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When Taking Care of Yourself Isn’t Enough to Stop Depression

I found myself in my doctor’s office not too long ago.

It took everything I had to make that phone call and book an appointment. It took even more to go in and tell him what’s been going on.

“I’m not OK,” I said quietly when he came into the room and shut the door.

“How so?” he asked.

“First, I want you to know I’ve been taking good care of myself. So much care of myself. I’m eating well — OK, I still love chocolate in a bad way and that will never change — but I’m also trying to get enough sleep. I’m running, circuit training and doing yoga. I have biceps to die for. Asking you to touch them would probably be inappropriate, wouldn’t it? But you can see them from here, I’m sure. Epic buffness! And I have a therapist, I do meditation and I have a great circle of friends. I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds this year, which has been no small feat, I’ll have you know. Because did I mention I love chocolate?”

I’m all about the jokes until I’m not. I took a breath to try and hold the tears at bay. It didn’t work. They started to run hot down my face.

“But I’m struggling,” I said. “And I hate that I’m struggling despite all the hard work I’m doing to keep myself afloat. It’s maddening. I’m not down all the time. There are things I’m still passionate about, like my advocacy work. That’s the stuff that keeps me going. But so many things in my life are just…grey. They’re all grey.” I sighed. “I miss color.”

They have been. Grey, I mean. There’s a blanket of fog over my life, and it’s been getting heavier. It’s a million little things weighing me down and it’s also none of them.

It’s the overwhelmingness of my life, and it’s not that at all.

Depression slowly wraps its tendrils around everything, squeezing the joy out, suffocating the light, until you don’t remember what it used to be like before. You think it’s always been this way, even when it hasn’t.

Little things become big things, big things become too big to even look at or deal with. You avoid stuff. You become scattered and forgetful. Everything gets harder. Relationships suffer. But when it’s this slow and insidious, it’s so hard to notice until those tendrils are wrapped around you so tightly you can hardly breathe.

“I need your help,” I said, taking my glasses off and wiping my eyes. I should not have worn mascara to this appointment. “And I hate that I need your help right now. I hate that I can’t be stronger and manage this on my own. I’m really angry with myself.”

“Amanda,” he replied gently, “This isn’t a question of being strong or not. You’re plenty strong. Look, I have a checklist on my screen in front of me of all the things I should recommend my patients do when dealing with depression. You are doing everything on this list. Your brain just needs a boost right now to get you over a hump. Let’s give it some help so you can feel better.”

So for the first time since I had postpartum depression 18 years ago, I was given a prescription for an antidepressant.

I walked out of that office feeling a sense of defeat. But I filled the prescription and have been taking my meds every day.

I contemplated not saying anything publicly. I know I don’t have to. It’s really not anyone else’s business. And that little toxic voice screams at me not to share. It says that as an advocate, I need to be strong, and you won’t think I’m strong after reading this.

But here’s the thing, little voice: I am strong. I’m strong enough to take good care of myself despite having a whole lot going on in my life.

I’m strong enough to know when all of that is not enough.

And I’m strong enough to ask for help rather than continue suffering.

I’m not going to be ashamed of having an illness, recognizing it and treating it. 

I am what strong looks like.

I’m sharing this here because there is still a stigma wrapped around mental illness, and that’s total balls. People still speak about it in hushed tones when we shouldn’t. We hide it from each other and pretend everything’s OK. Nothing to see here but my smile, everybody, move on.

But we’re human and we have brain chemistry and we have lives and seasons and traumas that can affect us. It’s natural when things aren’t OK all the time. That’s called living. We should ask for help when we need it, and we should see this as an act of courage, not weakness.

The drugs I was so hesitant to ask for are working. It’s early yet, but there’s a noticeable difference. Depression’s tendrils are retreating. The fog is lifting, and life is becoming more manageable again. I’m laughing more awesome laughs. I’m enjoying going out more and seeing people. I’m remembering what balance feels like. Even chocolate tastes better, although the jury’s still out on whether or not that’s a good thing.

Depression sucks, you guys. It’s the hair on life’s sac. But it can get better, and don’t you forget it. Fight your way out of that darkness, OK?

There’s chocolate out here in the light, and it’s f*cking delicious.

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