I can’t begin to explain how I missed it. Why didn’t I catch this sooner? How did I make it through 6 years of college, studying physiology and pathophysiology and pharmacology, and miss THIS?
All I can determine is that I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to fully see it, admit it, fix it.
I distinctly remember being very sad during the 7th grade. My mom will attribute it to my challenging classes or my response to 9/11. I’m certain both of those things contributed to my mood, but I know now that it was a much deeper issue than my circumstances. I dropped out of my most difficult honors class, I rededicated my life to Christ, I “dated.” Nothing really helped, but I hid it okay.
From that point on being “down” was just part of who I was. I just thought that I was a real bummer of a person to be so sad all of the time for no good reason. Just a moody teenager. I tried to be excited about things or find joy in my friendships, family, and singing. Sometimes I even got distracted enough that I thought “hey, this must be how everyone else feels.”
If I got stressed enough, I could really get in a terrible funk. I remember this the most in college. I could go a whole week and be perfectly satisfied to never leave my bed, because why would I want to? Why would I want to join this pointless world I’m forced to be a part of every day? To be forced to put on a smile for everyone? I would come home completely worn out from acting pleasant all day. Josh always saw the real me, though. I didn’t feel like I had to fake anything in front of him. Poor thing.
“Maybe I have depression?” Sometimes I would entertain the thought, almost desperate to diagnose myself. To have a reason that I feel this way all of the time. I would read my chapters about depression intently, checking off diagnostic criteria as I went along. Trouble finding pleasure in activities – check. Excessive sleep – check. Depressed mood – check. Fatigue – double check. Well there we go, right? Then I would get to the duration section. Have these feelings most every day during a 2 week period. Sometimes? I usually went through what my husband and I ended up calling “down times.” But here was where it all crashed. “The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” No. No they didn’t. I could push aside how I felt to focus in school, do well, hang out with friends, lead in extracurricular organizations. Once I saw patients in the hospital admitted with depression I definitely ruled it out for myself. No, that’s really depression. I must just have a depressive, sad, miserable, lame personality. I must just not appreciate my life enough or commit to Jesus enough. If I did I would have joy, right?
Too bad I somehow missed that another word for “depressive personality” is dysthymia.
Finally, in the fall of 2013, after 12 years of being a miserable version of myself, I guess I was ready.
“Brett, read this.” Josh was in his 3rd year of medical school. We didn’t discover it in a text book, either. Just good ole Wikipedia.
“Dysthymia is a serious state of chronic depression, which persists for at least two years (1 year for children and adolescents); it is less acute and severe than major depressive disorder. As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, sufferers may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members, or friends.”
I immediately broke down. It’s real. It’s treatable? I can escape this? There’s a reason.
I made an appointment with a family physician the next week. After years of attempting to diagnose myself I already knew that I wanted to try Wellbutrin. As a pharmacist, my doctors visits usually end with – “So what do you want to try?” I also saw a therapist for a few months.
And just like that – it was gone. I increased my dose after a month to the recommended dose. After a few more weeks I felt like a new person. I could see through the fog. I could get out of bed in the morning, and if I didn’t it was just because I was tired, not because I was dreading my existence. I could make it through the day without feeling half asleep. I can’t even put into words what this felt like. It was like I was redefining myself, getting to know who I actually am without the depression. I told my community group and my family. My parents were supportive but understandably unsure if I really needed medication. I mean, I’ve just always been a moody kid but never actually seemed depressed? But they could tell the difference, too.
Once the depression lifted I noticed some anxiety. Before if I got anxious I would go straight into a “down period,” but now I just stayed anxious for a while. Knowing that anxiety and dysthymia often co-existed, I tried Lexapro and then switched to Viibryd. I stayed on the Viibryd for less than a year, but it helped a lot as I finished my residency.
It’s been over a year since I started Wellbutrin and I still can’t believe how different my life is now. I feel like a full person with reasonable responses to stressful situations and exciting ones. I asked Josh recently how he stayed with the “old” me for nearly 9 years. He said “because your good was always great.” I’ve never felt more loved.
If you think you struggle with depression or anxiety, do something about it. Go see a physician or a therapist. Talk to someone you know who has gone through this. Mental health is just as important as physical health and it will make all the difference in the world. As much as I’d love to have those 12 years back, I’m so grateful to Josh and my friends who have helped me so much along the way.