Mental Health Update


By Gabrielle. Photo of George H. Brimhall (see the P.S. for relevance).

A little warning, this post is really long. : )

On Valentine’s Day weekend we ended up throwing 3 parties. Maude had friends over on Friday night — a little “GALantine’s” gathering with a pretty dessert table and chick flicks. Then on Saturday night, Ralph went to “Mormon Prom” a formal dance for LDS high school kids in the Bay Area who are 16 years old or older. We made corsages for the girls, and after the dance, the kids came to our house to hang out and have rootbeer floats. Then on Sunday, we hosted a “Policeman Party” for our nephew’s 4th birthday. And since there was no school on Monday, we had a sleepover for 3 of the cousins. (Sometime, I need to tell you more about the policeman party. It was a cute one.)

At some point, I turned to Ben Blair and said, can you believe this? Two months ago it took everything in me to get a Christmas Tree, and this weekend we threw 3 parties and are ready for more! I’m doing so much better!

So this post is a mental health report. I’ve been very open over the past several months about the status of my brain, and I’ve received dozens of emails from readers wondering how I knew my head wasn’t working right, how I recognized when to go to the doctor, and how the medication was working. Obviously, everyone who has experienced a downturn in their mental health has their own story, but here’s mine, in case it helps.

It starts 12 years ago. In the summer of 2002, right about when baby Olive weaned, I crashed. It had been a hard year. On August 1st, 2001 we moved to New York with 2 year old Maude and 3 year old Ralph. Three weeks later, Olive was born (the day before Ralph’s 4th birthday). Three weeks after that, September 11th happened and the entire city plunged into a depression.

We moved to New York, far from our families, so Ben Blair could do his graduate work at Columbia and we were delighted to be there. But until we got there, I didn’t really understand how expensive it is to live in New York, and here we were, Ben in graduate school, and me home with 3 very young children and no design-clients in sight — the poorest we’d ever been. Ben’s parents were very generous and helped us stay afloat during the worst months. It was the first time I’d tried the stay-at-home-without-earning-an-income option, and unfortunately it wasn’t the right fit for me. Additionally, right about the time we moved to New York, my mother remarried. She married a wonderful man, and we adore him, but seeing your mother married to anyone who is not your father (or vice versa) takes some major getting used to.

So, it was a rough year. I honestly thought we were managing pretty well — we made great friends and took advantage of what the city had to offer as much as possible. But at about the 1 year mark after our move, just as I weaned baby Olive, our car broke down. An 83 Toyota Landcruiser. The fix was $800, and we flat out couldn’t do it. Apparently, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My head just shut down.

It’s like my brain was paralyzed. I couldn’t make decisions. Even little ones. For example, my dear friend Megan lived downstairs and could see something was very wrong. So she came over to take me a movie and get me out of the house. I wasn’t opposed to a movie, but it involved so many decisions (Should I change my clothes? Where are my shoes? Do I need to brush my hair? Will I need to talk on the car ride? Should I stand up now and get my shoes now, or keep sitting for awhile?) that I couldn’t do it. I cried often.

This continued for several weeks getting worse and worse until all I wanted to do was die. I thought about death almost constantly, because imagining being dead was the only relief from feeling this awful that my head could conceive of. I very much wanted to die, but at the same time I could see that wouldn’t be fair to Ben, to leave him with 3 tiny kids. At some point I tried to explain to him in all seriousness that we needed to put the kids up for adoption, because then I would be free to die. In my head it made so much sense — a brilliant plan! Oh man. I remember the look on his face as I was explaining this to him — I had a moment of clarity and thought: Oh. I’m going crazy. Something is wrong with my brain.

Because I had grown up with my Aunt Mary Lu, I was familiar with what serious mental dysfunction looked like and if there was a way to avoid that life, I really didn’t want to become insane. My moment of clarity was a huge push for me to do everything possible to get better. But. There wasn’t actually much I could do. I didn’t even know what was wrong! And poor Ben, what was he to do? He had no idea what was wrong either. He was having to handle twice the responsibilities and was worried sick about his wife.

Luckily, a woman at church saw me and recognized what was happening. She told the leader of our congregation and he brought me Marie Osmond’s book about post-partum depression — wrapped in brown paper like it was contraband. He didn’t want to embarrass me. : ) He also told us if we needed to see a doctor, that our congregation had a fund that could help out with expenses. This was a huge relief because money was especially tight at the time.

I’m a fast reader and whipped through the book in an afternoon. I confess, it was not my favorite. But. At the end of the book there was a section by a doctor and it included a quiz to help you identify if you were depressed. I took the quiz and friends, I got an A++. I was depressed! This thing I was going through had a name! Suddenly there was hope!

The book said I should see a doctor to get a physical, and if needed, see a counselor. So I did. I still couldn’t really make decisions, so Ben Blair had to do most of it — the making of the appointment, the driving me there. And it all took time. My doctor’s appointment for the physical and basic checkup had a wait time of a couple of weeks. Then we waited for blood work. Everything on my physical checked out fine, so it was recommended that I see a counselor. Another 2 week wait for an appointment. The counselor sat with me for an hour and at the end told me I was depressed. I was so mad! I told her I already knew that and that’s why I was in her office. So frustrating! She told me I would need to see a psychiatrist so I could get a medication prescription. Ugh. I just knew that would be another 2 week wait!

By this time my head was even worse. I was trying so hard to get help and make the right appointments, but the whole process was quite ridiculous, and it was so new to us that we didn’t know how to navigate it well. I didn’t think I could wait another two weeks to see a psychiatrist. So. We called my brother-in-law Kevin. He’s married to Ben’s sister Jeanette and (tada!) is a psychiatrist. He lived far from us, but gave me an evaluation over the phone (side note: as you can imagine, it’s super fun to talk about your sex drive with your brother-in-law!), confirmed the depression and then shipped me a box of samples of a medication called Wellbutrin because he knew we couldn’t afford to buy medication.

