My battle with depression began more than 30 years ago.
I grew up in a home that was very uncomfortable with emotions. The deaths of my eldest brother and only sister from the genetic disorder Cystic Fibrosis bookmarked my unexpected appearance into this world. I was brought home to grieving parents and my remaining siblings — two older brothers.
I coped by experiencing obsessive-compulsive behaviours like repetitive counting and worrying about germs, to help control my world.
Like society, my family didn’t “get” mental illness. My dad believed allergies were “imaginary,” even though my mom and eldest brother suffered each spring. If you bucked up both mentally and physically, you could become immune.
I completed university and journalism school and then landed a job as a reporter in Yellowknife. The low pay, demanding workload, combined with four hours of daylight in the winter were very stressful. I became depressed.
One day I picked up a magazine with an article called, In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, by Jonathon Bentley Mays, a columnist with The Globe and Mail.
In the article, he talked about taking Prozac, and because our stories were so similar, I went straight to the doctor to get some. It was like a magic bullet. My mood rocketed from minus-40 to plus-40 in the middle of January in Yellowknife!
Life continued on, I got married, had children and became a busy at-home mom.
Then I turned forty, and began questioning my value in life. My kids were becoming independent. Other moms in my circle were returning to their careers. We had moved to Edmonton and my prospects to work again as a journalist were limited.
The Prozac no longer helped, I tried every medication available. Finally, my psychiatrist of 17 years convinced me to consider electric convulsive therapy (ECT). I was terrified and desperate, so I agreed to a treatment that sounded like something in a Frankenstein novel.
I distinctly remember walking in our ravine shortly after one of my first treatments and hearing a bird sing.
This past winter, I escaped my impending “date” with the big “D” for the first time in five years. I have found stability through medication and a very good psychologist.
I am also working at being kind to myself and managing my illness daily through “mindfulness.” Even though I still struggle with shame and actually believing that I have a chronic illness – that it is not just a lack in character – I feel stronger and more in control of my life than ever before.
Mental illness does not mean you are “less than” or a “freak.” We need to be our own best friends when our minds become ill.
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