Melancholia: After My Diagnosis of Depression
So, how am I doing now? Pretty well, actually. It hasn’t been a smooth ride, but I‘m finally at the point where talking and writing about my mental health feels more like catharsis than an obligation; I’m more connected to myself now. Just looking back at the few diary entries I managed to write shows a marked difference:
Oct 30, 2017
Today I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
On the way to my appointment, I practiced how I was going to tell my doctor. I was determined not to cry; I did anyway. I left her office with an intake letter in my hand, a different person than when I went in. I’d felt different for months, but now it was real. Now I was Officially Depressed. People looked at me differently. The lady behind the intake desk was quieter, gentler. Softer. Asking instead of telling. Everyone knows.
Nov 1, 2017
Today I had my intake appointment. I worried about what to wear. My leopard joggers seemed too…crazy. Too “at risk.” I wanted to look respectable, like a mother, a writer…somebody who could get better. I settled on jeans and a Ziggy Stardust t-shirt. I was defiant.
Winter is here, so we had to go first thing in the morning, before I was ready, but before the roads got bad. I forgot my wallet. We parked a few blocks away and walked in the snow. An auspicious beginning.
I had to fill out a questionnaire, and it worried me. Am I suicidal? No. Do I want to hurt other people? Sometimes. The woman at the grocery store who always comes in when she has a cold and infects everyone. I circled no.
The therapist talked, and listened, and listened while I talked. I talked too much. I felt thin and cold, and I couldn’t stop playing with my buttons. I have Adjustment Disorder with Depression and Anxiety. I didn’t cry. I will undergo Radical Adjustment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I said some of the right things, and I was considered redeemable. I will get better.
October 31, 2017
I started taking my pills, citalopram. They make me nauseous. I don’t want to eat anything. I feel deflated and indistinct somehow, like all my edges are gone. I suspect I am bewildered.
We went trick-or-treating for the first time. Everything was too bright and too loud, and I was too fragile. H was thrilled, his tiny hand in mine, an anchor in a fuzzy dinosaur suit. I let him eat only two pieces of candy, and he loved me anyway.
I can see myself in them, for sure, but I can also see how detached I was.
I think the turning point for me came after about three weeks, around the time my medication finally kicked in. My CBT therapist likens antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication to water wings—when you’re drowning, you can’t keep your head above water long enough to figure out how to get to shore, but when you put your water wings on, you can get your head above water, breathe, and start coping. I love this analogy, and it holds true for me. Now, even though I’m still in the water sometimes, my head is above the waterline, and I can see the shore.
After the medication kicked in, I responded very quickly…too quickly, almost. Even a very unpleasant (and possibly actionable) run-in with a psychotherapist (more on that in another article) only made me angry, rather than traumatizing me. I was feeling so good, I nearly stopped going to therapy, but I’m always suspicious of things that seem too easy, too good to be true. And of course, it was. Not too long ago, my three-year-old picked a virus and brought it home in his adorable little body. After a day or two of him being sick out of both ends (including on my face, twice), I felt nauseous and vomited. Three hours later, I was in the ambulance drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to feel my hands as my kidneys began to shut down.
The real kicker? The only thing my toddler was upset about was that the paramedics didn’t turn the siren on right away. Kids are brutal. (Actually, I’m thrilled he reacted that way. We’re very open and honest with him about my condition—I’ll be writing more on that soon.) Several weeks later, I still hadn’t fully recovered. It was a huge blow at a very fragile time for me, and I could feel myself starting to slip again.
Luckily, I love my therapist, and I’m completely onboard with her. She works to empower the person I am, not change it, and so putting some of the coping techniques we’d discussed into practice was … I won’t say easy, but it was doable. One hour at a time, then one day, then three, then a week. Now, nearly six weeks later, I’m back, and I feel stronger than ever.
It was a hugely important lesson for me, because now I know I can do this. One of the things I dread most happened, and it was fine. I was fine. If it had happened a few months ago, I would have fallen apart. I’m not totally there yet, but now I know for sure my prior belief in myself was not unfounded—I am getting better.