When Depression Comes in Disguise

I just learned that May is Mental Health Awareness Month which is PERFECT because I just started taking anti-depressants again. Serendipity, friends; I could not have planned this better. Now this story, which I would’ve told you anyway, has a purpose. Awareness. Boom!

This is way better than when I told you about my wrap dress unwrapping in the parking lot which served no higher purpose at all. Of course, during the wrap-dress incident, I wrote without swearing. We’re not going to be that lucky this time. But, you know, we can’t have everything.

In my head, I’ve been handling life just fine. The key words there are “in my head.” Which is a real shocker because a couple of weeks ago I would’ve told you the key words were “just fine.” I began to suspect something was amiss, though, when I was getting ready for bed, pulling on my usual, sexy, threadbare, frayed t-shirt from 1991 — oo la la — and Greg, bless his heart, tried to talk to me. 

“I love you very much,” I replied, “but I can’t talk any more today. Like, Not. Another. Word. So. Tired.” Except minus the I love you very much part. It was implied.

And Greg gently said, “Mornings aren’t good for talking. When I get home from work isn’t good for talking. Nighttime isn’t good for talking. When’s good for talking?”

And I realized, um, no time. No time’s good for talking, Greg. How about we just email each other from now on? But what I said out loud was, “I don’t know.”

The conversation played on repeat in my brain, like a bad song I couldn’t get out of my head. I had a nagging suspicion, coupled with other red flags, that something wasn’t right.

Here’s the thing: I’m not depressed. I’m not sad. I haven’t been living in a deep, dark pit of despair like I was the last time I took anti-depressants. I’m happy with my family. I like writing. I have fantastic friends. I’m more fulfilled at this point in my life than at any other. More content. More purposeful. I love getting older; I finally know myself a little, I like myself most of the time, and I can generally figure out a) what I really need and b) how to get it.

But it was becoming hard to keep swatting those red flags out of my face. They were like mosquitoes on crack.

This past year I’ve become more and more reclusive. I’m an introvert by nature, which surprises people because I’m outgoing, I like people, and I’m often loud, at least when I’m comfortable. Being alone gives me energy, though, so while I enjoy parties, I’m something of a dried out husk by the end of them and Greg’s left picking up the pieces, by which I mean ignoring me at my request until I can be personable again.

I found over the past year that I didn’t recover as quickly from group events and people-contact. I found I needed steadily increasing time alone to feel like I could breathe. I found I only had time to focus on my kids and that most other activities, including the “little” things like grocery shopping, helping in kids’ classrooms and going out for dinner with friends, induced dread. Utter dread. I still did them. Mostly. I even liked them, other than grocery shopping which can burn in the fiery depths of hell. But mustering the willpower to see events through was sometimes overwhelming.

And the weight gain. Oof. I tried to tackle this whole thing, in fact, from the diet and exercise angle, knowing I feel much better when I’m running regularly, eating healthier foods, and about 20 pounds lighter than I am right now. But I just haven’t been able to do it consistently. The momentum. The time. The not-medicating-my-feelings-with-food. Indicative of a larger issue? WHY, YES. DING DING DING.

It’s the anxiety that drove me to my doctor, though. Or the panic. Potato potahto. I’ve always loved traveling and Greg and I had an unusual opportunity to travel a lot last year. We did it and there were some awesome moments, but overall I was a terrible traveling companion, almost constantly consumed by the fear that something awful would happen to my kids while I was gone.

So I saw my doctor on Tuesday morning. The nurse came in first and asked why I was there. “I want to talk about anti-anxiety medication,” I said. “Or something. I was on anti-depressants successfully for several years. But I’m not depressed or sad now. I’m wondering if my current symptoms warrant a closer look at anxiety.”  

“Tell me more,” she said.

“Well, I’m anxious to the point of paranoia. I’m hiding in my house. I don’t want to travel even though that used to give me joy. I’m gaining weight. Apparently I’m not talking to my husband regularly, but I hadn’t noticed. And sometimes I’m a raging bitch. Do they make a pill for that?”

And when my doctor walked in a while later, she said, “So. It says here you’re feeling irritable lately and anxious?” 

And I said, “Yes. Consuming anxiety. And I think I technically said I’m a raging bitch.”

And she said, “Yeah, I’m not allowed to chart that. The profession frowns on putting ‘raging bitch’ in writing. Consider ‘irritable’ a code word.”

Irritable. Good to know.

And then we discussed depression versus anxiety. And my doctor told me that my symptoms are symptoms of clinical depression.

Wha…?

“BUT I’M NOT SAD,” I said again. “I’m not hoping for a car crash that will land me in the hospital where other people will take care of me. You know, this time. I’m not in despair.”

“Just because you were sad last time doesn’t mean you’ll feel that way this time,” she said.

“Oh.”

“The symptoms are not the same for everyone,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Some people experience increased migraines,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Some people have difficulty concentrating.”

“Oh.”

“Some people experience anxiety or panic.”