I was told it would take 2 weeks before we knew if the Wellbutrin was working. At this point I had been sick for months, and known it was depression for about 5 weeks — the idea of having to wait two more weeks was so discouraging. What if it didn’t work? What if we needed a different medication? Ugh and more ugh!

But here’s the happy ending: two weeks went by, and one morning I woke up and was… normal. I didn’t want to die. I got dressed. I made a list of tasks and got through them. I ran errands. I had conversations. I didn’t cry for no particular reason. I wasn’t grinning all the time, or falsely happy, or overly happy. I was just my regular self.

It was awesome!! The Wellbutrin worked wonderfully for me, and I didn’t even notice any side effects. The best case scenario. I know what a blessing that is. Some people try for years to find the right medication or combination of medications. And some never quite find the perfect fit. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be?

In fact, one very clear memory from that time was realizing that my depression might be mild compared to others. The understanding came during the appointment with the counselor that I found so irritating. During our hour together she repeatedly assured me that how I was feeling wasn’t my fault. And I remember thinking: Duh. Of course it’s not my fault. Why would I ever choose this? But as I took the train home, it occurred to me that there were people out there who were experiencing what I was experiencing, but they felt guilt about it as well! Making it even worse!! And that broke my heart.

Even back then, a dozen years ago, I was very open about what I was going through, and many people told me that they thought it was probably related to weaning the baby. No doubt my hormones were at least partially out of whack, but honestly, I think it would have happened even without the weaning. It was just a particularly difficult time.

I took the Wellbutrin for about 3 months, until the samples ran out. By that time, I had found a full time job as a senior art director in an ad agency, and our life was very different. We had a decent income. I was being creative daily. I was getting out of the house. Life was good!

Cut to August 2013, a dozen years later.

A few weeks after the move to Oakland I could see I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t depressed yet, but I could tell my head was pretty fragile. I tried to take it easy. I tried to get help around the house. I tried to eliminate all unnecessary tasks. But it didn’t really work. It was like this: I was dealing with something like 250% of my normal mental/physical workload, so I eliminated a bunch of stuff. But that basically took it down to 200% of my normal workload. Still way too much.

So we started looking for a doctor in case things got worse. I was open about seeking help. I was sure the process would be easier than the first time. But alas, it wasn’t! We called 15 doctors — and literally every single one had a message that they weren’t accepting new patients. Part of the problem was we weren’t desperate yet. After several rejections we’d take a break, and then I’d have a few good days and we’d forget about it. And then I’d have a horrible day and we’d try to track down a doctor again. We did this for weeks.

Eventually I realized I was once again desiring death, thinking about it all the time. Again, death was the only relief my head could find; the only scenario that offered peace to my broken brain. Like you might expect, the weird conversations happened again. I would have talks with Ben Blair about how my desire to die was a conscious, reasoned choice; that I’d experienced everything I want to experience. That he needed to let me die.

I realize that if you haven’t experienced anything like this before, the idea that I wanted to die might freak you out. But amazingly it’s actually quite normal for someone who is depressed. Isn’t that awful? And I should also note, that though I was desiring death almost all the time, I wasn’t specifically suicidal — meaning I wasn’t looking up ways to kill myself on the internet. Though I suppose that may have been the next phase. : (

Finally, in October we found an available psychiatrist and set an appointment — with a 2 week wait as usual. I went to the appointment and told her what was happening and that I thought I should probably take Wellbutrin. She talked to me for an hour and a half and then told me I needed to take Wellbutrin. I confess, I was once again very irritated because I felt like I was jumping through unnecessary hoops, but I was also simply relieved that I was finally getting help — and a prescription.

We filled the prescription and what do you know? Two weeks later I was feeling pretty fantastic. And by fantastic I mean normal.

I take half a pill each day. The doctor recommended that I ease my body onto the medication by taking just half a pill for the first few days. At that point, I tried a full pill and felt really funny so went back to half and stayed there. I take the medication at night before I go to bed. It works. I know it doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me.

Friends, this post is not a call for sympathy. I mean it. I am doing great! I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, and really, truly, compared to many people with mental illness, I have it easy as pie. If I’m ever in a bad way again and can’t seem to get help, I’ll be sure to share. But for now, I’m feeling wonderful. I’m back to my productive self and knocking out projects right and left. It feels great!

A bit of Q&A:

Q. Between the first episode and the episode 12 years apart, did I have depression?

A. Sometimes. But just for a few days. The neural path that was burned in my head during the first depression was apparently burned deep. And anytime I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed — say the week before I put on Alt Summit — I’ll find myself yearning to be dead in a mild way (if there is such a thing). But then it goes away when the stress disappears.

A few different times over those dozen years I had conversations with Ben Blair where I would basically give a heads up: Hey. I might need to see a doctor. My heads a little off. So we would be on the watch and start looking into doctors, but then a couple days later I would be fine again, and we’d forget about the doctor hunt.

Q. How long will I be on medication?

A. Who knows? Possibly forever. I feel no side effects, so I’m not in a big hurry to get off of it. For many reasons, this transition (from France to Oakland) has hit me particularly hard. We’re 7 months into the move, and I’m just now feeling like myself. I need some time to catch up on life. Right now my guess is I’ll be taking the medicine for a year minimum, but again, I’m not in a hurry to get off it. I’m just grateful it works! What a blessing.

