I was diagnosed with depression nearly 12 years ago. That’s how long I tell people I have dealt with depression.
Realistically, however, it has been much, much longer. I suspect I have suffered with some form of anxiety or depression since I was 12, maybe even as young as 10. In fifth grade I remember the crushing feeling as the older girls bounced basketballs off of my head during basketball camp. They thought it was hilarious. My heart still hurts and pounds when I think of it.
It wasn’t the embarrassment that was so paralyzing. It was the thoughts. “What is wrong with me that they think it’s so funny to bounce balls off of my head?”
What is wrong with me? There was something wrong, but it wasn’t with me.
Certainly those girls have long forgotten what they did to that funny, looking (wrong with me again??) red-headed girl. But for me, those thoughts of worthlessness, of hopelessness, of deep despair grew and persisted.
I could list countless times as a tween or teen that added to my “low self-esteem.” That’s what it was called then. Even I could diagnose myself with that. Somehow I always thought I would grow out of it. Then, I decided it was just because I was “shy.” So, I did everything I could to fit in. A long list of horrible life choices followed.
I felt so alone.
I decided to get help just before I got married in 2002. I had no idea at the time I was pregnant. The doctor and I chalked it up to wedding planning jitters and he sent me on my way with my first prescription. By the time the medication had a chance to get to work in my system, I found out I was pregnant and knew I needed to stop taking the medicine. Along came the wedding and I then I immediately went right into the crazy hormones of pregnancy.
My pregnancy was a breeze. I was never sick. I barely gained any weight. My belly stayed relatively tiny. I felt beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than I ever had in my entire life. Labor began right on cue – I labored mostly at home. We went to the hospital and my beautiful son was born at 11:15 pm on August 7, 2003 in a huge whirlpool birthing tub. I had given birth naturally. I was proud and I felt strong.
Then we went home. I remember thinking, “Seriously?! These people are going to let me take this tiny baby home? How do I keep it alive??”
We lived on a small acreage at the end of a long gravel road. Never one to like lots of people around, I was looking forward to having lots of uninterrupted time with my new son. My husband at the time had taken a few days off of work to help us settle in. The first couple of days I was sore and recovering from a minor infection so I didn’t feel well. But in the back of my mind I felt fear. A fear like I had never known before. It made no sense. Everything was perfect. Wasn’t it?
When my husband went back to work I noticed the panic attacks for the first time. I was gripped by terror. Of what, I didn’t know. I just knew my heart pounded and I couldn’t breathe. And the worst time was always sun down. That 5 – 7 pm time was horrendous. I needed to get supper ready. I needed to get the baby a quick meal. I needed to prepare for the next day.
But I couldn’t stop crying. And I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought my heart was going to give out. My husband never understood it.
Now I know that I had Post-Partum depression. It is different for all women. For me it was a very fearful time, full of dark thoughts and intense panic.
As my hormones settled I realized that that “sundown” time never did get better – even now, I still hate this time of day. I began to think about and research depression. It was not unheard of in my family. But it was…not talked about either. I was always the dramatic one, the sensitive one. I didn’t want to cause trouble so I learned and stayed quiet.
Then, divorce. It was tragic. It shoved me down a hole so deep I was sure I was never going to climb out. I wanted to die. I thought about how I might be able to die. I quite literally have blocked out weeks of time around that part of my life. I am not sure how I took care of my son. I’m not even sure how I survived the shredding pain in my heart and head and body.
That is when the depression became very real.