Self Reflection on Depression

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I realized something just today. Another one of the most horrible things that mental illness does is that it steals your identity. I already knew this about postpartum depression. I experienced it in the worst way. But I had never thought about it in terms of any other mental illness.

For over a month I was struggling severely with my depression. I feel like I’m just starting to come out of it, and looking back now I see all these things I did, said, thought, felt that just weren’t me—that weren’t the real me. It’s almost like someone inserted another person’s memories into my brain—because the real me would never do, say, think or feel those things.

Living with depression is already darkness, stumbling around with no light, dragging more and more weight behind you and on top of you every day. But it’s also doing it with no real identity—like you are nothing, nobody. Just some . . . lifeless thing.

I’m not trying to use any of this as an excuse. It’s more just self reflection and the hope that next time I will be more aware and try harder to hold onto who I am. I will try harder not to let the depression steal away who I am. Sometimes who I am is all I have.

Life Inside the Box

I didn’t want to let this much time go by between posts, but life has been insanely busy the last few weeks. I feel like I have no time. All of my time is working or my kids. I’ve been worried about losing myself again the way I did when I had postpartum depression, the way I did in my marriage. I feel like I just found myself again in the last few months. I know who I am, and I like who I am. I just don’t know if I can hold onto it with my busy schedule.

I had this training I had to go to on Friday. It was on the same road that leads to Antelope Island, one of my favorite local spots, one of my local sanctuaries, I suppose you could say. I so desperately wanted to screw the training and just keep driving—out to the island.

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I have this yearning inside me to escape. I continue to have dreams, even small ones—like driving out to Antelope Island—that seem so far out of reach. Is this life? Living in a box with holes, where you can see the outside, see what you want, but are never able to get out?

I want to do more than survive. I’m just not sure how or if it really is possible.

Real Identity Theft

A few days ago I was looking through an old journal and came across an entry from about a month after my daughter was born.

“Who I am lies dormant in words that are packed away beneath stacks of notebooks. I am forgotten, unknown poems, unable to bring them back to life inside of me. If anyone should ask where I am, this is where I’d tell them to look.”

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I had forgotten just how much postpartum depression steals your identity from you. It is the truest form of real, actual identity theft. Some women get it back after a month, a few months, a year. I didn’t begin to start feeling like myself again for three years. And even then, there were parts of my self that never came back. I lost so much.

After reading this journal entry, remembering, pondering, I realized what a good place I’m in right now. I know who I am again. I have a sense of self, and I can be that self. And I like who I am. I feel strong, confident, independent, though able to admit when I need help and ask for it, and I’m happy. Life isn’t without its struggles, and sometimes I get down, feel disappointed, am sad. But I am still me, and that is one of the biggest reasons I’m able to get through those hard times without letting them consume me.

Remember (Part 3): The Explanation

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I still vividly remember the night I wrote Remember, sitting on the floor in my bedroom, papers strewn around me, furiously scribbling on the page. It was one of those out-of-body experiences where I looked down at my hand and thought, “Wow, look at my hand writing.” It was as if I were looking at someone else. Remember wrote itself. I didn’t even think about it as my hand penciled in the words. It was kind of surreal.

When I finished and looked at it I had the most distinct thought that it was a story about me in the future. That didn’t make sense, though. If I knew it was going to be me in the future I could take steps to make sure it didn’t happen to me. Right? And yet, the thought remained. This was a story about me, a story that had written itself.

I suppose it came from a family vacation almost a year and a half earlier. On our way to Reno, Nevada we passed by this exit sign for Painted Rock. I didn’t know if it was a town or a ranch or just a trail, but the area along I-80 next to the Truckee River was beautiful and inspiring. We spent time at Lake Tahoe, the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast over the next week. It was a return to nature after a difficult year as a sophomore in high school. Less than six months before this trip I had been diagnosed with depression. My greatest solace in those dark days came from writing poetry, listening to music and being in nature. It felt so liberating and inspirational as my mind filled with stories. I swore I would one day go back and explore the area, as I wanted it to be the setting of some future novel. It was hard coming home, going back to normal life after this vacation.

Time went by, and sometimes I would think about this story and poem I wrote. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t let the woman in the story become me. I would keep exploring, keep feeding my soul with nature, keep writing.

More time went by, I had a baby, and I was thrown into the pit of postpartum depression. I was lost. The real Tacy became lost. For years it felt like someone else was inhabiting my body. Everything changed, and I stopped writing. Life was so hard, and I forgot about Remember.