“Oh.”

“Some people become reclusive or otherwise avoid engaging socially.”

“Oh.”

“Some people are ‘irritable.'”

“Oh.”

“And when people have several of the symptoms and a history of depression? Well, you see what I’m saying.”

And everything came into focus.

As someone who’s suffered from depression in the past, I was highly aware that it could resurface. I was on the lookout, even. But it came masked this time as a stranger, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize, and it snuck up and clocked me from behind because, no matter what it looks like, Depression is a dick.

Guess what? I’m gonna kick its ass.

I sat quietly at our giant farm table after dinner the other night while Greg did the dishes and talked. He stopped and stilled suddenly after saying something funny and said, “Did you just laugh?” I nodded, hoping he wasn’t offended and that I was laughing with him and not at him. “Yeah… ?” I said, wondering why he asked. He started on the dishes again and said, “I just haven’t heard you do that in a while.”

Oh.

I’ve been back on meds for one week, which anyone can tell you is not enough time to tell whether this is the right medication. It takes time to climb back out of the holes Depression pushes us into. But there’s light up there, I just know it,

ID-100153060

and I’ve started digging.

……….

P.S. Medication is not the right solution for everyone. It is the right solution for me. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, get help. There are lots of options, and getting help is the right solution for everyone.

P.P.S. If you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself for being depressed, read this all the way through the comments. You’re not alone. And you’re worthy of deep love. Including from yourself. True story.

P.P.P.S. I didn’t mean for this post to morph into a Public Service Announcement about depression, but it did. These things happen. Thanks for tumbling down the rabbit hole with me.

……….

Old Yellow Backhoe image credit to Keerati via freedigitalimages.net
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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
120 comments
  1. […] My brain crashed sometime last week. It’s one of the symptoms of mental illness I get to enjoy from time to time. Wheeeeee! Anxiety grabs hold of the neurons, I guess, and, […]

  2. […] if I didn’t have to bring myself everywhere I go, but, alas, I’m stuck with me and with my brain, and so most of most days were good, except some of some days when my heart beat too fast, and I […]

  3. […] soothes my restless soul. In a season that’s unsettling — full of strange politics and my muddled mind and unparalleled successes and failures in parenting and wife-ing and friending and being, which […]

  4. […] I’ve been very hidey the last few days, working hard on my mental health because apparently this is another season where I have to do that. (Hooray for mental illness! […]

  5. […] to be honest, as a person with mental illness, I wouldn’t really know if I was all the way under water, so I’m historically […]

  6. […] this whether it’s simply too much going on that makes me hidey or if this is a resurfacing of the Depression Dragon. I’m shrugging my shoulders at you right now and mumbling, “I dunno,” […]

  7. Oh my,
    it’s so nice to hear that other people have depression come through as anger. The other part of the disguise for me is that the general public would never suspect that I am depressed. I am on medication now and waiting to see if it is fully effective.
    thank you!

  8. Wow! Am I stunned? Yes! Yes, as a matter of fact, I am extremely stunned! I am more stunned at this very moment in time than I think that I have been in quite a long time! You see, I had just called my doctor earlier in the week & informed him that I was experiencing Panic & anxiety attacks. Well, at least that’s what I thought was happening untill I read your blog! I couldn’t be depressed because after all I am still taking 2 different antidepressants and I have been for years! But after I read your article “When Depression Comes in Disguise” & I saw nearly every single one of the symptoms clearly plaguing me yet again… I think I’m stunned because truthfully I’ve been struggling with this for several, several months before reading the words that finally convinced me that yes once again I am in the ‘throws” of a full blown case of depression! Like you, I just didn’t see these symptoms as depression… This time was what, I said to myself? What new drugs will you have to take and how much longer will it take before everything returns to “normal”… Whatever “Normal” really is!

    Thank you for sharing your story! You really did help someone, me! Who knows how much longer I would have struggled with this terrible illness had you not been so willing to bring the much needed awareness to this insidious mental illness.

    I am very, very grateful to you!

    Thank you!

  9. I read this today. Then I called my husband and started crying. Then I made an appointment with my doctor.

    Almost 20 years ago I had a raging bout of clinical depression. The Land you in a locked ward in the hospital for a month, type of clinical depression. I stayed on medication for a couple of years but came out the other side, wiser and happier. I have had a fear of it returning ever since. Any time I am the least bit sad I fight it off with a vengeance. I have gotten very good at staying optimistic and mostly not crazy (four daughters sometimes tipped that scale way to the cra cra side). Even a Fibromyalgia diagnosis didn’t drag me down for too long (ok it did but I didn’t get depressed, I still had joy).

    Until recently. I was in a car accident a year ago. I got pretty beat up. I worked hard and got my life back. Then 8 months later I fell, hard. It was the car accident all over again. I have been struggling for six months. Pain, loss of motion, lack of sleep, weight gain…and more recently becoming exhausted by things that normally give me joy like hanging out with friends. I need 2 or 3 days to recover. I am reclusive. I stayed on the couch all day yesterday after a day hanging out with my 9 year old grandson. I stayed home for 4 days after going to a festival with friends. I skipped a bike ride with my husband after the family came over for an hour for a gender reveal. I was toast. Well done burnt toast.

