Singing the blues, living in a funk, having low spirits, and being down in the dumps are only some of the ways you could have described me. For years, more often than not, I lived in the Land of Melancholy. While there were many good times, I often found myself in a vicious cycle of good feelings interspersed with feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, sorrow, and hopelessness. I desperately wanted freedom from the emotional prison I was in, but I was stuck there, trapped by fear of what people would think. I continued for years in this self-imposed prison unwilling to risk the judgment of others.
Because of the world’s (and let’s face it, some church-goers) condemnation of depression, I fought an internal tug-of-war. Learning how to mask the highs and lows, I fixed my face for the public. When the effort became too much I closeted myself in the only safe place I could find – locked behind my bedroom door. There, I could peel back the layers of the disguise and let my facade fade away. The pretense became harder and harder to hide, but something would not let me make that phone call to the doctor’s office. The risk of preconceived judgment and disparagement from my family, friends, church members, and community-at-large prevented me from seeking help.
Bouts of depression became more frequent. In the beginning, they would come every few months, then every month, and finally every other week or less. When I reached a point where they were every couple of weeks and lasting for several days at a time, it was impossible to hide my condition. My family suffered the most – they were the victims of my extreme moods, never knowing what to expect from me.
Knowing that I was going to have to deal with the issue, I dreaded the misconceptions about depression that I had heard all my life being applied to me; I knew I might be in for a hard road of heart-rending aspersions. The misunderstanding of people with depression and similar disorders included: these people cannot keep a real job; they are unstable or violent; they are depressed or bipolar because of their upbringing; they could just snap out of “it” if they wanted to; and they don’t have a real condition.
Misconceptions and Truth
The truth is that people with chronic depression, bipolar, or any similar disorders are just like anyone else. One cannot distinguish between a person with or without these conditions. The fact is that those who have been diagnosed as severely depressed or bipolar do have greater obstacles than most. They may wake up more mornings than others facing challenges. Who in this life has not awakened with some challenge from time to time?
Several months ago, I had reached that dreaded point of no return – I called my doctor and made the appointment. I shared some of my symptoms such as more and more periods of depression, major mood swings (nothing violent, just going from happy to sad in a matter of seconds), anxiety, fatigue, irritability, inability to sleep, and nightmares if I did sleep. My greatest struggle was the length of my depression cycle – I couldn’t hide it any longer. The doctor agreed with me about the need to address my issue, but she was concerned that I might be bipolar. She referred me to a specialist.
A couple of weeks later I had a consultation with a specialist, where we sat and discussed at length all of my symptoms. He diagnosed me with acute depressive disorder…very similar to bipolar. The difference is that I rated much higher on the depressive side, than I rated on the manic side. I had very little manic behavior more like excessive weirdness, as described my daughter, upon occasion. The doctor said that acute depressive disorder with the mood swings from high to low had to be treated differently than regular depression. My disorder is treated with bipolar medication instead of antidepressants. He prescribed the medications to begin my treatment.
Blessings in Disguise
The medicine given to me has helped tremendously in balancing out my mood swings; I feel lightheartedness and hope in my days now. And to my sweet surprise, my fears of judgment by others have been unfounded. The joy, optimism, and peace that fill my mind and my home are worth any censure that I might encounter from anyone in the future. And, get this, I actually feel blessed by my diagnosis of depression.
How can I say that I feel blessed? For me, the blessing was in discovering freedom for the very first time. For over thirty years I struggled with depression and extreme mood swings – not wanting to seek help for fear of judgment. The diagnosis and the treatment in the last several weeks have helped me become the person that I had hoped and dreamed of being for my family.
I am also free from my fear. I can accept myself and my shortcomings. I can deal with what I need to in order to heal. Most of all, I can look into the faces of my husband and children and see joy radiating from them because it is a reflection from what is mirrored in my own face. I have joy and can experience joy…real joy that encompasses all of my life, not just parts of my life, for the first time that I can remember. Today, instead of lying in the floor of my bedroom crying the blues, as I have done for most of my life, you can find me dancing over my blues.