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”
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been struggling lately and thinking about going on medication, but after reading this, I actually feel like I probably don’t need to. I don’t think about death often, if at all (maybe once a month for one second, but that’s it) and I don’t have trouble making decisions about basic things. I’m sad for a few days each month (right when I get my period) because we had a miscarriage last August and have been trying to get pregnant ever since, with no luck, but I’m ok most days. I really like how you said that the meds didn’t make you all smiley every second, just normal. I feel normal most days and sad a few days a month. Sometimes I wish I could be smiley all the time, but I know now that that’s not my normal personality. Thanks again for your honesty!!
Hi Gabrielle, this is the first time I comment a post in my life, I’m usually a silent reader. But it made me feel the need to write to you, because you are an inspiration, thank you for sharing this, it really helps because I think there are many women out there that are going through similar moments in silent and alone and your story is full of hope. Virtual hugs from Argentina
Wow. This type of honesty is so valuable. You will help so many women. I applaud your bravery.
A year ago, my back neighbor cut herself very badly. I was a “first responder” of sorts. It was a shocking, horrible scene. Her teenage daughter found her. It brought mental health to the forefront for me. I will never forget what I saw.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, it’s not very often you read such an open and honest post. Mental illness runs in my family (my Mother has depression and my brother is bipolar) and this has given me a new perspective on them and what they might be experiencing.
All the best. X.
I have suffered from depression since I was sixteen and how you describe thinking about death is exactly and I mean EXACTLY how I think about it (last time just a few weeks ago) and I would not consider myself suicidal either. The time after having my second baby was a particularly hard for me too, possibly due to hormones and tiredness as well as my history.
What I find particularly hard is when you explain you have depression and people say “But you have nothing to be depressed about?” as if it’s a frame of mind I’ve chosen. And part of me still, to this day, feels guilty until my dad reminds me that it’s a medical condition like diabetes or eczema or anything else. You don’t choose to have it and it deserves to be treated like any other medical condition.
I always wonder why people with mental health issues sometimes have to wait a considerably long time to see a healthcare professional or receive treatment or medication. A broken leg or similar would be dealt with immediately, and mental health problems can be just as damaging and have more far reaching implications and consequences. Perhaps it’s because there is still a stigma attached or perhaps it’s more complicated than that.
THANK YOU Gabrielle.
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My SIL has bipolar with schizophrenia, and a BIL has depression and anxiety. My mother in law talks about early psychiatrists telling her over and over this will be a life long struggle, to not try to fix it and put it away, but know her daughter will always need extra support and help and eyes watching out for warning signs. My SIL described one of her episodes and thinking it was totally rational to drink cleaner to fix her brain. I have been feeling a touch of the postpartum sludge after this baby and trying to figure tee e out what to call my mental confusion. Thank you for your in depth explanation of your thought patterns during depression, it helps immensely to see what it looks like from the inside.
I love love love that the comments on this post are so supportive. Not only is your brave post likely to spur a lot of people to be braver with sharing their experiences, but this overwhelmingly positive response is likely to make the whole thing seem less taboo and more important. One of the best ways to help people with mental illness is to model healthy ways of talking about it so that they can develop the vocabulary and language skills to think about the way they’re feeling as something separate from their personal identity. Lovely lovely dialogue going on here. I love you for it.
I love the comments and dialogue here as well, Em. I appreciate it so much!
I suffered through post partpartum depression/anxiety with each of my three kids. It is NO fun and what I like to call the “most selfish disease” because it is impossible to think of anything except how awful you feel. I didn’t want to take any meds because I was nursing so I just toughed it out. It sucked. I was worried that when my mother passed away 8 years ago that I would slip into it, thankfully I did not. Must just be hormones for me. So glad you are feeling better!
As others have stated, incredibly courageous of you to share so much of your authentic self and experience publicly. I am an art therapist practicing in an inpatient psychiatric setting. So much of what you described regarding the process of treatment is true and in fact such a frustration. I consider the care we provide most definitely highly ranked and still there is SO much room for improvement for the exact reason that societally we struggle to provide appropriate care. I am pleased to see that several of the responses posted including part of yours highlighted the healing power of art and creative expression. While it may not lighten the load alone, it is significant in improving long term stability. I wish you many bright days!
