I’m not sure if I have spoken openly about this topic, but now is the time.
I, like millions of other Americans, suffer from a mental illness. Mine is specifically Chronic Depression. I won’t go into the long history of my mis-diagnoses and finally diagnosis over the years, but suffice it to say that for the last twenty-five years I have been in treatment of one form or another — some medically prescribed, some self administered, to try to keep the darkness from surrounding me and choking out what little joy, peace and safety I felt in my world.
Previously, depression, really any mental illness was the quiet shame that we who live with it bore. Fear of judgement, or misunderstanding kept us from letting even our closest friends, even some of our family members in on our diagnosis. If you were one of the people we told, you were a very trusted ally.
So, instead, we put on a false smile and went out into a world we could barely cope with and did what needed to be done no matter how difficult or exhausting it was for us to do. We held ourselves together, so tightly wound that when we finally reached the safe haven of our homes we would tearfully collapse, incapable of doing the simplest tasks because all of our energy had been spent presenting an outward camolage of normalcy.
Some people look at the face we show the world and say things like: ” but you’re always so happy, or cheerful” or ” you are always looking out for the needs of other people, you can’t possibly be dealing with depression.” That person the world sees, is not the person we see when we look in the mirror. Robin Williams is a great example of this phenomenon. Blessed Mother Teresa is another. She was so totally other centered, and yet she lived for years with crushing self doubt, and probably undiagnosed depression.
There are treatments available to us, and thanks to research, more and better medications to help us cope, but even now, it is a dance. A regimen that worked for years will suddenly begin to lose its efficacy. We have to be vigilant about taking medication, and getting enough sleep, avoiding undue stress, and getting proper nutrition, oh and lest I not forget, we have to remembers that exercise is the best antidepressant. Tell that to someone who finds it difficult to get dressed. Finding the motivation to get exercise is the most difficult piece of the puzzle for some, and finding an exercise that you actually enjoy enough to do on a regular basis, that is another stumbling block.
I realize I am rambling a bit, but the reason I am writing about this today is that I am about to begin a new treatment protocol. My previous medication, which served me well for over a year has not been as effective lately, so I have been weening off of it so that today I can begin taking a new medication. The new medication is one I have never tried. I have read all the literature (possible side effects, drug interactions with other medications I am on, etc) and today I start my first dose.
Today. I also am going to try a new exercise plan. Instead of trying to do a bunch of exercise at one time, I am going to try to set aside ten minutes three times a day to do high energy bursts of exercise like dance or fast walking or yoga/Pilates. If I can do 10 minutes three times a day every day, that will mean an accumulated total of 210 minutes of exercise a week. Well above the standard for my age.
And while I am at it, today I am going to cut out refined sugar and unnecessary starch. I am going to eat more fruits and vegetables and give my body the fuel it needs.
Treating mental illness is a dance, and like all dances the steps change when the music changes. Today the music is changing and my particular dance begins again. St Rita, St. Dymphna, and Blessed Mother Teresa pray with me as I learn these new steps.