September 5, 2011

Depression, part one

I have a little laminated piece of paper that I keep in or on my desk - it's a hospital bracelet from my freshman year of college, and when times get tough, it moves from a drawer to somewhere more prominently displayed so I can be more mindful of it.

When I went to college, I decided not to go to UConn like the majority of my graduating class, but a smaller university where I could try and meet new people. I loved my solid group of friends, but I also wanted to expand my horizons, and I knew that if I went to UConn, I'd just cling to them and not make any attempts to branch out.

At my university, I met a lot of people right away, and things seemed to be fine. But these people were incredibly different from the friends I had grown up with - we had a lot of different values and interests, and it was very tough for me to adjust to that social circle. That, paired with the stress of being an honors student trying desperately to keep up a high GPA, was overwhelming, and towards the end of my fall semester, a deep depression set in.

I was not a stranger to dark feelings - I had been very depressed in high school, too, but managed to keep it under control since I had such strong support in my life. It was easy to overlook the bigger issues when there were good people to help pass the time with. But in college, I felt alone with the people who were contributing to my anxieties, and it didn't seem like there was any way out.

My depression manifested itself in a number of ways. Initially, I would binge eat in order to attain a level of numbness. Eventually, though, the numbness was there whether I ate or not. I cut myself all over my arms, hoping to feel anything; I just wanted to make sure I could still feel. The bleeding was minimal, but the release felt good - I had been hurting inside, and now I was hurting outside, too. And hurting isn't numbness.

These feelings came to a high point (or a low one, as it were) one weekend, and when I returned to campus after a weekend home, my roommate was waiting with some of the housing staff to talk to me. A few questions and a look at my arms later, and I was being helped into the back of an ambulance and transported to the local hospital. The whole time, I was worried that they wouldn't be able to lift the gurney because I weighed so much.

There were a few tests to make sure I hadn't taken any pills or poisoned myself, and then I was sedated. I remember that night perfectly - I was in the psych ward, and there were people around me that I decided were "legitimately crazy" ... I was sad, but I didn't belong there. I couldn't sleep, and I still felt really depressed but couldn't move. So I laid there, singing "This Place is a Prison" by the Postal Service. To this day, I can't listen to their "Give Up" album without being overwhelmed with memories of that dark time.

The next morning, I called my dad and had him pick me up. He gave me a hug when he saw me in the hospital bed and cried a little; it was the first time I'd seen him cry since my uncle's funeral when I was ten years old. He brought me home, and I had to stay there until I saw a psychiatrist and was cleared for return to campus.

I went to therapy for a while and was given antidepressant medication, but eventually stopped both. The meds bothered me - I wasn't suicidal anymore, but in situations where you're supposed to be sad, I just felt neutral. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to be upset about whatever the issue was, but I couldn't bring myself to cry or feel anything. I wanted to be able to control my feelings - to be happy as often as possible, and to be able to deal with sadness as it occurred.

I figured out a system that worked for me and I was able to keep my depression in check for a long time: I would get sad sometimes, but I always found a way to balance it all out - with a phone call to my family, an online chat with my friends, or with going out with any combination of the two. I was no longer actively thinking about ending my life, but the option also wasn't completely off the table for me.

Tomorrow: part two - being passively suicidal, and how weight loss has affected my depression.


Misty said...

Thank you for sharing this...this is something that I have struggled with the past 10 years on and off

downsizers said...

It is natural to protect ourselves in the best way we know how. You were doing the best you could do at the time. I have always wondered at how we can be so logical about a situation and know in our head the way out but emotions are so challenging. When I was little a horse I was "helping" my grandpa lead got spooked when the hat my cousin was wearing as he rode the horse got blown off his head and plopped on the horse's head which spooked him and the horse unintentionally stepped on my foot. It scared me so bad. I was little and that was one big horse. I a still afraid of horses even though I "know" it's silly. I am uneasy around them and they can sense it. How do we get over these things? I don't know. We just have to practice love I think. How much happier can we be than when we are making the lives of others easier to bear? I have read about much happiness in your blog - accomplishments make you happy and you are so quick to share them because you feel so good about what you've done as you should be. It's a new feeling we have to get used to. It can be threatening but your desire for happiness because you have so much to offer will overcome this uneasiness you feel. You are going to be well and happy, Mary, I just know it.

Joy said...

Friend, are you just relaying what happened or are you thinking of suicide? I am confused and concerned for you! Take good care of yourself and stay focused on your health and fitness plan!

Bonnie said...

Wow what a personal and touching post. I'm glad you found the strength and the help that you needed to overcome your depression, and be in the place that you are now.

Hope Cali is treating you well!!!

Chubby McGee said...

I have a feeling that every person on earth gets this way at one point (or more) in their lives. Sometimes, they talk about you just did...and other times they either keep it a big secret or they pretend it didn't happen.

You're very brave to talk about it. And you're not alone either. I went through my darkest time in college (when 9/11 happened...I simply couldn't cope with anything anymore), too and ended up getting help when I found myself making the move toward suicide. I did it on my own though. :( You're very lucky you had that roommate to help you get started on the path to healing. Not everyone has someone to help pull them back from the brink.

Ann said...

Thank you for writing such an honest post! Most people are not honest enough to admit this stuff to themselves, let alone on a public blog. You are a strong, amazing, wonderful person. XOXO.

Poison said...

Thanks for sharing hon. I too became severely depressed in my freshman year of college much more so than I was in high school. I had been a cutter then too but it only became worse when I was away at a university. It's taken a lot over the years to finally get the help I needed and learn to love myself more. I hope that part two of this story ends on a much higher note for you. <3<3

Anonymous said...

That had to be tough to write much less pull through. Sometimes when things are the worst it is damn near impossible to see the truth - that is that things do get better no matter how we may try to make it not so.

I love your dad.

timothy said...

i'd never had any sympathy for people who were suicidal and i'm a healer (reiki master/herbalist) when spirit decided to show me. i ,ost my boyfriend and my job within a week and fell into the abyss. i should be dead i slit both wrists and i got the main arteries, i lay bleeding for over a day, then paniced because i'd sent a letter to call the police so they'd find my body. i wound up on the beach in the middle of the night and i went all the way out into the ocean. i don't remeber much except a "HAND" lifted me and placed me high on the shore above the tide. and i was fine the sorrow was gone and it has never returned but i'm glad it happened so i undertsand what it's like. thank you for sharing hon. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Tim said...

Thanks for sharing this, Mary.

When you came back to find your roomate and staff, what were you thinking? Were you scared but relieved?

I'm very lucky that i've never really suffered from depression so i honestly dont know what its like but it seems to me that youve come a long way from where you were. Big hugs!!!! Looking forward to the next part.

Unknown said...

Wow! That is an incredible thing to share. I know what you mean about antidepressants altering your ability to feel. I have been on them a few times, and I remember finding out that my grandfather had passed away and I just felt nothing. He was the closest thing that I had to a father and I wasn't even able to properly grieve or mourn his passing.