Q. Is it always that hard to get medical help if you’re suffering from depression?

A. My assumption is a giant NO. I think I just don’t know what I’m doing. In both of my cases I had recently moved and didn’t have a family doctor yet. I assume getting help is much smoother and faster if you already have a medical team in place. I also wonder if I could have gotten help quicker in an emergency room situation. I honestly don’t know. Having gone through this twice, I’m still perplexed at how to make the process more efficient. I’m sure there’s someone out there that knows exactly how to go about getting help in the fastest way possible, but I’m not that person.

If I think about it too long, I get angry. It shouldn’t be this hard to get help. Depression is extremely common, and there is known medication that works. It should be so straightforward to get medical aid. I’m doubly compassionate for those going through this that don’t have financial, family, church or social networks as support.


Okay, Friends, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal! That was a looong report.

And now it’s your turn. How has mental health (or lack of it) touched your life? Perhaps you’ve had an experience that is very similar or completely different from mine? Do you feel like you would recognize it if you needed to see a doctor? If you did think you needed help, would you know how/where to find it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. — The image at top is George H. Brimhall. He is Ben Blair’s great, great grandfather. He was the president of a university, but also suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide. I think it’s important to remember that mental illness can take many forms, and just because someone is highly functional, doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to depression.

356 thoughts on “Mental Health Update”

  1. I think you’re doing a wonderful thing by sharing your story, even if it helps just one person suffering to find help or feel hope. Well done.

    I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I do think I’ve had a bout or two with very mild depression–nothing that needed medication but just an overwhelming feeling of being helpless and sort of on an out-of-control train. I just felt vey much lost and hated my life, which is so far from my normal. Thankfully just getting some extra help from my husband and kids and letting a few things go helped me over the hump. (I wrote about it here, if you’re interested:

    I’m glad you’re feeling better and hope it continues!

  2. Gabrielle- this is one of my favorite posts you have ever done. I can only imagine how hard it is to throw yourself out there for the whole world to see. Thank you for working to de-stigmatize mental health. You are a hero to me.

  3. I appreciate the blog post, and am left with tears. We are a week away from seeing a therapist for the first time for my 7 yr old son. We are scared, anxious, and confused. We had to wait 2.5 months for his initial evaluation. I am hopeful that things will get better, that he gets the help he needs. I’m just so sad for him, 7 yr olds should never have to worry abt the things he worries abt. OCD is tormenting. It makes me hopeful to see that people with mental illnesses can feel normal and happy with help. It makes me hopeful! Thanks.

    1. Hang in there! There is hope. My husband has severe OCD that is maintained with medication and counseling. He was diagnosed at age 10 and has dealt with it for the last 20 years.

      So take heart, because you have sought help. That is huge in addressing the problem.

      We are happily married and are living very full lives, despite the OCD. I love my husband just how he is, OCD and all.

      Hang in there, mama!

      1. Thank you!! Things were always a really big deal for him, he was always my “hard” kid. After he started pulling his hair out and he ran away from home, I knew we had a real problem and that he wasn’t just a strong willed quirky kid. When we learned that he might have OCD I was devastated. I wondered and still do if it will get worse, how much worse, will he not have to worry all the time, will he be able to have a family some day, will he be able to have a successful career, will he find happiness and joy out of life and relationships. It’s so good to hear that you and your husband are happy, even with OCD, it makes me hopeful! Thank you!

      2. My husband has severe OCD anxiety and depression. Finally getting real help and being open and transparent with people in our lives had been cry healing. The “death is the only relief” is so familiar but I isn’t always know he felt this way. When he confessed this, my heart was just breaking. 3 kids and one on the way, owning two homes, in a job that was making his issues worse…he was in a bad place.

    2. My brother was diagnosed with OCD when he was 13. He was a ritual repeater with intrusive thoughts. Tough stuff. Today he is 35, happy, healthy and expecting his first child. Andrea, I promise you that your son can live a normal happy life. :)

      1. Thank you!!! This is so comforting to hear, you have no idea. My heart just aches for my son right now, so thank you for giving me some assurance that help can actually help!

    3. My daughter who is 11 has OCD. When it first flaired up in a really intrusive way a year and a half ago, I didn’t realize for a while what was going on and it was terrifying! A friend whose husband is a psychiatrist insisted that he meet with my girl. He prescribed her medication. It took a while to find the right kind and dosage, (she also has an allergy to corn so we have to get it from a compounding pharmacy) but it has helped so much I can’t even believe it. She’s still the same girl, but without the crippling anxiety and anger. I really feel for you. It just breaks your heart to see it, and I’ve had so much fear about her future, but really she is doing so well that that is starting to fade for me. Best of luck to you!

      1. Oh, thank you so much! The anger is so hard to deal with, I feel like he just wakes up angry, he can be so mean to his family. I have often thought, where did he learn to treat people like this? My husband and I don’t talk to each other or him like that. He must just be feeling so terrible inside. Things feel so hard right now, I am so wanting for him to get some help, I am amazed at times at how much this has affected our family. Things go well when he isn’t worrying, but when the switch turns off for him, we all suffer. I am nervous about medication and the side effects. He has changed so much this last year it breaks my heart. He has a hard time wearing soccer shoes now and often times doesn’t want to play because of it. He used to be so carefree and a fantastic little baller. It makes me so sad. He won’t give hugs with open hands, he balls them up because he doesn’t want to touch people. Thank you for this bit of encouragement! I am so happy for you and your daughter!