Agreed! Once I am even a little bit functional, I find that doing something creative is a huge help and definitely feels like positive therapy for me.
To second what Karen M. said above, “I hope you know how deeply important that blog post is.”
I read your entire blog post, and everyone’s comments so far and can’t tell you thank you enough. You put into words what I never could put into words. I’m on medication (since 1988 and will be for the rest of my life – currently prozac and wellbutrin). It helps, for sure, but sometimes I feel like it’s not working so well. Especially if I forget to take it, or run out (that’s another system ‘nightmare’ to navigate quickly when you need it so badly…)
The wanting to be dead is so frank, I know how it feels and many of my friends and family don’t (even though I’m quite open about it too). I will ask at least my husband to read this post, to maybe understand a bit more.
Again, thank you!!!!!!
Yes! Running our of medication realizing I have to make time for a doctor’s appointment before she’ll call in a refill is very frustrating to me.
Sorry, not tying to stalk you about this:) ha. I just feel terrible reading this! Maybe I am totally cheating the system, but look, we know what we’re dealing with. I would be pretty annoyed too if I had to make an appointment each time to have a refill. Really? I would definitely try calling your OB, even though that would still mean another initial appointment, it might save you lots of time and hassle in the future. Or, my husband says, call a family Dr. (He’s a family doc:)
You’re not stalking at all, Chelsea! I truly appreciate the advice. I guess the tricky thing for me right now, is that I’m simply not quite set up doctor wise yet. We have a pediatrician and dentist. And we just found an orthodontist. But neither I nor Ben Blair has seen a family doctor since we moved here. And I haven’t seen an obgyn either. It wasn’t a priority at first (we had to move in, get kids registered for school, etc), and then I was in the depression, and now I’m still catching up.
But I think you’re exactly right. I need to find a good family doctor that I can get to know and who will be willing to help me with refills as needed.
Gabrielle, you have such a wonderfully authentic voice. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s honest and real, & I’m sure so many people will be uplifted by it. Glad you’re feeling better.
Thank you for sharing your story. Yours is so amazingly different from mine.
I’ve suffered from social anxiety my whole life. I used to get panic attacks as a kid the morning we were scheduled to leave for vacation (though we didn’t know that’s what they were back then). When I was 19 I was tired of having to dose myself with phenergan before social occasions to stave off the severe nausea and panic attacks. My nurse practitioner put me on paxil. Two years later, after gaining 50 pounds, and a host of other side effects, I wanted off. I was in a far better place, and more experienced, having been in college for a few years.
Naturally, I’m one of those many people who experienced severe withdrawal when attempting to stop my meds. That was 5 years ago. I started that journey at 20mg a day, and I’m down to just over 3mg right now. In the few crashes I’ve experienced while down-dosing, I wanted to not exist in much the same way you (and many other commenters) describe. I wasn’t planning suicide but I wanted more than anything to simply not exist anymore. I suffered through pain and anxiety far worse than any of my pre-medicated panic attacks. For me, medication should not have been plan A. I wish I would have tried therapy first, because cognitive behavioral therapy worked for me so well. But for folks like you, I can see how medication was probably the best option. I’m so happy to find someone who doesn’t have a horror story about taking ADs or SSRIs. Bless your heart, you’re very fortunate in that.
Best of luck with your mental health = )
Hello. This is the first time I’ve visited your website.
As a young man going through depression, it is comforting to actually read about someone who is going through what I am experiencing and “came out of it alive,” so to speak.
The medication I’ve been given is working, and it’s nice knowing that I’m getting help, but, perhaps because I’m a young man who has grown up in America, I feel unable to actually talk about how I’m struggling. Just reading about your struggles, in some strange way, is reassuring. Perhaps it’s because your story makes it feel like I’m not completely alone?