Then, one day a woman in my church randomly asked me if I liked to write. It took me a second to answer I was so caught off guard. I finally managed to tell her that I did like to write, that I didn’t do it much anymore, but wished I had the inspiration again. She told me about a writers group she was in and invited me to come to their next meeting. Curious, I went. I didn’t take anything with me to read, but I left that meeting, went home and started writing. Just going to a single meeting inspired me to start writing again.

Not long after, I was going through a notebook I had created of all my poetry and short stories from high school and when I was first at college. And I saw Remember. Truly, I had forgotten. And I suddenly saw how I had, indeed, become the woman in the story—not to an absolute T, but close enough. It hadn’t been ten years, less than that, and it wasn’t work, but mental illness that had stolen my memories, my dreams, the yearnings of my heart. Knowing that the story had come to pass, just like I had originally thought, hit me to my core. It was . . . unbelievable. And, yet, it had happened. But I was still stuck in this certain way of thinking and living. I started feeling more like myself three years after my daughter was born, but then my marriage was falling apart. We got help, things seemed like they were going to work out, then right as they started going downhill again I got pregnant again. The pregnancy was miserable, I got postpartum again, life was up and down until my marriage hit the point of no return and last year I got divorced and became a single mom.

Throughout the years I have continued to write—sporadically. I have had moments here and there to enjoy the beauty and inspiration of nature. This last year has definitely had some very low times, but I feel stronger than I ever have before. I have a plan—goals, even—and I see a path I can take that will give me the freedom to take the reigns of my life and get what I want out of it. I will no longer be the woman who gets lost or who forgets. I will be the woman who knows where she’s going, who always remembers.

On a side note: My six-year-old son is really into favorites. He loves asking what your favorite—whatever is! He asks me what my favorite color is, my favorite food, favorite number, favorite thing to do. And he often asks me what my favorite word is. “Perspective,” I always tell him. Perspective is my favorite word. “What’s your second favorite word?” he’ll ask. He does this with everything, often getting to my sixth or seventh favorite of whatever it is. I have always loved the word perspective because I believe life is all about perspective. But my second favorite word is remember. It is a powerful word, though it’s dependent on how you choose to respond to it—like everything in life. One of the things that keeps me going in life is the fact that I can remember the good things that have happened. I can remember and be grateful. Remembering can propel me forward through the slumps. That’s why I love it. Remember.

Taking a Closer Look

The first time I heard the song Come a Little Closer by Cage the Elephant (LOVE them!) it spoke to me—mostly because it reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. It was an incredibly painful experience, but one that also taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.

The chorus of the song speaks of how things aren’t always what they seem to be when you take a closer look. Snowflakes are a perfect example of this.

From a distance, it’s just a uniform sheet of white, but when you put one under a microscope you see its true intricate beauty. Life is the same way. From a distance it may seem to be one way, but upon closer inspection, you may find something completely different.

I had a friend in college. Yes, that’s saying something! I will be the first to admit that I was a really hard person to get along with back then, and I’ve often wondered if most of the people who called themselves my friends were just saying it. If I could go back in time and meet my past self, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand myself! There were, however, a couple of people who saw past the cocky, loudly opinionated person that I was and somehow liked me anyway.

This one particular friend and I stayed in touch even after college, and our friendship grew despite our lives going in different directions. I got married, had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom while she continued her education and had a career. It seemed as though she was always off on some grand adventure while I had my own mini-adventures close to home. The differences didn’t matter to me. She was my friend, someone I cared about and was happy for, someone I knew cared about me. So imagine my shock when one day she told me that she could no longer be my friend because seeing me with my perfect life as a wife and mother, with the perfect husband made her too jealous because it was the life she had always wanted and dreamed of since she was a young girl. And that was it. That was the end. She wouldn’t talk to me again.

Part of the reason this hurt me so much was because my life was so far from that perfect world she had so falsely dreamed up. My marriage was in shambles. It was so bad I knew I had three options—get a divorce, get some serious help to save my marriage or take my own life. Yes, that’s how bad it was. It was the worst hell I’d been through up to that point in my life. All I could see was darkness, and there were times I didn’t know if I could make it through. The ironic part is that I had actually been thinking of telling my friend about what was going on. I felt like I could trust her because I knew she cared about me and would be there for me no matter what—because that’s what friends do, right?

Besides my shattering marriage, I had also gone through severe postpartum depression after having my daughter and it never really went away. While I loved being a mom and was grateful I could be one, I had quickly learned that motherhood doesn’t equal a state of constant happiness and bliss like she apparently thought it did.