        1. yes, the anger has been the worst for us, she was even having very violent outbursts, and her anger flashed out a lot at her twin brother, which was really affecting him, so it was REALLY bringing our family down. It just felt crazy in our house. Desperate times. She also saw a therapist for a while which was very helpful, because we all learned how to talk about it. her therapist had her name her ocd, this other thing inside her that she was having a hard time controlling. Sadie calls her ocd “the challenger” which was a strangely perfect name. So that’s how we talk about. I also was very very nervous about medication and side effects. In fact I would say I was really against it, but our psychiatrist explained it in a way that made me feel better. He said, you know, ten is a wonderful age and she deserves to enjoy 10 and not be struggling so hard. He was so right. And honestly it was so bad that i was absolutely desperate. Like I said, we had to try a few different medications, they just sometimes work differently on different folks, but I found it pretty easy to tell what was working and not working for her, and she was articulate about it as well, we and the dr were in constant conversation about it. I really think that you will find something that makes a big difference. Not a 100 percent solve, but a livable, happy life for your boy. And he deserves to enjoy being seven, right? Its going to take a little while, but I feel certain that 6-12 months from now, things will be better…

    4. My son was diagnosed with OCD at age 7 as well. He is almost 13 and doing great. He knows that he has it and can tell us when he is struggling. He remains on medication which he may or may not wean off of someday. A book that was recommended to us was “Talking back to OCD”. My husband and I read it to learn more about the condition and my son read it about age 11. Hang in there! Things WILL get better for all and he is so lucky to have parents that are willing to seek help!

      1. Colleen, thank you so much for the book recommendation, i am buying it tonight! I would love to ask you about how you told/explained to your son what was going on with him. Is there a way I can email you? Again, thank you! I don’t know anyone who has a child with OCD and I would love to hear more about your experience., especially because your son was 7 at the time too!

        1. Andrea,
          I am so glad that I could help! I will have to figure out how I can message you directly without putting my email on a blog. (I am not a technology wiz) .

          1. OK. Let’ s try this: will the moderator of this blog please forward my email to Andrea? Thank you!
            We will wait and see. : )

    5. Andrea, my daughter was diagnosed in third grade she is in 8th grade now. she is receiving therapy called exposure and response and it has been a life saver. I would be happy to talk to you about our journey.

  4. You’re amazing. You really are. I loved this post. I’m so glad you found what works for you.

    When we were living in Utah we did not have enough money. My husband started having major panic attacks about it and eventually got some anti anxiety medication in addition to a recue medication to take in the midst of an attack. He got in to a doctor and had medication the same day, it was super fast. He only needed it for a few months but I was so grateful for his sake that the medication worked. It was awful to see him go through that.

  5. I hope you know how deeply important that blog post is. As someone who suffered from depression and an eating disorder for over six years, I thank you. I, with a lot of wonderful counseling (individual, group and even art counseling!) and anti-depressants for a time, am myself again. I go through dips, but nothing that a little extra rest and self-care can’t fix. But I have seen friends go through incredibly deep depressions (with suicide or suicidal attempts) and I know that sharing stories really does make people feel less alone, more hopeful. Especially coming from such a prominant online presence…your beautiful family, your beautiful life, your career, your passions…and yet…depression can be part of anyone’s life. Thank you, thank you, for sharing your story.

  6. Thinking you are so brave to share this with us. I lost my brother to sucide at 17. Mental health is really not a subject people like to talk about and it really needs to be. Thank you for sharing and putting it out there!

  7. Wow! THANK YOU so much for your honesty. It brought me to tears. My husband has battled with depression and anxiety for years, tried many different medicines and is actually on one that seems to be helping him feel normal again. It can be such a battle for anyone suffering from mental illness.

  8. You are a gem. I had postpartum depression with my first son. My best friend told me that I wasn’t myself after not showing up at a birthday dinner for a friend. I remember yelling at her saying “Of course, I’m not myself, I just had a baby!” When I look back at pictures of that time I totally can tell that I was not in a good place, but at the time I did not see it in myself which is a little scary. It is so great that you recognized it. I’m so glad we live in a world where seeking therapy and being open about ourselves is becoming more acceptable.

  9. I’m nearly speechless. You’re incredibly brave to bare your soul and share your experience. Thank you for sharing this and so glad to hear you’re feeling well these days.

  10. Thanks for this post Gabrielle. Such a difficult thing to find words for and no doubt it was difficult for you to write. I for one am so glad that we live in a time where post-parting depression is recognized and it’s possible to get help. Is there proven evidence that depression is a genetic trait?

  11. While I luckily have personally never suffered from any mental illness I am very glad for posts such as these. It lets people keep an open mind about the subject even if it doesn’t touch them directly. Better to be somewhat knowledgeable about it than think “Oh I don’t have to learn or worry about that since I’m excluded”. Thanks Gabby!

  12. A big, big thank you for sharing your story. About six weeks after my baby was born – and seven weeks after my husband returned from his deployment to Afghanistan – I knew something was wrong. I knew life was supposed to be harder with a baby (it was!), and I knew reintegration was hard (it was!), but it wasn’t either of those things that was weighing me down. I felt like I was drowning. That’s the only way I can describe it. I had this inescapable feeling at every moment of every day that some collector was going to come get me. Not like a bill collector, but some collector. I don’t know how to explain it. I felt like I was one half-step in front of doom and disaster, and that cell by cell, I was being sucked into it.

    After breaking down in tears over nothing for the billionth time, I told my husband I needed help. I think it terrified him – which I wasn’t prepared for. I thought the hard part would be getting help, not in telling my incredibly supportive, loving, nurturing partner thatI needed help. And convincing him I was serious.

