but bipolar none-the-less. All my life I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, along with a few other friends like anxiety and ptsd. 

On November 8 I ended up in the ICU after taking a very large amount of a medication I had on hand to treat anxiety that is also used to treat high blood pressure. I spent a couple days there recovering from the effects of the overdose and then I was transferred to the hospital’s psych unit for a couple more days. Since then I have finally found a therapist I think will really work for me, a good psychiatrist and I’ve been on a long journey of medication trial and error.

All of this to say, that after my experiences and with the knowledge I have obtained before, during and after treatment, I came up with what I believe to be a pretty accurate depiction of the anatomy of suicidal thinking. I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, therapist or anything close…although I did major in psychology in college, so please treat this info as just what it is, a sick person trying to better understand their illness. 

And so, here it is…

   
 
Like my very professional hand-written document? Me too. 

Some may think that my starting premise of a negative or triggering event is inaccurate, but for me this can include the transition of actually becoming depressed rather than a specific event or trigger, that in itself can be the trigger. But, I think that once one is already actually experiencing depression the negative event or experience can be something that stands alone to set suicidal thinking in motion. Additionally, this can happen multiple times or you can be stuck in one long dreadful period of suicidal thinking.

“Normal” or healthy individuals won’t get stuck in the stages of self-loathing/negative thoughts. They will move back to a normal thought pattern. Those of us struggling with mental health issues can get stuck here or at any one of these stages or move on down the road to suicidal thoughts.

What do you think? How accurate is my depiction to you or for you? If you don’t experience a mental health issue maybe this will help you understand part of the thinking and experience of a loved one who does. 

I look forward to hearing your feedback and thanks for reading! I’ll be here, muddling through the muck of all this messy stuff, waiting! 

Beginning Again with Therapy

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I was discharged from the hospital at the end of the second week of November, 2015. I knew immediately that I had to find a therapist, because that is what you do after you attempt suicide. I’m not a stranger to therapy, but admittedly it had been a while. I began my quest a bit slowly and timidly. It’s not easy to decide to whom you want to bare your soul, now is it?

After a couple of different attempts, I believe I have found someone who I can really work with. And, I kind of can’t believe it. I’ve been seeing her for about a month or so now, once a week, and I have experienced on two separate occasions (after leaving her office) ensuing really good days , which I have found totally perplexing, surprising and ultimately…good.

When you get used to so many days strung together that are bleak at best, it’s rather obvious when a good one comes along. When you can somehow associate that with your therapist and the work you are doing in therapy, I think that’s definitely a positive. Now positives aren’t something I’m used to talking about as of late…but hey…I’m working on it.

I find myself looking forward to the opportunity to share…to share my dark stuff. I want to share my secret feelings and frustrations with someone, someone that won’t be hurt or mad or frightened by them. I want to spill it. I want to spill my feelings all over the place like a can of red paint on bright white carpet. I want to look at it and see it and look at it with someone who won’t be upset with me for tipping over that can. I’m ready to talk.

The first couple of visits with my new therapist have been filled with a lot of history giving, the getting to know you drill and working on coping techniques – so that as we dig deep I have tools to handle the emotions and responses that will likely arise. I like that she is focused on helping me to develop these strategies and to learn to really use them. The trick is I have to remember to practice and to practice and to practice again. I’m not real good at that, historically. But since the paint is gonna spill eventually, it might be time I change my ways.

I went through an outpatient treatment program in October (before the suicide attempt) and came away with a gazillion handouts and info on coping techniques. I even put them in a binder with sheet protectors so that it would be easy to reference. Guess how many times I’ve opened that binder?

Zero. Zero times.

So now, with a new therapist by my side, it’s truly time to get better, make the effort and to practice using the tools she is providing me. If I don’t, I’m just going to end up back where I started…that’s not a place I want to go.