So once again, thank you for sharing your story with the world. If you know any young men, or know someone who knows a young man who you suspect may be going through depression, please share your story with them. For men especially, it’s hard to talk about these things with others, making the road to recovery all the more difficult.
Once again, thank you for giving me hope.
Thank you for your comment.
I’ve always loved Design Mom and you voice, Gabrielle. But my respect (and, if it’s not too weird to say, non-creepy internet affection) for you just doubled. Thank you for sharing. This is particular of interest to me as I’m about to experience weaning for the second time and I cried for three weeks straight the first time. I didn’t know then about “weaning depression” the first time and it was so rough, but I’m now aware it exists and looking for warning signs. Thanks again.
You are a champion for sharing this with the world.
The other day, my 15-year-old son shared with me a stat that’s making its way around the internet: The average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient did in the 1950s. (Robert Leahy)
Of course, I went looking to see if it was true, and apparently it is. Reasons such as isolation, information overload, a societal tendency to suppress negative emotions, etc., were cited. My understanding is that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (yes?) but when I hear that anxiety is such a rising concern, I hope that maybe there are specific strategies we can all learn to help our children, families, friends, and community–and ourselves–cope.
I appreciate that you’re sharing your experience and striving for understanding. I think a truly moving part of your story is how you use the term “we” so much, which shows how much your husband stood by and supported you.
I am very glad for you that you always found doctors that took a bit of time to talk to you before giving you medication. I work as a clinical psychologist at a psychiatric ward and the first session takes a bit of time (and of course we always feel for the patients because they are anxious, often can’t really concentrate very well at that point and are just exhausted). With mental illness there are just so many options that require different and specific medical care. Being interviewed thoroughly is very important to get an accurate diagnosis and in the end it saves time and trouble. Getting an appointment should be faster though. But here in Germany it takes just as long and is just as confusing for the patients. Big uhg! It is often frustrating to see the long process and all the misguided paths the patients might have gone through to find real help. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I hope you will continue to feel better.
Thank you for the gentle reminder about how important a thorough interview is. I know you’re right.
Thank you for sharing so candidly about your experience! I think it is so helpful to let others know how common mental illness is.
I, too, suffered from depression after a big move. A friend pointed out to me how depressed I sounded over email and it was like a light bulb when off in my head: I’m depressed! What a relief to know there was a reason for how difficult life seemed. However I was concerned because my father was manic-depressive and committed suicide when I was a child. But after finding help (which was fairly easy since I had a medical team in place), and support from the team I was overseas with, I began to recover.
Thank you for this post.
When I was a teenager, I knew something was wrong and had heard of depression at school. So I told a friend of mine in an email that I thought I had depression. He’d gotten in trouble over something and his dad was reading his emails so he passed the information to my parents. Before they could confront me, I told my mom what I was feeling and what I thought was going on. Though she was glad I had felt comfortable enough to tell her, I think it was overwhelming for her and nothing was done about it. Telling her that once was all the courage I had so I never brought it up again.
Within years, my mother and twin sister were both diagnosed with depression and medicated. Then a few years later, my father was as well.
15 years after my confession to my mother, I have still never been officially diagnosed, nor have I tried any medication. I know it’s there, and I live with it everyday, but I’ve always had a fear of seeking professional help for myself. My husband has been a rock and I can always cling to him when my world feels like it’s falling and I want to stop existing in it, but your story shows me that I need to stop being afraid to seek help.
Again, thank you, for putting your experience into words. I will be showing this to my husband.
Wow. I’ve recently been looking into seeing a shrink (again), but the idea of finding a new one (are any even on insurance plans? I’ve only ever paid out of pocket, but I don’t want to do that right now) just doesn’t sound appealing. I liked the last one I went to, and he was easy to get in with, but….I kind of want to speak to a woman. He seemed to understand and relate to a lot, but there are just some women issues that I wonder if only women can really understand (and I’m sure that goes for many demographics, of course).
Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing this story (and the one about Mary Lu). It brought tears to my eyes (which i admit is preeeetty easy to day nowadays). You really seem like you have it all together, so it’s comforting to know that it happens to people who seem so flawless.