    Two weeks later we were at my 8 week OB check up, and my midwife was delivering a baby, so I was meeting with another midwife and OB. The midwife kept asking me questions “How sad are you?” and “Are you too sad?” “Would you say you’re crying more than is normal?” “Are you more nervous than you should be?” and I burst into tears because these questions were impossible. Didn’t I just say I know something is wrong and it’s off and I’m sad and afraid and anxious and I can’t shake it? And she was busy doing her charts and looking at my blood pressure and reading something and not listening to me and I was trying to be helpful and answer her questions, but I had to know what “normal” was to do it. I don’t know! It was my first baby, how was I supposed to know what normal is? So I said that, and she said, “I can’t tell you that. You have to tell me that,” and I said I don’t know! I know this isn’t normal for me. And she said that it’s normal after a baby to be more fragile, so are you more upset than that? And I just slumped over and burst into tears. It was just too much.

    I guess that answered her question.

    Knowing that other people are open about how sickness happens (even brain sickness! and heart sickness!) and brave about talking about it and dealing with it has really helped me do the same. So if anyone is scanning the comments wondering if maybe this is you, too, all I can say is that if you’re even wondering, know we’re all on your side, you’re not alone over there, and all of us? We’ve all felt that way too. And just like we’re feeling better now, so can you. Really and truly.

  13. Beautiful post! I recognized the picture right away when I opened the post. Your Ben Blair and I must be distant cousins because George H. Brimhall is my great-great-great Grandfather too!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for talking openly about mental health. I lost my brother to suicide a few years ago and people don’t talk about mental illness nearly enough, there is so much stigma around it. I’m glad you were able to seek help and that you are doing well.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing that Gabrielle, it can’t be easy. I have personally only suffered from mild SAD but all I can say is that it is amazing all you do despite having depression. I mean 6 kids! An amazing design and blogging career! And conferences! And international house moves! That’s enough stress for a few lifetimes if you ask me so I find it really impressive. Also, it’s interesting that you didn’t find it difficult to identify when to see a doctor because I’ve got relatives who, after 12 years of mental health issues (depression? bipolar? who knows?) cannot even think of going to a doctor and we cannot force because she is an adult! Very frustrating.
    Thank you for sharing again :)
    Alice x

    1. Seeing someone who is sick, but who refuses help (or doesn’t understand they need help) is difficult and frustrating. I hope your relative has a change of heart.

  16. You are an amazing and brave woman, Gabrielle. Thank you for being so open and taking away the stigma from mental illness. I’m so glad you are doing better!

  17. Gabrielle,

    Thanks for the honesty. Been through something similar. This is a time when one realizes how great spousal support is, when it has to be a difficult/odd time for them as well.

    On a separate note, appreciate the comment about a parent being married to someone who isn’t your father/mother- even though the spouse is great.

    Words like this help heal souls..or at least move them forward one more step.


  18. Hi Gabrielle,
    I don’t even remember how I found your blog when I began reading it a couple of years ago but I am a regular visitor now. This post alone is reason enough for me to read it every day for as long as you write it (which I hope is a LONG time :-) To be so brave and honest about something so important absolutely changes, and perhaps even saves, lives. I have struggled with depression a couple of times and I try to be as open about that as I can with people but it’s hard – both for me and for others I think. For you to be so explicit and share all of the details of your story is such an incredibly selfless thing to do. I cannot say enough how this empowers all of your readers. I am *so glad* that you are doing better both for you and your family, as well as for more selfish reasons. Because yours is a voice that needs to be heard – your story in your words. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing it. May you continue to be well and remember that you have a whole community of people that care about you.

    1. I have to second every thing Sarah said. (Thank you, Sarah!)

      I’ve read your blog for a few years, but had never seen this post…missed it somehow. This was just what I need to stumble upon today.

      Thank you.

  19. Finding access to good mental health care is maddening, confounding, sometimes impossible — particularly without insurance, but even with it! My story is too long to go into here, but the short version is, my mother had an extremely severe breakdown when I was in my mid-twenties and I had to navigate “the system” alone, in crisis. It was the most horrifying experience I have ever been through. I spent nearly a decade trying to help her find the right doctors, who could prescribe the right mix of medications. Every medication failed. Some medications interacted with others to make things worse. No one could figure out what was causing what — even her diagnosis changed with each doctor. Some of them even admitted to me that many psychiatric medications are discovered because of an “off label” effect –essentially, the drugs are invented and prescribed for something entirely unrelated to mental health, and positive mental health effects are observed, so they are added to the list of psychiatric drugs. It’s all such an experiment! Along the way, my mother lost her personality, had terrible side effects, needed to be cared for and watched almost constantly at times. We finally found the right person who was able to see her through a long, painful, grueling path toward health. That doctor alone now holds a balance in my mother’s name of more than $60,000 that we will never be able to pay. But, she returned to us and is, miraculously(!) now medication-free. I admire and respect her so deeply for pulling through those horrific years. People told me they could never do what I did, that I was doing too much — I think many of them thought she was taking advantage of me. So many people don’t understand that this is an illness and a chemical imbalance, and that telling sufferers to “snap out of it” is something like telling a diabetic to “snap out of” needing insulin. I will never be the person I was before these experiences. And I am so grateful to you, Gabby, for being open and honest in this way. (As a side note, my mother is an artist — it is both painful and fascinating to consider the ways her work was affected in powerful ways during this journey, both negatively and positively! A topic for another day.)

    1. “Finding access to good mental health care is maddening, confounding, sometimes impossible — particularly without insurance, but even with it! ”

      Agreed! So grateful for your comment, Amy.

  20. I dealt with a very, very serious depression in my early 20s. I loved reading this post and nodding along with your observations – so much rings true to me. I felt so bewildered and alone during that period, it’s amazing to learn that others have experienced similar things. Even thinking about death! When I was depressed, I never considered myself suicidal… yet I thought about dying all. the. time. I told myself it was just existential musing (I was a 20-year-old philosophy student), but in hindsight, that was not my brain’s normal functioning.

