Being in the midst of a major depression relapse feels like I’ve been thrown into a pack of wolves, attacked, chewed up, and then spit back into my life. Only I’m bloody and in pain, wounded, but nobody can see it.
Depression is not new to me. I’ve struggled with it since I was a child, so I know the signs, but it doesn’t get easier.
I saw the red flags. Isolating. Stopping taking care of myself. What’s a shower? The negative thoughts… I hate myself. Why bother with anything? What’s the point? But the downhill motion couldn’t be stopped. I wasn’t just on the depression train, I was white knuckling onto the side of that mother for dear life.
This time things were a little different. My negative thoughts got more intense, and more alarming and terrifying, especially to those around me. I could envision the specific ways in which I could leave this world. I didn’t just have one plan; I had five or six. I was hurting myself and I felt terribly guilty because I now had a husband and two young daughters, age two and seven. I loved them so, but all I could think about was death and how much better off they would be without me.
I ended up stuffing some clothes into a duffel bag with illustrated dog heads on it and going to an ER where I threw my hands into the air and confessed that I wanted to take my life. After a night in a holding cell that felt more like a jail cell with a toilet and police officers stationed outside, where they would only let me use a crayon and not a pen or pencil, I spent nine challenging nights in a not-so-great psychiatric hospital, where fights and racism were a regular occurrence, and I had to fight for my care.
I learned what it was like to walk around throwing up into a cardboard trash can from medication side effects, and having to beg for nearly 24 hours for nausea medication. They did some medication changes on me that somehow they screwed up massively and it turned out there were dangerous interactions. I learned what it was like to have my prize possession stripped from me, the only thing I cared about there, my journal, because it was spiral bound and it had been given to me by accident. I also went to groups, played Scrabble, but made sure not to win so I wouldn’t piss anyone off, did coloring, LOTS of coloring, to avoid the trouble and keep my eyes down, and finally I was released.
I burst into tears when I walked out of the glass doors of that hospital. I was elated. It had been a frightening experience, unlike my other hospital experiences, and I just wanted to be home with my babies, my dog, and my fluffy pillow.
Unfortunately, the depression and anxiety followed me home, clinging to the soles of my Tom’s shoes. Damn uninvited guests.
I continued regular care with my relatively new-to-me therapist, and then got a new psychiatrist after many years to continue adjusting the meds…. one who would think outside the box. I tried every tool I could think to try — distraction, meditation, art. I was going to a support group and a writer’s group. I even started my own business, from my bed and my basement. But the negative thoughts persisted.
After a month of taking things day by day, moment by moment, things tanked. The suicidal thoughts were becoming more real and more feasible, and I was hurting myself again. I started asking people to come over to the house so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t trust myself anymore, and finally I asked my husband to hide all the pills. I couldn’t handle the temptation. I needed to go away again. I needed a higher level of care, to stay alive for the kids. This time I went to a hospital I knew in which I felt safer. The old hospital on a hill, in a trauma unit with women. There would be no yelling. No fights. I drove 4.5 hours with my father-in-law when a bed became available, which took six hours to get to because it was two days before Thanksgiving. But you have to do what you have to do.
Sometimes you have to have turkey sandwiches in a psych ward on Thanksgiving to get better for your family. Once again, I spent nine days in treatment. I was still adjusting medication. I had the same psychiatrist I had the last time I was there. I recognized her necklace with a large pearl and lotus flowers circling it. I had a different social worker, with short hair and a husky voice that was tough with me from day two. I felt safer than in my previous nightmare, but was made to feel attention seeking and even manipulative, which was not what I needed or why I was there.
I was desperate for help. I would stare at the inspirational quotes on the walls and pray for hope. I went to therapy groups, even though they were thin because of the holiday, wrote massive amounts of poetry, and met all types of quirky people. My situational sisters, I like to call them. I think I got more out of the people I met than the staff or my “team,” but I was safe.
I didn’t feel cured when I walked out of the blue doors of that hospital. I felt relieved, and excited, and scared as hell to go home, but I think being scared is a part of the process.
I walked in the side door of my house, hugged my girls to my leg and my chest, and then jumped right back into therapy, because I’m a work in progress.
Because I’m fucked up and that’s okay.
Because healing doesn’t happen overnight and we just have to keep going.
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