…but I always called it “The Whiny-Butt Disease.”
To me, people who suffered from depression were just chronic complainers, especially the women. They were spoiled “delicate flowers” whose basic constitution was fueled by neediness. They were just demanding attention. They were crippled by their own insecurities. They had “daddy” issues or whatever.
It was maybe fifteen years ago when my view of clinical depression changed. It was when I went through it myself.
I had probably always had problems with coping mechanisms; that is, when external or internal stresses came up, I wouldn’t know how to manage them, or how to adapt. And instead of becoming irate or inconsolable, I would internalize the stress which just made me feel worse and unworthy. Through my earlier years, however, these were infrequent, intermittent episodes that I eventually worked through.
Then I approached the age of 50, and the minor episodes turned into a lifestyle. My feelings of worth hit bottom and stayed there for quite a while.
With hormonal changes of menopause, with the development of chronic back pain, and some work circumstances beyond my control, I became…well, impossible to live with. My poor husband! He knew I was struggling, but he didn’t know how to help. Basically, he would often just shake his head and leave me alone. In a sense, that is what helped. I started seeking solutions on my own which began with my seeing a long list of doctors. It was a start anyway.
I was first having episodes when I couldn’t breathe and my heart seemed to beat out of my chest. The first doctor ruled out heart problems with a plethora of tests. Another doctor prescribed hormone replacement which helped with some of the symptoms. That doctor also put me on anti-anxiety pills which made me too sleepy to function, so I took them at night leaving me with intolerable days. It did help with the insomnia. Another doctor said that my back pain was causing me to be depressed, so for a year I chased that theory going to every kind of physician (reputable doctors and quacks). Nothing worked. I was pumped full of steroids through injection not knowing that this was not only making my condition worse, but it was having adverse systemic effects as well. Finally, I found an “angel” in the form of a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. Surgery was successful and I’ve been back pain free for a decade!
But the depression was still there, even after I fully recovered from surgery. Clinical depression affects people differently, but for me it felt like there was an itch somewhere deep inside of me that I couldn’t scratch. It was horrible. I was either extremely agitated or completely depleted of energy. I didn’t dare, however, think or say the word “depression” because I had always reserved that for whiners. It was definitely a sign of weakness, I thought, and I never wanted to admit to that!
However, that was the breakthrough for me—realizing that I needed help. One day, I just collapsed on the sofa with a cry, “God, you’ve gotta do something!” The next day I got back to the circuit of doctors and went to see my family physician—a laid-back older gentleman who was notorious for minimizing general complaints. I expected him to dismiss my feelings and imply that I was just a high maintenance female and I should just get over it. Instead, the doctor asked me what I thought was the matter with me. (I realized that he was used to his patients becoming experts on the human body by staying on sites like WEBMD and others.) It was then that I broached the subject and used the “d” word: depression.
The doctor sat back in his chair. “Yeah? So?” He asked and waited for a response.
“Well, I hate to come in here whining, asking for help with something like that.”
“Why?” the man of few words asked again while writing something on my chart.
“I feel like there’s a stigma attached to depression that I’m afraid to admit to—even the possibility of it.” Then I think I started to cry.
“Well, what do you want to do about it?” He asked rather matter-of-factly.
“I guess maybe try an antidepressant?” I asked in a whisper.
That’s when I said, “You’re the doctor! You tell me!”
He didn’t even look up. He just said, “Tests have ruled out other causes for your condition and I figure you’ve already researched this, so what do you want me to prescribe for you?”
Then he did look up and added, “There’s nothing wrong with trying to feel better, you know. You’re doing the right thing.” He briefly described the side effects of certain medications and the do’s and don’ts of the different kinds of remedies and without fanfare, he wrote me a prescription for a low dose of Zoloft.
“However, don’t expect it to work immediately,” he warned. I had wanted a quick fix, but I was willing to wait a day or two for it to kick in.
“How long do I wait for it to work?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Everybody is different. Try this for, oh, a month, two months, or six months and then come back to see me. If you don’t feel better then we’ll try something else,” he said and he walked out of the exam room.
I walked out, too, feeling just as confused as when I walked in. I didn’t, however, mention this to anybody, except my husband, of course. If it was clinical depression, I would just take my pill and keep this heinous disease to myself, and I have kept that promise to myself—until now. I choose now to be transparent and say that I suffer from clinical depression which is controlled with medication.
When I think back to those days of agony that I didn’t understand and then compare my mental and physical state to now, I am amazed. Though the medication has helped tremendously, I know that it is by God’s hand that healing has taken place. I asked Him to help me and He did. Just like He used spit and clay to heal a blind man, and the hem of His robe to deliver a woman from her bleeding disorder, God used a medication (accompanied by prayer and the power of His word) to make my life and the lives of those around me not only bearable, but joyful and triumphant. (Maybe there’s a song there?)
Seriously, I want to apologize to everyone, especially my family, who had to bear my sullenness, my wrath, my withdrawal, my general orneriness through those bad years. I still have some down days, but I’m grateful that any time I get down, I don’t stay there and spiral into an abyss so deep I can’t dig out like before.
This is just my story…so don’t think that yours will be like mine. There are many versions of depression that are not chemical imbalances. Some are natural and circumstantial and manageable without medication. Often, time is the best healer for those episodes.
However, some of my readers have had similar experiences with the chemical imbalance kind of depression that you’d like to share. If so, I invite you to respond. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, I encourage you to keep searching for ways to try and feel better. And pray.
I also plan to explore this topic some more in other posts before I move on to another topic in the series.