I’ve been on Lexapro for almost 9 years now (since my early 20’s). I too take half a pill bc the full pill makes me feel shaky or something. I describe it similarly to you when people ask what I’m “normally” like. Basically, I’m the exact same person, i just can get out of the bed in the morning and cry less (though it still happens, as we see).
Anyway, thanks again for posting this.
Oh Gabrielle, I sat here and cried for you. I am so sad about all the pain you’ve been through…and all the other comments made m cry even more. You are all such amazing, brave, strong women and I am humbled by you all.
I am at a loss for words. Your very personal story made me well up inside. This is by far your best writing to date. It takes great courage to say “Hey! I’m not doing well right now, and I need help!
As for myself, I have my own personal story too full of tears, and uncertainty. I also have a very supportive husband and kids who help me pick up the pieces when I fall apart. I think about seeing a doctor at times, but I am not quite sure if that is direction for me at this time or ever for that matter. I pray everyday for guidance and a clear mind so that I can tackle what each day brings, which by the way is mostly good. I believe in taking it one day at a time, and keeping life as simple as possible. I know that my faith in our creator will show me the way.
I sincerely thank you for opening a door for us your readers and friends to talk about the stuff life hands all of us.
You are amazing! Depression runs in my family, and my mother weaved in and out of “bad patches” for years. It was never anything drastic, but it would manifest itself in the worst PMS–for one week a month my mom would be on the warpath. I remember when she finally got help and on medication for her depression and ADD, it was like she was the best version of herself, and I admit I was frustrated that I couldn’t have seen that person more growing up. When I go home and visit, I feel a little jealous that my two little brothers still at home are getting a much more peaceful experience than I did. I hope that if I ever struggle with this, I can get help soon, if not for myself, but for my kids.
My heart breaks for you, Kimber. I’m so glad your mother got help and I’m sorry it didn’t happen sooner.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m certain this will help others.
I’ve been lucky and my only bout with depression was after a late pregnancy loss. My family doctor was amazing and knew just what to say and do. I would have been so much harder without her help.
You’re so brave, genuine, strong and … full of grace. xo
I’ve suffered from depression at a number of points in my life (I can see that this started in my teens, in hindsight) and can honestly say that anti depressants saved my sanity and perhaps my life. I was never resistant to taking them and they gave me the perspective and equilibrium that was much needed. Well done for speaking so frankly, mental health is something that touches each of us in shape or form and it’s time for the stigma and shame attached to it to be done away with – it’s a health issue like any other. Just as an aisde, I read a fascinating booked called “The Hormone Cure” by Dr Sara Gottfried recently (all about woman’s hormonal balances and how it’s the most under diagnosed condition) – it did get me thinking and wondering how much of my feeling under the weather and not quiet up to form was due to a hormonal imbalance (I’m not for a moment suggesting not dealing with depression or forgoing anti depressants when they are necessary). I do think that I probably presented with symptoms that are associated with hormonal imbalances for a while before sliding into proper depression, on each occaision. A must read if you are perhaps feeling a little “meh”, it might just save someone the suffering of a depressive episode. Much love Gabrielle!
YOU ARE AMAZING, thanks for writing this! I had some pretty bad PPD, thought it would be best to fall down the stairs and die every day for 2 weeks (not with the baby). It is pretty amazing how medication can truly save your life. With my first I waited almost 2 months to get help, I regret that. With my second, I saw it coming and got help right away, such a blessing.
When I was in graduate school, I was teaching two English courses to freshmen writers, taking 9 hours myself, and then had a part time job tutoring at night. I ended up so overwhelmed I reasoned out that walking in front of a car in the street would end up with me getting to go to the hospital and all my life would stop long enough for me to catch up. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) recognized this for exactly what it was and he sent me straight to the on campus counseling services (no two week wait!). Just talking it through with a person and realizing I could say “no” was enough – I stepped back and life became good again. I am occasionally prone to depression, but I’ve realized I can pull myself out of the funk with some self care. Lack of money is a big deal, and stress added onto it almost always triggers me. Thank you so much for sharing!
