What do you do when you are enduring a third major depressive episode within the last three years? I, for one, write about it. It helps me to communicate what I’m feeling, and I hope to help others who have suffered or are suffering to feel less alone.
Each episode has been slightly different than the one prior, but this current episode feels very different to me, even though I did end up in the psychiatric inpatient unit, just as I did over two years ago. It still amazes me how this disease sneaks up on me, slowly but steady. I started to pull away from friends—people who I know care about me—because it felt as if I needed to protect them. I do not think I was fully conscious of this at the time. Then came the irritability, which is one of the most difficult aspects of my depressive episodes. I have no patience and it takes every bit of energy to bite my tongue before snapping at my husband or daughter, like when they leave a mess. Then the loneliness hits, and it feels as if there is a real separation between me and the rest of the world. That’s when I realize that my depression has returned with its usual vengeance.
This is where I am right now. I have major depression. My current experience is sadness and some hopelessness. Prior to being hospitalized I would get up and make plans to run errands as I thought it would be good for me to go out. That ended with me either feeling overwhelmed as I ran the errands, or I ended up not going out at all. I also felt and still feel tired much of the time, whether I sleep well at night or not. Sometimes when I am having a conversation with others, I get lost or “spaced out” for a moment, and then I have difficulty re-entering the discussion. My daughter may be telling me a funny story of something that happened at school, but my brain shuts off halfway through and I end up nodding and pretending to demonstrate that I really heard her. I am also extremely indecisive, whether it’s figuring out what to make for dinner or what socks to wear. I find myself standing in front of my open sock drawer for minutes, not able to pick out a pair.
I feel guilty, at times, about being sick again, but I actually do not feel this is as severe as the two episodes two years ago. That is a positive, and I will take any positives I can, particularly after being in the hospital again!
This is it. It is raw, stripped down, naked, and bare. This is depression and it is malicious. I think of it as a taunting illness, so damn clever in how it attacks, very sneaky and very unforgiving.
As far as treatment, medications have been changed and I am scheduled to start a treatment called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS for short). Unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), there is no anesthesia and no memory loss issues. It consists of magnets that are placed at the particular area of the brain where mood is controlled. I had my intake appointment just after being discharged from the hospital, and I feel hopeful. I will also attend a three-hour per day group therapy program for a few weeks for extra support. That is all in addition to seeing my therapist and psychiatrist.
One of the best interactions I had while in the hospital was with my treatment team of doctors and nurses. When the idea of the group therapy program was brought up, I immediately said I was not interested. I was concerned about the stigma. I explained to the team that being a social worker myself makes it hard to be a patient at times. One of the nurses said to me, “But Risa, you are a patient.” In that moment, I heard her and was able to take it in. I am a patient, and that is OK. I am not my illness and my illness is not me. I have to tend to myself and do anything I can to alleviate my symptoms.
While every day still feels like a week, I am starting to feel a bit of hope. Even though there are times I cannot feel the love and care from my family and friends, as if there is a barrier between us, I think of the song by X Ambassadors, “Unsteady”:
If you love me, don’t let go
Whoa, if you love me, don’t let go
Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘cause I’m a little unsteady
For anyone who has a loved one with depression, just hold on to her, don’t let go, and acknowledge she is just a little unsteady right now. There is nothing “extra” for you to do. In my mind, your love and care is the gift that will keep on giving in good times and bad.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.