The New Old Depression

It was a Friday afternoon, the day before my son’s eighteenth birthday. The weather was cold or warm, overcast or sunny, but not raining. Too early for rain; it wasn’t even spring yet. We pulled into the underground parkade as if leaving civilization behind. It felt like hospital. Somehow every parkade felt the same, even the new ones where the zones have sweet names like “forest” and “prairie”.

We checked in and I sat down, glad to not be back in the triage zone having to explain the unexplainable to a nurse trying to make my unexplainable fit into a drop-down menu category. We were placed in one of the “mental health” rooms in Urgent Care, and told to sit on one of the vinyl chairs. Me, in the farthest corner from the door, my husband four feet away but beside me. Opposite him stood a bedside table with a phone. I wondered how old the phone was and if anyone ever used it. “Is that a real window?” my husband asked, knowing the answer before I looked through the blinds at the mirror behind it. Why had we chosen these two chairs, I wondered? The third chair sat empty, waiting for the psychiatrist. I stared at it, waiting, trying to imagine what the psychiatrist would be like. Old, probably.

She walked in, and she was breathtakingly beautiful, with a smile that warmed up the room. Not what I expected, and I almost forgot where I was. She asked me dozens of questions about my life growing up and my life as an adult and then asked if we wanted to know her diagnosis.

“Please,” we both pleaded.

“It’s depression,” she replied, in the same tone she would use if I were being diagnosed with a cold.

We were both surprised. I’d never had any problems getting out of bed. I never wondered if I should be alive. I never felt alone or unloved.

“But I never feel worthless or guilty,” I said, confused by her diagnosis.

“You need cognitive behavioural therapy,” she replied. “You’ve been ill for a very long time,” she added, “and you’re going to need medication and therapy to get better.”

She gave me a prescription for Seroquel and Cipralex and wished us luck. She promised to see me in a month, and we came back, dutifully returning to the parkade and the vinyl chairs.

Awareness is not enough

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The statistic that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime is being repeated over and over on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Awareness is awesome, but it’s not enough. Politicians are tweeting that they are raising awareness but what we really need is funding. We need more psychiatrists so that it doesn’t take a year to get in to see one. We need publicly funded therapy so that we can stay out of the hospital and keep working (and paying taxes!). We need mental health services that are as easy to access as a family doctor visit. We cannot continue to talk about awareness and continue to not fund treatment. The stigma of mental illness will never go away when our treatments are expensive; this makes them appear as an optional treat for the wealthy. It would save money to fund treatment; it’s time to do the math and get it right.

The Rocky Road of Depression

This weekend has been tough. I seem to feel good for a while and then come crashing down because I’m wishing things were different. I’m wishing I knew nothing about depression and wishing I was better and wishing I wasn’t spending so much money on therapy and wishing I didn’t need medication. But wishing is pointless and damaging so I need to catch it and put it back in the cupboard with the leprechauns and other imaginary things. This road of recovery is a bumpy one and I feel like I’m on one of those tuc-tuc vehicles on a dirt road and just when we get going the driver realizes that we’ve been going the wrong way and back we go, holding on for dear life. The rational part of my brain knows that I’m improving. It knows that I have more energy and more patience and more self-compassion than I did when I started treatment but the rest of me wants to see benchmarks of improvement. When I started running I noticed every little improvement – running a bit further, running the same route in less time, being less tired after a run, etc. But this beast of mental illness doesn’t give me indicators of success, and it shows me it’s still boss after I have some good days by reducing me to a heap of tears on the floor. My family is left wondering what they did to set me back but the reality is that even with them being the greatest and most loving and supportive people in the world, I still have a lot of crappy days. I wish for someone to tell me when I’ll be better, to give me a date when I can say, “I used to have depression, it sucked but I’m over it” but no one will. So I keep journaling and doing thought records and being mindful and I flip the numbers back on my “0 days since I was a crying mess” board each day and maybe this time I’ll get past 10. Maybe. If I don’t, I’ll just try again.

Letters to me

For depression awareness week, I thought I would share with you a few of the letters I have written to myself over the past month as I began medication and therapy for depression. I revisit these letters most days to remind myself that the fight is worth fighting. #whatyoudontsee

Dear Me,
I heard you have depression. That sucks. It sucks that you’ve been fighting to keep your head above water for the last eleven years and this is what you end up with. It sucks to have to deal with yucky side effects of the medication when you don’t even know if it is working. But here you are. Take some time to grieve, that the person you thought was you is depression you, not the real you. And then when you’re done grieving, you can be excited about getting to know the real you. The real you has been hidden for over 10 years! And now you get to meet her! How exciting! Be patient and kind, as you would with a small child that’s just been given life-changing news. Give her time and space to heal and to grow and love her.