Yes. I relate almost entirely, except my life is so less productive I guess you could say. I wish I could speak to you in person, because this is hard to write, and usually it wouldn’t be. I don’t hide my fight with depression and anxiety (the anxiety came after a while) and write pretty honestly about it. But I don’t know what to say. Financial stress has been a huge obstacle for our family for years. I guess that’s the part I don’t want to write. Because I don’t want to put blame on my husband, with his almost 4 degrees and is a hard worker and a great boss. We’ve looked elsewhere and interviews eventually came, but we’ve been in the same place… although spiritually there have been blessings. I truly believe we need to have some experiences so we can grow and become more Christlike and have empathy and understand that good people have trials and Heavenly Father loves us all. So we are patiently waiting as best we can for this trial to perhaps level out a bit? Through my eliminating things that stress me out, and are not absolutely essential, I have less guilt for my mental status and a deeper understanding of my worth. I’m talking day to day stuff. Hasn’t been high on the list, but the relationships in our family are my focus. I feel like I might be working the rest of the stuff out, but I always feel this way as spring approaches- to tackle the organization and de clutter… but I am handling it with prayer, because I can’t do it on my own.
I have had a few times now that medication has been essential. I don’t think there should ever be guilt there, but it also doesn’t fix all of my broken-ness, so I take it until I can feel normal enough without, which for a year or so that seems to be effective, that’s a deep feeling thing too. I have been wondering if I need to get on it again too lately. Might be time for a bit. My head feels pressure and I feel “crazy” sometimes, and I think dying would be the best option for everyone instead of having to deal with their deficient wife and mother. I relate to everything you wrote. Nothing sounded bizarre to me. Just matter of fact feeling. It used to get scarier, but my brain has warnings to not get “there” anymore. I used to just want to stop breathing, because I don’t like pain. But I have girls with anxiety and I know I am the only one that gets them so I can’t leave them, so I have to stay here, but I feel like I am not teaching them anything… except hopefully have faith that it will all work out if you just keep going and that Heavenly Father hears prayers and we gotta do what’s right for us, even if it doesn’t make sense to others. That is a personal thing. A prayerful and healing thing, to do what is best for you and your family. For you it was working, for me it was keeping my younger daughter home- we’re unschooling her. I think she’s bi-polar and she’s bright and she learns by not being pushed. Her little sister is home too, but I need help finding what will work for her. She’s just newly school age and I’ve never had to start from the beginning with any of my kids, so it will be a learning curve for sure.
You also mentioned the creative stuff. My, the guilt I had for so many years that I couldn’t be creative if I didn’t mark stuff off a checklist first. But using talents, I am realizing, is so fulfilling and healing too. (Thank you Elder Uchtdorf) Music (just singing in attempted harmony with my kids) and photography, even picture editing on my little picmonkey with the extra amount paid so I can use all the features because I don’t have a photoshop I like and got rusty on what I did know. I can’t afford more anyway, but I like it and I think I’m getting better and if one day that helps our family here and there, then cool, but I need it in my life for creative reasons (and because I forget things and need photos to help me) . I can’t draw much anymore because of carpel tunnel so that’s my outlet. Writing is nice too. Journaling- it keeps me sane if I do it honestly and don’t exaggerate problems :) That’s how I keep afloat, and a good cry sometimes, and relating to others, including some of my children, about this subject. My oldest and I have very knowing hugs sometimes. She’s at college now, so I miss that, but just knowing others understand has been the biggest help, even in the beginning when we were overseas in the USAF and I went to group therapy. I liked that much better than counseling, because we were all relating, it was safe, no judging. I didn’t enjoy my next attempt with counseling either, back in the