    This will sound trite, but coming through that depression, I learned to put my happiness first. I fought so hard against depression, I’m now super-committed to all those sanity-saving things, like yoga and sleep and actually taking your vacations (sadly, not the norm in my profession). Not to mention being much, much kinder with myself than I ever was before!

  21. i have to confess that reading about how well wellbutrin worked for you made me cry a little. i am so very glad that it has been such a help to you, but it (and the other dozen medications i’ve tried) didn’t work for me. i was diagnosed with depression after having my first baby, 10 years ago, and immediately i was put on medication. i’ve tried zoloft, wellbutrin, lexapro, prozac, and lots of others. when i was suicidal medication helped me to feel like i wasn’t in danger of hurting myself, but other than that meds haven’t really helped me. for the last few years i haven’t taken any medication and have tried to manage my low-grade depression episodes with yoga, taking it easy, meditation, and healthy eating. sometimes these things help and sometimes they don’t. i have to admit that it can be incredibly discouraging to be eating healthy, exercising, taking supplements, meditating, working on positive thinking, and still sink into a depression. i have come to accept that depression will probably be a part of my life for the rest of my life, and sometimes i’m ok with that and sometimes i am not. but i have hope. elder holland’s talk in the last general conference gave me an incredible amount of comfort.
    even though my experience with depression is ongoing, i’m so glad for people like you who respond to medication or who have been able to rid themselves of depression through other means. that gives me hope too! depression is a horrible disease, and i’m so glad you talk about it so openly. thanks.

    1. I wept through Elder Holland’s talk. I’m so glad he gave it. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself and wish you hope and peace.

    2. Hi Jo,

      I’m not sure if you’ll see this post but I was compelled to reach out after reading your story. Several of my family members have also struggled with depression for many years. My aunt has had a lot of success with using an essential oil blend called Valor, which is helping her wean off of Lexapro. After a lifetime of anxiety and depression, most recently spurred on by her husband’s almost terminal brain tumor, it has helped her regain some quality of life. My cousin tells me how different her mom is when she uses the oil on her wrists twice a day – she actually has a desire to get things done, and has more energy, is more willing to go with her on a run instead of just staying inside alone. I’m part of a private educational group on Facebook where over 35,000 people discuss how they’ve used essential oils to help them with a plethora of things, depression being one. I read a story about a veteran with PTSD and TBI using several oils for a few days and speaking positively to his wife for the first time in six months, followed by spending an entire day at a polling place (stressful and crowded), and coming home with a smile on his face – something she said he hadn’t done in two years. I know I don’t know you, but I truly believe these oils could help you. I’d love to add you to the group if you want to learn more – you can send me an email at I hope this was okay to post here, Gabrielle. I know your blog helps so many women, and I hope to be able to do the same.

      1. hi marlo!
        i felt i should come back and look at this post, and then i saw your comment! thank you so much, i’m going to try it!

  22. Thank you so much for sharing and letting everyone know that you can be a “normal” person and have depression. My husband and my daughter both have depression so I am very familiar with the effects. Thank you again so much for opening up about this issue, so many people still don’t want to talk about it. My husband’s family doesn’t even believe that it exists-so that is a fun wrinkle for us. Just keep moving forward.

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I finally got help with medication in 2001 as well. Although living in California, the events of 9/11 pushed me over my edge. Having two young children and moving into a new home, I fantasized about death often. Not how to commit suicide. Just being dead. Escape. Making decisions was also a problem for me. Growing up, I just assumed feeling sad and crying was normal. Since taking an antidepressant, I have realized how “un” normal that is. I feel “normal” now. Centered. Good.

  24. Thank you so much for this post. I struggled with the idea of taking medication for my depression even as the professional I sought out for help told me repeatedly I was depressed. I thought I should be able to work through it if I tried hard enough. I had the same ‘I should just be dead’ thoughts. My therapist told me once a week for six months that I should consider medication before I finally got a prescription for Zoloft. After 10 days on it I decided I would take it every day for the rest of my life if needed; I finally felt normal again. I have since weaned myself off of it, and also gotten back on it when I realized it was necessary. I too am so thankful I was able to find the right medication and dosage so quickly.

  25. I suffered from depression after my parents got a divorce and I had just had my first baby (dramatic experience, three years ago, it has been about a year and a half since I have felt better). It was a big struggle to get out of it. I am out of it now, and I am trying everything in my power to keep it that way (exercising, eating healthy and staying spiritually strong, though I recognize all these things don’t necessarily prevent or get one out of depression, it just eventually happened for me). I loved reading your post because something that always bothered me about my Mom as a kid is she thought she was going to die. Ever sense I could remember, I have had all these fears about her dying (and now loved ones passing away) and it has always lasted with me. I knew she had anxiety, but I did not understand everything about it or the depth of it and how it impacted me as a child and now as an adult. I am grateful you shared your experience, because it helps me understand what was going on with my Mom. It put it all together for me. I really appreciate your honesty and it does make a difference, I think to be able to know others have gone through tough times can ease feeling alone. Thanks for making mental health matter of fact and understandable for others. You are the best!

  26. Thank you so much for your thorough detail of your experience. I found it interesting how mine is much different. Symptoms etc. I don’t share mine on my blog because they are pretty embarrassing, but maybe it could help someone else.

    I too have used meds twice to get me through really tough depression, and am so grateful for modern medicine. I can’t imagine waiting all that time though, that is really difficult.

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  27. I think it takes a ton of strength to share what you have. There is a stigma attached to mental health, unfortunately.

    I’m not sure if this is an option for you, but when I was struggling with mental health, I spoke with my gynecologist and she was able to suggest and prescribe a generic form of prozac. I didn’t want to bring it up at all because it was embarrassing and I felt like a failure, but I’m so glad I did. It has been so helpful, and so nice to feel normal – not extremely ecstatic, but normal.

