I am not a woman who hides her age. I will admit it, I am 37. I don’t look it and that is probably why I will fully cop to my actual age. I have a young (very young) face and I am short (incredibly short). Throw these two traits together and I might as well be 20. I still get gawkers and non-believers when I correct people on my age. I am 37 and for the last 23 years, I have been a sufferer and survivor of Depression.
My first diagnosis was at age 14. With all the rapid firing, teenage emotions, who would’ve known that Depression was there too. I certainly did not. I just blamed normal teenage angst. The signs were there though… crying uncontrollably, hating myself, hating others, wanting to run away, wanting to remove myself from this crazy world (although not by suicide… that would come a few years later). Once my parents realized there was something not quite right with me, I was brought to a therapist where I received my diagnosis and then to group therapy with other troubled teens. Major Depressive Disorder. I was angry. I was so angry. Why me? Why couldn’t I just be ‘normal’? And then there is the infamous stigma. Back in the early 1990s, being labeled with a Mental Illness had people envisioning you in a strait jacket, talking to yourself and banging your head against walls.
I could not accept this diagnosis. Being a teenager, I fought it like I fought everything else. I barely paid attention at group therapy. I still was mad at my parents. No, nope, I would not be a Depressive.
A few years later, almost 18 and a legal adult, my 2nd episode with Major Depressive Disorder hit. This time I was suicidal. Group therapy was a thing of the past. I was now seeing a therapist one-on-one. I was deeply immersed into CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Even with wanting to die, holding a case cutter to my wrist, and seeing a professional, I could not accept living a life with Depression. Nope, not for me. I didn’t want it. Someone please, for the love of God, take it from me.
My 4th bout of MDD was one of my worst, it was my battle with Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, an illness so taboo in the mid-2000s. I felt so alone. I knew no one. I became hospitalized. Now, Stephanie, now would be the time to accept your circumstances and push past the trauma to live a fulfilling life. Nope! In the fight or flight aspect of Anxiety, I was and will always be a fighter. I couldn’t understand why I had to go through this… hating my daughter, the panic attacks, crying spells, being an empty void for almost a year. I couldn’t accept that I would never experience a typical postpartum and be the doting new mother. I missed so much of my daughter’s first year of life, it just wasn’t fair.
My latest episode, brought on by taking care of and eventually having to give back my former foster son, was probably the worst. I grieved for the loss of him for a good year and a half. I was struck by several panic attacks, another hospitalization, and the realization that I was meant to only mother one child. I lost myself, hopes and dreams I had for myself. It brought back the trauma of my postpartum experience and ultimately gave me a PTSD diagnosis. While dwelling so much in the past with the “Why me?”, “It’s not fair”, “I miss him”, I once again missed out on a big chunk of my daughter’s life, the child I did have.
It’s interesting though. I think we begin to learn acceptance with age. After all, we are not as young and virile as we used to be. I accept that I cannot run as fast I could before. I accept that I can’t eat the foods I could eat before and maintain my weight. I accept that my hair grays quicker after each coloring appointment. So why couldn’t I accept my Depression diagnosis? I have been living with it for over 2 decades.
Yes, I will never get that first year of my daughter’s life back. I have so many pictures of my robot self from then, bad memories of myself caught on a piece of photo paper. I will never get that year and a half of her life back from grieving the little boy who left our house. I sat with this, after a year of EMDR therapy, and it came to me. A light bulb literally appeared in my head and turned on. By torturing myself with fighting my Depression, I was missing out on so much in life. I took hold of a phrase my EMDR therapist would tell me:
“Invite your Depression in for a cup of tea.”
This time, after decades of being at war with my brain, I took his advice. When I would find myself in pain over the past or self-loathing, I sat back and talked with my Depression, letting it consume me for that moment. In time, I have learned to live in that moment, whether with my Depression or with my Anxiety, inviting it in for tea, and after a short time let it go. My Depression no longer devours me. The lies it tells me, no longer control me. I have finally learned to live with this illness.
Twenty-plus years later, I have learned acceptance.