Those two words comprise the world's most common lie. Especially for someone with depression.
Someone like me.
Over the last decade or so, I've mastered the happy face. It comes in handy when you're a mom of three, expected to volunteer for class parties and fundraising events. Handier still when you must join your husband at company functions. No one wants to mingle with a woman who's slumped over and crying in the corner.
Mom with my new baby girl
What I didn't realize after having my first child is that I probably had post-partum depression. I wish I had seen the signs and sought help back then, but I thought all the stress and tears were just a result of sleep deprivation and worrying about my firstborn. If I'd have sought help early on, I might have been better able to handle my mom's diagnosis of terminal lung cancer that same year and her death a mere 10 months later.
I was a wreck when she died. A young first-time mother suddenly without her mother there for support and guidance. Yet over the course of the next decade, I toughed it out, had two more kids and started a writing career.
By that time, I had gotten incredibly good at answering "Hi, how are you?" with "I'm fine" when in fact, I was anything but fine inside. The worst thing was, I became a total Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. It told myself it's just temporary. You can pull yourself out of it. I managed to keep my family going, write two books, blog and attend book signings while hiding behind that fake smile and that lie: "I'm fine."
The inner dialogue grew more ugly over time. You're just being lazy, lying there in bed trying to avoid your responsibilities. You could get up and be normal if you wanted to. But you don't want to, do you? You know how pathetic and worthless you are, so why bother? Nobody wants you around anyway.
Depression put on a great act, but like all charades, the act was eventually identified about a year and a half ago. At the urging of my husband and my own realization that lying in bed half the day crying for no good reason is NOT normal, I sought help. Despite my fears that my doctor would just laugh at me and say it was normal for a mom of my age to feel like this, she totally understood and wrote me a low-dose depression medication. She also recommended a counselor.
Scared as I was to commit to any sort of chemical intervention or to spill my troubles on a therapist's couch, I took her advice. Within a month of taking the medication, I felt surprisingly better. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time. I was able to start setting goals again and work toward completing them without the infernal self-hatred telling me I couldn't succeed at anything.
And to spite it all, I finished a book that had been buried under depression for too long. That third book in my Tallenmere series, Hearts in Exile, was published this June. I've written two children's books that are with an agent who's working hard to find a publisher for them. I won NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words on another novel I'd barely started a couple years ago. That one, a historical romance, will be finished this coming year, and if I play my cards right, I'll finish the fourth Tallenmere series book too. Besides the writing, I'll be starting a job as an editor atFirst Page Last Page and will probably be a class mentor again in the free six- week online writing course, F2K (at Writers Village University).
The road isn't smooth just yet. I've had to work with my doctor to find the right medication and dosage for me. I still have to be careful to not bite off more than I can chew. Learning my depression triggers, like taking on too many responsibilities at once, is very important in preventing the setbacks.
I'm thankful to Amy for inviting me to share my experience here. It feels good to open up about it among people who understand. I hope our stories will inspire others who are dealing with mental illnesses to seek help and know that they are not alone. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we just need a little help in getting there.