on friday, i saw an episode of oprah which discussed depression and suicide. it wasn’t the best of interviews, oprah kept asking questions based on this woman’s book that weren’t very illuminating. and when oprah asked the guest [who attempted to jump off a bridge and was saved and wrote a book about it] what she wanted to say to other people who may be feeling like she was, she just said, “talk to someone about it.” although she discussed her ineffective discussions with her own mother about her depression, her advice was still just, “talk to someone.”
people who really know me [and some who don’t] know that i’ve suffered for most of my life with depression. as i type, i am contemplating needing to take my medication before i go to bed, especially because i forgot last night. i say that some who don’t know me well do know about my depression because when i was applying to law schools, i wrote about my depression in my personal statement. a couple of excerpts are below:
Given my childhood, I have heard time and time again that I beat the odds for most children born into my situation, an accomplishment I should be most proud of. As a society, we expect low-income black children to fail due to the external factors that weigh heavily on their lives. While I was affected by those factors, a burden much more dangerous to my survival weighed on my ability to succeed and thrive: clinical depression.
To those who have never experienced depression, the saying, “Just be happy!” is never far from their lips. They cannot understand how happiness is an abstract concept, as foreign as a culture deep in the Chinese countryside would be to a black girl who has never left Philadelphia. They cannot understand how crying for no reason at all feels natural. They cannot understand that depression runs in families. My uncle jumped off his rooftop to the sidewalk below, breaking his neck. Two uncles have bipolar disorder. I read letters my mother has written to God. I think she has it too.
I sleep in my dorm bed until noon each day, dragging myself out of bed only for the class where attendance is mandatory. I drag myself back to my room, watch television for the rest of the day, attend meetings, and more TV well into the night. My parents call and I do not call back, hoping to hide the feelings about which I again feel so much shame. When my mother finds out, she threatens to make me come home if I do not pull myself together. I see four different therapists that semester until a few months on anti-depressants and talk therapy help me escape the abyss that threatened to swallow me whole.
Depression while pregnant is a condition I would not wish on the most evil person in the world. For this depression was different – it was excruciatingly painful to want to take good care of yourself, knowing that the strength of your health is a direct correlation to that of the child inside of you, but having no ability to will your hands to comb your hair, your mouth to open for food, or your feet to step into the shower. But now, 16 months after beginning medication, I have truly learned that depression is a disease, and like most other chronic conditions, it needs constant treatment. While my marriage and the birth of my son are the accomplishments of which I am most proud, living with depression and beating it each time is a very close third. Every time someone comments on how happy my son appears, I know that his happiness is a direct reflection of my happiness during the rest of his gestation and the nine months since his birth.
i wrote this before my pregnancy with my daughter, and i experienced another episode during my first trimester with her as well. given my many episodes, i’ve been advised to stay on the meds for at least three years after the last episode. i take a moderate dose, but three times as strong as what i started on approximately 2.5 years ago. there are many days i want to stop taking them, questioning my inherent worth that i can’t “snap out of it” on my own. taking the meds through two pregnancies was torturous; on more than one occasion pharmacists have questioned my taking of the drugs while pregnant in front of other customers. i was so embarrassed, even if i was sure that the other customers had no idea of what the generic drug was for.
there was another episode of oprah [can you tell i’m a fan?] of a woman who refused to acknowledge the alcohol addiction that was destroying her family. dr. robin, a regular guest, said something that will stay with me forever: “once you have children, you lose the right to have a breakdown.” i believe in that wholeheartedly. as much as taking meds everyday and having my husband question every mood swing as the beginning of an episode is annoying, i can see the joy in my children’s eye when i’m able to smile at them, when i’m able to get out of the bed and get them and myself dressed, when we are all able to sit and eat at the table together.
really, when you have kids your life is no longer just yours, it belongs to them as well. in some ways, that’s annoying, like when you want to have just one more glass of wine or join your cohort in a night of debauchery in the big city. but it’s also extremely rewarding – being healthier and happier is not just internally gratifying, but the benefit is also seen externally. it’s amazing that although biologically kids serve the purpose to replace you once you are gone, they also inspire you to live the best life you can.