    I’m sorry you had to jump through so many hoops to get the help you needed.

    1. Good advice, Jaime. While I have rarely had a family practice doctor in place as an adult, I have almost always had regular visits with an obgyn or midwife. Good to remember they can help with this too!

      1. just wanted to quickly chime in on this too. I also called my OB and was able to get Wellbutrin that way. Like you, I knew it was depression and didn’t want to go through the hassle of seeing & waiting for a new doctor (psychiatrist) whom I don’t regularly see. My OB still fills my prescription with no problem. Hopefully in the future that route will be faster for you!

  28. I already said it on Instagram, but I have to say it again – thank you for sharing your journey and struggles.

    Depression has been present in my life since I was born – in my Mom, who is manic depressive. I’ve been there for her ‘rollercoaster’ as she calls it, and I’ve seen its effects firsthand. I’ve spent most of my life hoping/praying that I don’t experience it too. It’s scary and when it’s close to home, it’s hard to understand.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Thank you for making it more approachable to me, even though I live so closely to it.

  29. “Thank you for your honesty” is an understatement but it’s all I’ve got so thank you.

    My story of mental health challenges is similar but different to yours. Aren’t they/we all? I too am greatly helped by medication and am in no hurry to stop taking it.

    My main challenge since having kids 8 yrs ago is Anxiety (sometimes free floating and sometimes super specific). And my biggest hurdle with this challenge is how it affects my feelings and/or dealings with my immediate family. I know I’m sick when I don’t get joy from my kids because when I’m well I take great pleasure in being with them and getting to be their mom.(not all the time, of course, but you know what I mean) So here’s my big questions after having read your story:

    # 1 How did you handle parenting 3 small kids, and later 6 bigger kids, while struggling? Do you hide your challenges from them? Are you able to still be the kind of mom you want to be while sick?

    #2 How does your husband manage these times? Must be pretty scary for him to hear you talk about death! How is he able to keep it together, and get the support he needs, while you struggle?

    best and thanks again!!


    1. Good questions, Jenny.

      The first time this happened, my kids were very young and I think they were mostly shielded from what was happening. But this time around, I was quite open with everyone and talked to them about how I just wasn’t operating at my normal speed. For example, when Olive turned 12 in August, I was supposed to take her on a trip, but I simply couldn’t do it, so it turned into a Daddy-daughter trip instead.

      I also said no to almost all get togethers and parties — even casual visits and playdates — for several months. Not very fun for the kids, but they were so patient about it and I’ll be forever grateful.

      Ben Blair really picked up the slack both in New York and here in Oakland. I can’t even imagine getting through this without him. He takes on the social/public roles — like attending parent teacher conferences, and I stick to the duties that required less attention, like laundry.

      This last time, we also hung out a ton and simple acknowledged I wasn’t doing well and our adventures needed a pause. We’d tuck the kids in bed and then just watch TV or surf or talk or run an errand. We’d let the house improvements wait, and let the laundry sit unfolded till another day.

  30. Thank you so much for your honesty! I appreciate any efforts to normalize the conversation about mental health, and your openness and vulnerability in sharing your story is so impressive.

    I’m currently trying to address my own mental health issues and it has been such a long and frustrating process! I can’t believe how discouraging it is to finally try to reach out for help and to be blocked at every turn. Thankfully I’ve got an excellent support system that is helping me to pick up and dust myself off, but dang – it shouldn’t be this hard.

    It’s both oddly encouraging and really angering to hear that your experience was a similar one. But hearing how you finally got the help you needed gives me hope! Thanks again.

  31. What an amazing post – thank you so much for sharing. So many people suffer – in silence – from this terrible disease. Thank you for so eloquently sharing your story.

  32. oh girlfriend. thank you so much for laying it all out.

    i’ve been wondering for a long long time how/why/if i should put my own experiences out there on my blog. I’ve suffered from depression/anxiety/S.A.D. for a long long time. It’s very tied to my hormonal state, and I’ve always had really bad PMS.

    I’ve been on and off different meds, but i’m crazy sensitive to meds in general, so i’ll try something, feel weird and then give up. I was on Lexapro for nearly a year, and that helped a lot (i was SO. MUCH. NICER.), but I also gained weight on it and wanted to eat double my normal portions. Also, I started getting weird brain zaps in my head.

    So I went off, (this was a couple yrs ago) and I have felt pretty decent since then. I know to expect the depression in winter. This year I expected the onslaught after Christmas, and it came, right on schedule, and instead of beating myself up like I normally do, I told myself and my husband, I don’t feel well, and that’s ok.

    Ah, the death thing! At my worst, I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I wasn’t planning anything, I just wanted…not to exist anymore. Which was unbelievable to me because I have the most darling little girl, for whom I have longed my ENTIRE life and truly the nicest, most amazing husband who ever drew breath.

    Interestingly, WOO TMI ALERT!, last month I missed a menstrual cycle for the first time (no, not preggo). I’m 44. And I felt pretty great actually. No PMS. If that’s any indication at all what menopause might be like for me, hey I’m on board!

    I worry about my daughter, she’s showing signs of anxiety already. I think I had it from a very young age as well, but I never vocalized it the way she does, I kept it inside. So I’m grateful that she’s able to verbalize all of her feelings, but sad that she worries all the time. I feel like it’s my fault. But truth is, I come from a family of high strung, really sensitive individuals and we’re just wired a bit differently.

    So we roll on, doing the best we can. I eat a ton of salmon and omega 3 fatty acid oils in the winter. What a lovely lovely post. Thank you Gabrielle!

    1. “But truth is, I come from a family of high strung, really sensitive individuals and we’re just wired a bit differently.”