    Reading your post gave me a bit of clarity. Maybe this isn’t just a bad flare and maybe it won’t go away. Even if I power through. Even if I fake it till I feel it.

    So I am swallowing the lump in my throat and going to the doctor, today.
    Thanks Beth

  10. It may not be easy telling everyone your story but spreading awareness can really help make a difference to other peoples lives. One of the things that helped me get through depression is knowing that other people were capable of going forward with the same illness.

    By spreading awareness we are fighting half the battle, that’s why I’m one of the writers for a new site helping people achieve a better quality of life we have already started spreading awareness for men and we are branching off to more areas. you can check it out at http://www.ourmindandbody.com/7-signs-of-depression-in-men

    Feel free to leave feedback if you have a look

  11. Wow! I was diagnosed yesterday but couldn’t understand why?!?! I’m not sad! I’m not suicidal or harmful to others (for the most part lol!)”What do you mean Clinically depressed??? Emouis???”

    But you described me exactly! I too, am a raging bitch! ie:Irritable.

    Thank you for this!

  12. I just stumbled upon your blog, and just stumbled onto this post about Depression. I often capitalize the word Depression, because that is always what it has been to me—something Big, something Bad and something Always There. When I read your essay it was if I had found the words I had been trying to say for a long time. I’m so glad I found your blog,although on the surface we don’t have a lot in common, because we really do have some things in common. Thank you so much!

  13. […] but it turns out I know more about what it is to feel stuck. Stuck in the darkness. Stuck in my brain. Stuck in my faith. Stuck, well, rather loathing […]

  14. […] it will pollute the whole damn thing and kill you regardless.    Yes, I was on the brink of discovering my depression in disguise, but I wasn’t there yet, and so I was still dying and not yet reborn but trying bravely to […]

  15. I re-read this post from time to time. Beth, if you are bat-shit crazy, you’re far from the only one. I just went back to counseling and am having my meds re-evaluated after being ok (or so I thought) for over a year. It’s so hard to do this over and over, each time thinking I’ve “gotten better”. The truth is I’ll probably be repeating this cycle for the rest of my life. But I hope to get better at navigating it each time, and there are so many things in this life that make even the dark days worth it (too many to list here). So here I am, waving in the dark. Love and Light to you all.

  16. […] just… less of a fan of the messes that wind their way to the murky darkness and the madnesses that cut us past our […]

  17. […] my kids are a little older. And this year my kids can almost always wipe themselves. And this year my anxiety medication mostly works. And this year, Greg said, “Go.” So this year, I’m […]

  18. […] I Got the Children to School Semi-On-Time Again! GO, ME! coffee, and my alarm reminding me to take my medication, and my plans to find and don underwear because jeans chafe, man – drive to the church gym, […]

  19. […] how it feels to emotionally drown, which isn’t, it turns out, just a privilege reserved for those of us who are clinically depressed. And then we spent this week mired in depression talk. It makes me feel tired and sad and a little […]

  20. […] storm warnings or news bulletins or a shelter in which to hide until it’s passed. We must learn to recognize the stealthy and secretive ways depression comes upon us if we have a hope of combating it. Unfortunately, for the person with scrambled brain chemistry, […]

  21. […] I’ve suffered from depression. It’s my constant companion still. And I’ve found it difficult to forgive myself for the losses my illness and I inflicted on my family. For the ways I couldn’t find out of the Darkness. For the day I sat in the bathroom, staring at the anti-depressant pills that weren’t working and wondering if there was another way I could be free from the relentless sensation of drowning. Dead already, I thought. Lost to myself utterly. […]

    1. wow. the wording of this hit me between the eyes (and the heart) – “forgiving myself for the losses my illness and I inflicted on my family”. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 24 the spring I graduated university; had my first joint replacement at age 29; marriage (to a pastor) deteriorating badly, partly from the stress of the disease; trying my best to raise my boy well with all my deficiencies; wondering about suicide… blah blah blah… “relentless sensation of drowning”.

      I was so shocked to hear you’re an introvert ’cause u write so “extrovertedly”!!
      i am the opposite, i get energy from being with people but i find myself in need of friends these days … thanks to your blog, which i just found last week, i feel I’ve found a new friend – THANKS!
      I love your heart, your attitude, your potty mouth, your humour… thanks for keeping it real!!

  22. […] makes my marriage better in the end. But most of the time I just stuff my feelings with food and the slightest bit of rage… so, WINNING. […]

  23. […] spent a lot of time over the last month trying to rein the depression back in. Earlier this time. Before it got too far out. And I spent time wondering whether I was […]

  24. […] So stubbornly blind to my physical flaws and to my pettiness and my meanness and my rage. […]

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