states, when I was not wanting to breathe. Having someone try to give me ideas how to keep my house clean wasn’t what I needed. I had plenty ideas, I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t follow through. My kids wanted to, but I couldn’t pull it off. Too much thinking. Always too much thinking, especially when you can’t afford even the most affordable ideas. Well, kind of makes you give up caring. At least, it did for me. My creative outlet for my house cannot be fulfilled. Maybe it’s mostly mental, but grocery buying usually snuffs out my ideas. Times and seasons though. Understanding what’s important, truly important. That is going to be different for me than others, so please no one take offense. We are all being shaped into who we will become, kind of like that guy that gave his speech about his hero was himself in 10 years… not sure my 10 years have gotten better yet, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and I think I am very conscious about being true to me, and honest about who that is. I don’t like trying to hide that. I don’t like to be around people I feel I have to hide that. It makes me grumpy. I don’t want it to be an issue that needs to be talked about, or fixed, or pitied too much. I am certain others have their trials too, even if they are not like mine. But I sure appreciate those who understand mine a bit, and they are ok with me. I do feel that I need to get it out there first, my imperfections- “hey look, this is how I roll- or rather, don’t roll, just kind of rest, so if you aren’t okay with that judge me now and get it over with.” Maybe I don’t do that all the time, but quite a bit. I just don’t want to pretend I’m good at all the homemaker stuff, cooking, patient, but I sure like to stay up late an laugh with my kids, whom are also imperfect by the way, but I love them! We are who we are- take it or leave it! :) And while we are at it I’ll admire your strengths and learn what I can from “you” (generally speaking, not directly YOU)- how about that? But you don’t have to fix me, because only one person can and we’re working on it. “Babystepping”, to quote Doctor Leo Marvin from What About Bob.
Oh, and I use Celexa when I do.
I wonder if any of this makes sense? Not sure I want to go back and proof read, so I’ll just push Submit.
Thank you for making this a topic that we can talk about openly and without shame. My boyfriend, who is now my husband, suffered for many years until he finally was admitted for inpatient treatment. He too wanted to die. When I asked his parents for help, they told me everyone gets depressed. They made it such a secret. I don’t even think all of his siblings knew for many years about his struggle with depression. Wellbutrin also worked for him and really helped snap him out of it. He took it for about 6 months. Occasionally through the years he has had brief episodes (maybe a few days). I always call his symptoms to his attention as he trusts my judgment, and we have open discussions about it. For him it’s a matter of deciding (his word) not to slip into the abyss.
Thank you so much for sharing Gabrielle! I have struggled with depression and anxiety since high school, but I didn’t realize that I needed help until part-way through college. I went to my general medicine doctor and was able to talk to him about what I was feeling. He prescribed me a medication that luckily worked on the first try.
Now, while I feel normal on most days, there are some bad days when I feel particularly anxious or sad. Most of the time I can kind of tell when it’s coming on and take necessary steps to keep myself in check.
To me, mental health is just as important as physical health. We all need to make sure that we are taking care of our bodies and minds, whether its a daily medication or the occasional hot bath and good book.
Thank you so much for sharing. So many parts of your journey resonated with me and you told them without any apology, which is appropriate and yet, sometimes so hard to do! My husband is depressed as is every member of my immediate family. So far I have avoided clinical depression. I do tend toward anxiety, however, especially postpartum.
thank you for posting this. So genuine, open and sincere. Thank you.
Hugs to you, Gabby. I love that you’re using your wide influence on the web to share your story and I’m sure it will help so many people. Even those of us who haven’t struggled personally with depression. Maybe especially us, because it helps us understand those who have or are. You’re amazing.