      This statement really resonates with me when I think about my daughter, my husband, his mom and dad, his maternal grandmother … it’s a long line of people who are very similar to the way you describe your family.

    2. Melissa — Also have your Vitamin D levels checked. Even if you’re in the OK range but it’s a little low, you might try a small increase of 2,000 MG — don’t go above the Vitamin D council’s recommendation of 5,000 MG.

      I thought Vitamin D only kept your bones safe and then my doc discovered mine was low. After the first dose, I had energy! I was able to be happy again. I started looking up more about it and although Vitamin studies are all done so differently it’s hard to determine much it does appear to help with depression. I used to think I have a bit of SAD. Now I realize that I need the D.

  33. Thank you for sharing your story. As I’ve grown older and more open with my experience with depression and anxiety I’ve come to realize that it is not uncommon and it is nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t feel so alone knowing that others are or have experienced similar things.

    I think the hardest thing for me is recognizing what is happening to me while it is happening. And the shame. It is hard to be a “recovering” perfectionist and depressed! I tend to push and push and push through it, but since having my son I’ve learned I can’t push myself to the edge any more. It was within weeks of weaning him that I was hit and hit hard. I think I was already on the edge (I was afraid to leave the house with him alone because somehow I didn’t think I could manage . . . ). One night I slapped his sweet little 2-year old face out of exhaustion and frustration. I completely crumpled. I was horrified and I called my mother and husband and told them I needed help. I immediately called a therapist I had worked with years before and shortly there after met with a new physician who has helped me work on the “medical” side of things. Unfortunately, I haven’t tolerated any of the medicines for depression (and anxiety) very well but I have had a lot of luck with supplementing with amino acids (under the care of my physician). After experimenting with not taking the amino acids (in my case 5-HTP and DLPA)–and feeling the black dog nipping at my heels again–it is clear that I will likely have to take them for a good long while if not indefinitely.

  34. My husband has suffered from anxiety and depression. The first seven years of our marriage was so difficult. I didn’t understand that he couldn’t help feeling that way and we were both miserable. We nearly separated but decided to seek help first. Through counseling, medication, and educating myself on mental likeness we have created a wonderful marriage full of love, respect and mutual support. I am so grateful for modern medicine and an open mind. We are approaching 16 years of marriage and I am thankful daily for what we have created. When he found a medication that helped him he told me that for the first time he felt like he was controlling his life and not being controlled by life.

    1. ooo, I needed to hear this right now Angela! My husband and I have been married 4 yrs (together for 10). When our daughter was 9 mo (now almost 2) he spent three weeks in a centre for anxiety depression. We are each seeing a therapist and doing couple counselling but it is really hard! And sometimes I’m not sure we’re going to make it through. While there is some great stuff coming out of our therapy that I know will help us in the long run I have really struggled to stay positive and supportive and learn how to be a parent at the same time. It’s nice to hear you came out on the other side stronger:)

      Gabrielle, we’re in Canada and reading this post and the comments I’m so thankful for all the access to medicine and professional we have access to just through our health care system and my work benefits. I have to say, it felt like it took us a long time to get on the right track and we’re still working on it but when I don’t take it a day at a time it’s all very terrifying and overwhelming. Thank you for your honesty!

  35. Thanks for sharing your story. I, too, have struggled with depression off and on for years. I’ve learned to watch for the warning signs and get help. My triggers are often hormonal or major life events. It feels like drowning to me. Like I’m in a very deep ocean and I have to fight so hard to barely keep my face above water and am so tempted to let myself sink. Most of the time I am healthy, happy, and content, but I know it lurks in the deep recesses of my mind.

  36. Thank you for sharing. I’m a Nurse Practitioner, primary for women’s health. I would say about one third to one half of the women I see have mental illness of some kind – anxiety and depression being the most common. Primary care providers are providing the bulk of mental health help for many people. Psychiatrists are therapists are getting harder and harder to see, because of availability.
    Thank you for speaking about this and normalizing the process of getting help and the reality of depression. I hope that anyone who is thinking about getting help, if they can’t get in to see a therapist of some kind, would reach out to their primary care provider.

  37. I was particularly struck by you talking about the neural pathway that was burned into your brain. And maybe how once it’s burned deep you might get back into that groove quicker than you did before.

    I’ve had a similar experience, but not with depression. At least I didn’t think it was depression. I lived overseas volunteering and the stress of that year left me feeling like a different person – oftentimes now seeing and focusing incessently on the negative rather than the positive. I call is a bad habit of mind that I can’t seem to break. It’s been 4 years and it is less drastic, but still there.

    Meditation seems to be a good way to smooth out those grooves. It is all the rage right now it seems. I like this proactive approach to mental health, but it does intimidate me for some reason.

    We all need to talk more about mental health and I appreciate you opening up the conversation. Thank you.

    1. At a recent doctor appointment I brought up the seeking-death-soothing-thought-pattern and my doctor mentioned it’s possible to burn a new pathway. I’d like to try at some point.

  38. You’re such an admirable woman Gabrielle, you’re so smart to understand what has happened to you, to recognise it and give it a place. I’m so happy you’re well again. xxx

  39. I’m so grateful you’re sharing this. I feel that so many of us moms go through serious mental health issues and don’t share because we’re supposed to hold up the world. Thank you for this! Sending you hugs from Minnesota!

  40. Great post. So honest and eye-opening. Maybe this combined with elder Holland’s talk on depression will help make the topic less taboo and help more find real relief!

  41. Thank you for such a brave, honest and hopeful post. I’ve been wondering how you were doing (hoping well!) over the last few months, and always was in awe of how much you had on the go and still do. It’s really good to hear that you are feeling so much better and taking care of yourself. Lovely post :)

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