Dear Me,
You are having a terrible day today. Every effort feels enormous and you’re wishing you were dead. Not even dead so much as never been born, never set foot on the Earth. You feel like you want to evaporate and turn to dust. You need to know that you are loved and that you make a positive difference in the world. As awful as these feelings are, they are temporary, and they are not your fault. The medication is messing with your head and there is a good chance that tomorrow will be way better. Remember that the world is a better place for having you in it.

Dear Me,
Today you are down and feel that you should be able to beat all this on your own without medication and without therapy. But unfortunately that is not the case. You need help, and you need lots of it. But that’s okay. Really. You have a great husband and great kids and a great doctor and they are all behind you, supporting you and wanting you to get better. Try not to compare yourself to other people or to read anything or listen to anyone who is against medication. They are not you. You have been fighting this for over 10 years and the fact that you need help now is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re ready to fight and win.

Bye Blue Jays

Blue Jays are out
The house is all quiet
I guess now’s the time
To go on a diet

No more peanuts
Or Cracker Jack
No more yelling
About a comeback

The Royals move on
To tackle the Mets
It’s now time for gamblers
To place their bets

But I’ll stay at home
And watch my Flames play
And hope that their season
Goes past mid-May

The Blue Jays were great
They are Canada’s team
And watching the postseason
Has been a fun dream

Review of Hyena Road

Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down, and Hurt Locker are three excellent movies that focus on the military. When I watched them I didn’t think about the fact that they are American, nor did it bother me. I’ve never thought about the lack of Canadian military in movies and TV because there has been so little for all of my life. But when I went to see Hyena Road yesterday afternoon with my teenagers, I realized that I’d been missing out. Seeing the fictional soldiers in the movie with Canadian flags on their uniforms brought out more national pride in me than our most successful Olympic games. The movie is “based on 1000 true stories” which made the three of us realize how much our fellow Canadians have sacrificed both for our country and for peacekeeping in the world. Paul Gross is a creative genius and in the midst of a somewhat ugly federal election right now, Hyena Road will make you stop and realize how truly great the men and women of our great country are. Seeing Canadian flags draped over coffins is a sight I wish was only in movies, but seeing them in the film reminded me of the times it has been real. The movie will also make you realize how much talent we have here in Canada for putting on an incredible show. I wanted to yell out, “This is Canada! These are our people!” through the whole show. Take a break from turkey and politics this weekend and go see it. 5/5

Teen Anticipation

“Are you excited?” I asked as we backed out of the driveway.

“I’m terrified,” he replied, rubbing his palms on his thighs.

“You’re awesome either way,” I told him, “and you’ll know tonight.”

“I just want it so bad!” he said, looking over at me. The fluorescent logo on his t-shirt glowed in the morning sun. I merged onto the main road, hoping for traffic slow downs on the way so I could enjoy his company for a few extra minutes.

I looked over at Jack and remembered how, three years earlier, he hadn’t wanted to join the marching band. Now it wasn’t something he would consider not doing. The boy that always says, “let’s just forget it and go home” when things don’t go well is the one who gets up an hour early on the days he has band.

“Aaaahhh! I just wanna know!” he says. Then something catches his eye in oncoming traffic. “Ooo, check out that black Ferrari,” he says, grateful to the break in anxiety.

“Nice,” I reply, and wink at him. Every day we’re on the lookout for super cars.

He switches the radio to the iPod and turns on our favourite driving song. We’re only one song away from school now.

“If I make it into drumline I still get a new drum pad right?”

“Of course. You need something better to practice on.”

He brightens up.

“I’m full of knots!” he says, fidgeting in his seat.

I drop him off and I notice he has a hop in his step. Halfway to the door he stops and turns and runs back to the car with his sunglasses in hand. “I forgot,” he says and hands them to me.

“See you later! I loooove you!” I tease him after seeing that there is no one around to hear me.

On the drive home I put our song on repeat even though I feel like I’m cheating on him in some way. I’m full of nerves too. He’s worked hard but we both know it’s not a given that he gets a drum. I say a prayer of gratitude for what this nervous anticipation is teaching him about patience and perseverance and I thank God for bringing us here. I also pray for patience and for wisdom so I can comfort him if things don’t work out.