My PPD began immediately after the birth of my first child, literally in the birthing suite, yet it was 15 months before I came clean to my OB. My husband and I were thousands of miles away from family, and my descent was gradual enough that day to day my mood didn’t seem to change. I am also an expert at criticizing myself, and exacerbated my illness by condemning myself and hiding my madness. And it was madness! I finally got help after my favorite aunt and uncle were horribly injured–she fatally–in a bizarre accident that I was convinced would become fodder for a national radio shock jock. Can you imagine? My OB–my hero and literal lifesaver–quickly diagnosed me and said that if I didn’t see his psychaitrist colleague immediately he would come to my house and drive me there himself. Medicine and therapy helped quickly and I remained under psychiatric care during my second pregnancy. My most important lesson is that: DEPRESSION LIES. It convinced this pragmatic, never gullible mom that I deserved to die. Gabrielle, you are saving lives as I type! I thank the dear Lord for your bravery and eloquence. God Bless xo
I want to thank you for your honesty and bravery in posting this. While I am in a great place right now, three years ago I had my third baby and started into a bad downward spiral that lasted about 18 months. In the span of about a week we had a baby, bought a house and found termites while renovating. I had been having some hard spiritual dilemmas as well and right after we settled into our house that darling little baby turned into a cranky, crying mess for about a year. I kept trying to tell myself I was okay and didn’t need meds, when the reality is that I should have been taking something – I also talked of giving my kids up for adoption and not only cared if I died, but had suicidal thoughts. One of the big things that held me back was thinking that I just wasn’t strong enough, that everyone around me had it pulled together. I would look at people and think about how they had it all together and I just didn’t. Hearing this come from an exceptional woman as yourself makes me realize that it can happen to anyone and that, just as you said at the end of your post, even people in successful positions can have troubles too. Thank you for sharing this with us, I think you are going to help people more than you know.
What a beautifully written and honest account of your experience. It is hard to understand depression, mental illness, etc. when you have never experienced it. You made it understandable.
I’m so glad you have so much support and were able to realize you needed help and miraculously find some. I have to say, that is one of the saddest parts of your story…the work and determination it takes just to find someone to possibly help you. That is a huge flaw in our healthcare system. I work at the big hospital across the bay (UCSF) and I see every day how difficult it is to navigate the system.
Thanks for sharing your story, I always enjoy your blog and your voice in general, but this is really an excellent piece. Stay well. Hugs and kisses to you.
“I have to say, that is one of the saddest parts of your story…the work and determination it takes just to find someone to possibly help you. That is a huge flaw in our healthcare system. I work at the big hospital across the bay (UCSF) and I see every day how difficult it is to navigate the system.”
Sigh. I think I secretly hoped it was much easier for most people to get help. I’m still crossing my fingers that for those who stay in one place long enough to establish a relationship with a family doctor, navigating this sort of situations might be simpler.
Thank you for having the courage to share your story. My son suffers from depression, and you have given me insight into what he may be feeling. It has been challenging to get medical help for him, but we are still working on it.
I am just going to write a simple “thank you” for your honesty and sharing. You’ve obviously hit home with many, me included.
Hurrah for you, speaking so clearly about hard things. This is an enormously helpful post in so many ways, in the least, because it gives words and validity to a feeling that is real and prevalent, particularly among women.
My father took his own life just days before I was born and though I never knew him, I guess I inherited several genetic traits. Both anxiety and depression have been a presence for me on and off through my young adult years. I’ve had countless therapists and ecclesiastical leaders counsel me- some helpful, but most really unhelpful (ex. “if you just keep a running list of all the things you are grateful for…”). As I get older, I am learning to recognize and manage it for what it is- not because I am more mature and in control (ha!) but because I have had the courage to look it in the face like something concrete instead of something shameful and elusive, and the nearest support in my life (my emotionally steady-as-a-rock husband, moms, and friends) accept it like that too. I have personally found the greatest success with a combination of daily outdoor exercise and a very low dosage of an SSRI to “take the edge off”.
I bank each moment that I am able to revel in the abundance of good things around me. Waking up AND falling asleep to a feeling of “normalcy” as opposed to despair is always a reason to celebrate!
Gabrielle – I appreciate the honesty of this post. I also hope more people consider finding a great coach – a life coach, I mean. They are like mental health experts, but trained differently – to move forward with a client – whatever that “forward” looks like. Though some people are unsure of the field of coaching, right now some major organizations have coaches on staff (eg: Zappos, Nike – they use coach consultants, etc.). We all need a team to help use progress. There are so many wonderful coaches (CTI-trained is my personal favorite; they are Harvard affiliated, as well) that no one should have to wait two days, much less, two weeks to get support.
from Maryland and http://www.upcyclededucation.com
I commend you for this post! So honest and emotional. Something that is lacking on the internet these days.
