Depression and Anxiety: Symptoms or Diagnoses?

 Depression and anxiety run STRONG in my family.   Both of my parents self-medicated with alcohol and my brother was suicidal, beginning in his teens.  So no one questioned why I woke up one morning severely depressed; not even me.  But, it hit me like a bolt of lightening on a sunny day.  I was an accomplished college administrator bringing home some pretty hefty bacon.  I loved my job and was using my successes at work to write my dissertation.  Everyday I hurried home to my two young children who were happy and healthy.  I was always in awe when I turned down our 1000’ driveway and it opened up to a pristine piece of heaven complete with horses running across the fields.

Then, in an instant, everything changed.  It was a Friday morning.  I felt so horrible that I didn’t hear my husband calling Cheryl, my therapist.  I had been with Cheryl during the years I struggled with infertility.  She also counseled “us” when my husband’s parental rights were terminated from a daughter he and his girlfriend had had in high school.  I had been seeing Cheryl again fairly regularly because I thought I needed a tune up.  I certainly needed more than a tune-up that morning.  I had hit a pothole in the fast lane.

When I sat down in her office, I thought about how we had recently been trying to right my ship.  Something in my life had become unmanageable, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  That morning, I felt so far off course that I couldn’t imagine what “normal” felt like.  I leaned on my knees while Cheryl directed all of her questions to my husband.  There was a short pause in the conversation and Cheryl darted out of the room, reappearing a few minutes later with the psychiatrist.

Dr. Warren simply said to me,  “Kay, you won’t be able to go back to work again.”  I didn’t react, but I thought,  “That is absurd.  This guy doesn’t even know me.”  At the same time panic was setting in.  What wasn’t absurd was that I had an incredible amount of responsibility and a never ending number of projects to do and I was in no shape to go to work.  It had taken every bit of fight and energy I had just to get to this office this morning.  I needed someone to help me.

I sat across from my husband, Cheryl and the psychiatrist who were standing and waiting for me to say something.  Then Cheryl sat down next to me and touched my arm.  “Kay,” she said gently but firmly, “You have severe depression, that’s obvious.  How long do you think it will take you to over come this?”   Honestly, I had no clue, so I thought about how long it takes the body to heal from any major problem.  Then I padded my answer with a couple of weeks so I wouldn’t sound as uncertain as I felt and responded, “I don’t know about 6-8 weeks?”   There was a long deafening silence.  Cheryl and the doctor exchanged serious looks before she dropped her head in her hands, and blurted out, “try 6 years.”  

You would think that if depression just happens to people because of a genetic link, that I would have succumb a lot earlier than 43.  But that wasn’t even the issue. At some point, soon after that Black Friday, my husband had had a private discussion with the psychiatrist and had made another appointment for me.  During that second appointment, the doctor diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder.  I had never even heard of Bipolar at the time, but come to find out bipolar is the most genetically influenced mental illness.  However, unlike depression, bipolar had never turned up in my family’s history.   I insisted that he was wrong, but Dr. Warren told me that other people (meaning my husband) could see my moods and behaviors better than I could.   I really wasn’t buying it, but I was desperate for the depression to lift, so I got my marching orders and I started on a boatload of medications, hoping that soon I would feel a lot different.  And I did, I soon felt like a zombie.

I was scared as hell about the “side effects” I was having with these medications, but I was even more frightened about not getting better.  I faithfully took my toxic medications, attended individual and group therapy, underwent countless bouts of electroshock therapy and read, studied and prayed day and night.  When my mental health continued to deteriorate, my psychiatrist filed papers for disability.

In the meantime, I laid on the couch wondering if my husband was right and I really was crazy.  I didn’t know how people “go crazy” or “are crazy,” but I didn’t think that one day I’d be having children, riding horses, and feeling the normal pressure of a demanding profession and the next day, “boom” I couldn’t function enough to sign my name. 

Everyone was really worried about me, except my husband.  He didn’t even care for me during that time.   I agreed with him, as I always agreed with him, that “we” didn’t want the children to see me in such a fragile state; so I was closed off in a small room with a T. V.   I only now know what he was telling my children.  What he told me was, “I like it when you are down, then I have all the control.”  I knew then that I needed a miracle.


To Be Continued…