Melancholia: My Depression One Year On

This time last year, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression (Melancholia: After My Diagnosis with Depression). I prescribed antidepressants and registered with a therapist for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I intended to keep a daily diary of what happened over the course of the year, but as usual, life happened, and here I am a year later, finally writing this post. So how have things gone for me in the past year?

Well, as you’d expect, some great things have happened, and some, not so great.

Do I still have anxiety and depression? Of course, I do. And I probably will for the rest of my life. And I’m okay with that. Am I still on medication? Yes, and I have no intention of coming off it any time soon. Why not? Because the factors I believe are responsible my depression—my health and the side effects of my medication—are still there, and always will be. Am I still in therapy? No. After ten months, my therapist and I agreed I had the tools to successfully keep my head above water (she actually believed I was capable of this after 5 months, but I wanted to be sure). Would I go back to therapy if I felt myself sliding again? Absolutely.

I was spurred to write this week by taking my son trick-or-treating for Halloween. Last year when I took him, I had trailed behind him, numb, feeling like I was watching someone else, someone I didn’t know. This year, I was socially anxious as I always am in these situations, and I was thrilled. I felt something. And despite my gut clenching at every door we knocked on, we had a brilliant time. And that was the entire reason I sought help in the first place.

So what have I been doing over the past year? Well, career-wise I released a couple more books in my science fiction series and have a new science fiction romance series underway with the first one out in January. My ostomy survival guide, My Other Bag’s an Ostomy: Quick and Dirty Tips for Surviving an Ostomy received a glowing review in a prestigious international medical journal, and I’ve received loads of letter from readers that have validated why I wanted to write the series in the first place. I shut down my Screaming Meemie Twitter and started a Facebook page instead.  I began writing more for other sites, including The Mighty and Ostomy Connection.

On the not-so-good side, my physical health has deteriorated a bit. My Crohn’s has held steady with 7-week interval shots of Stelara and weekly methotrexate, but I was just diagnosed with arthritis, which causes me so much pain in my joints that even swimming is uncomfortable now. Because of this, I’m trying to be extra aware of my mental health and making sure that I commit to self-care—especially now as we head in winter.

The last year has been very interesting in my awareness of mental health. I’ve never been shy about my condition—both my Crohn’s or my mental health—and I always tried to own it and wear it, if not proudly, then unapologetically and unashamedly. During the last twelve months, several close friends and family members have also been diagnosed with depression, and for once, my issues with my mental health turned out to be, well, not a good thing, but something useful. I could speak from experience, could offer empathy and support that wasn’t empty platitudes. I knew what not to say, which can be far more helpful than saying anything.

What struck me though, was how most of those people felt their depression was a failure on their part, and hence why it took them so long to seek treatment.

Failure.

As though they were somehow responsible. Like they could have prevented it and didn’t. It still blows me away how common this thinking is. I certainly don’t know anyone who thinks their Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis/rheumatoid arthritis/MS and so on, is because of a failure on their part. But when the organ involved is the brain, personal failure is the default reaction we seem to have, ridiculous as it may be.

Now, I know why people think this way—it’s culturally ingrained. But it has to stop. That kind of thinking is more destructive than the mental illness itself. And that’s what depression is—an illness. No different from my Crohn’s.

So let’s change the way we think. It needs to start with those of us who are depressed. It’s our responsibility, because it’s our lives, and our depression. We’re the ones getting out of bed and living with it every day. And I’m embracing it.

I have anxiety and depression. Some days are good, some are not. But, like my Crohn’s, it just another part of who I am. And I love me, every single part.