I was depressed and suicidal for a long time after my mother took her own life. I never went to a doctor or a counselor because being brought up in the Asian culture taught me that mental health is taboo to even think about. I couldn’t admit to another failure in my life. So I never sought professional help.
The same summer that my husband wanted to divorce me and I thought I was going to implode from my overstressed mind, a girl in high school got in a bicycle accident and died on the spot. Knowing that she was successful and had a seemingly good and happy life, yet was unable to survive and live the rest of her days shook me out of my depression. My wanting to live because I can live gave me a reason to move out of my depression. I never thought that something so simple, “live because I can”, would be so life-changing.
Thank you for sharing your experiences! It makes you more relatable and the world that much less disconnected.
Gabrielle, thank you for sharing your story! I was wondering what, if anything, do you tell the kids…especially the older ones??
I am so glad I got to read this and about your Aunt Mary Lu, I passed the posts on to my best friend who is a doctor of psychology and is active is southern California helping mental health professionals stay healthy. I remember when she was getting her doctorate and was working at a day treatment center for schizophrenics, she would often discuss what the families of the patients were up against and how it could appear suddenly in some families. It was enlightening for sure. Thank you for openly discussing something that has a very large reach into our family histories and our own lives.
THANK YOU, Gabby! We HAVE to change the conversation about mental health in our society and that begins by talking openly about it. I’m so grateful you are willing and able to do that and I am so glad that you have found things that work for you.
I spent six weeks in a psychiatric facility in college for anorexia/bulimia and the last 20+ years have been a climb to better health. I’ve always been open about because I hate the idea of someone suffering alone when I could possibly help by sharing my story.
I love to read people stories of depression. I know that may sound weird but both my mother and husband suffer from anxiety and depression and it’s hard for me to understand. They don’t seem to be able to articulate what it feels like. This post was very helpful to me.
I also wanted to ask if you worry about the genetic aspect.? My 11 year old daughter is exhibiting signs of anxiety and we are just started to get treatment for her.
Thank you so much for being open about this.
I’ve also struggled with depression on and off since the birth of my 3 child. So far I’ve been able to manage it without medication, but after having a brother in law who committed suicide, and then one day the realization dawning on me that I could understand why he thought that was the right choice (because I could relate to just wanting the mess inside my head to stop, stop, stop), I have considered medication more and more. As it is, I live life very carefully, making sure I am not overscheduling, making sure I am only putting my energy into the things that are the most important – my kids, myself, my husband.
Reading about your busy busy weekend makes me wonder about the kind of life I could have if I went on medication. I have all the desire and know how to be a great hostess, but right now I have to say no to most of that. Food for thought.
Thanks again for sharing your story with us. It means a lot to know that other people I admire have some of the same problems I do.
Thanks for your comment, Rebekah. It made me realize that perhaps leading with the story of our busy party-filled weekend was a bad idea — I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re not “normal” if they’re not living life at a frantic pace.
Certainly everyone’s “normal” is different. For me, I thrive on lots of action and creative projects. But I know that’s no for everyone.
I hope I’m not making anyone feel guilty simply because they don’t like hosting get togethers. : )
Thank you for sharing, Gabrielle! Your posts are always so wonderful. You’re making the stigma seem less for so many people, and your advice is clear and practical. I’m glad you’re feeling better!
wow, that was brutally honest. thank you for putting it out there .
i don’t think i’ve been where you’ve been but i do have close friends who do have depression. from a personal experience with a dear friend, i would add that if you ever have the feeling that you do want to hurt yourself, immediately go the emergency room so that you can get direct access to doctors and medication. people forget that hospitals and emergency rooms are not just for trauma victims.
Thank you for your honesty and for this post. I am 46, a mother to two boys ages five and three. I just lost my mother and I am taking it very hard. I had major anxiety and depression. I felt so guilty because I would look at my children and think, how could I be feeling like this? For the first time I am getting help with an anti- depressant. It seems to be working, and I am so grateful. As you said on your post, I am feeling “normal” again. This is all new to me and I hope I can eventually stop taking the medication. Sharing your struggles will surely help others; it has certainly helped me.