It hurt. I hurt. I thought about telling her what was going on, but I knew it wouldn’t get through. She was too closed off to anything other than what she wanted to believe, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad—because I valued her as a person and someone who had been one of my closest friends. Despite the hurt, as I looked at and analyzed what had happened, I learned a very important lesson which I’m still grateful for. It taught me never to make assumptions. It’s so easy to look at someone else and think they have it made, think they have the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house, the perfect job. The perfect life. But it’s not true! Everyone has problems, everyone struggles, and when you make an assumption like that it takes away opportunities for you to serve. If you can just take the time to truly get to know someone and get a glimpse into their life, you often find that you’re more alike that you think and that perhaps you can help or strengthen them in their times of difficulty.

Now, it would have been nice if I had learned this lesson without the painful experience to go along with it. But pain and hurt are a part of life, and one of the greatest things I’ve found is the ability to look back and see what you have learned and can learn from those times—just like I did with this experience.

*As a side note, this experience was several years ago. My ex-husband and I did get help that did save our marriage. But life goes on, things change, people change, and we did end up divorced anyway. The fact that we didn’t go through a completely bitter and hate-filled divorce, the fact that we remain friends and still care about each other doesn’t mean it was some picture-perfect divorce. It was an incredibly difficult experience for both of us and the most alone I have ever felt in my life. I am grateful for the friends I had, who stuck with me through it and allowed me to cry and vent and shared in my pain with me. I’m also grateful for the friends and neighbors I have now who have shown so much love and support to both me and my ex-husband.

The Power of Gratitude

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I’m going to be cliché today and write about gratitude. The fact that Thanksgiving is this week is a complete coincidence! Actually, this has been on my mind recently, partly because it was the subject of a lesson I substituted for in my daughter’s primary class at church. Thanksgiving being in a couple of days just makes it more appropriate!

Many years ago someone told me about a gratitude journal—a journal you kept where every day you wrote three things you were grateful for. Gratitude/thankfulness is something we talk a lot about in my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re taught to be grateful for all of the blessings Heavenly Father has given us. But gratitude isn’t just a spiritual concept. It’s part of the field of Positive Psychology. Dr. Randy Kamen wrote an article for the HuffPost about it:

What we have learned is that cultivating personal attributes fortifies us during times of adversity and emotional turmoil and leads to greater happiness and resilience. Moreover, of all the attributes one can develop, gratitude is most strongly associated with mental health.

You can read her full article here.

So I decided to start my own gratitude journal. At the time I was still struggling with the aftermath of my severe postpartum depression which never went away. Finding things to be grateful for during times like that can be a struggle, so I decided to start out writing just one thing each day I was grateful for. Sometimes my entries were of a silly or whimsical nature. I’m grateful for chocolate. (I really, truly am!) I’m grateful for rain in the summer and for cute, little frogs hopping around. (We used to have a bunch of them, and my kids loved finding them in our grass.) I’m grateful for gourmet donuts. [My daughter] and I shared an Oreo donut, and it was so good. (I miss those donuts they used to have at the local grocery store!)

Sometimes I wrote about temporal things. I’m grateful for good people who do good things. (I don’t even remember who I was thinking of when I wrote this, but I am still grateful for the many people in my life who do good things.) I’m grateful for shelter, for a place to live. (This is especially true now with all the disasters going on throughout the world.) I’m grateful for my children. I wish they didn’t grow up so fast.(My baby boy just turned six, and I still wish they didn’t grow up so fast.)

Often times, my entries were of a more personal or spiritual nature. I’m thankful for The Book of Mormon and the peace, comfort and happiness it gives me. I’m grateful for the Spirit that’s with me when I read it. (Something I still feel the same way about.) I’m grateful for the gift of beauty the Sonoran Desert has shown me. (Right about now, I’m really missing it—those warm, beautiful winters and springs.) I’m grateful for love and forgiveness. (Yes and yes.) I’m grateful for words. I’m grateful for the words inside of me. They are my soul. (Something I think about often and am still grateful God helped me to see.) I’m grateful for my Savior. (Something I will always, always be grateful for.)

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Keeping a gratitude journal didn’t take away my mental illness, but it did make my life a bit lighter and happier. I would find myself actively thinking about things I was grateful for each day, so I would be able to write something in my notebook. Focusing on those blessings helped keep negative, self-depreciating thoughts at bay. And as time went by I found it easier to write more than one thing I was grateful for—and still have plenty more to add to the next day.

There have been lulls in my writing. The last time I wrote something was over three years ago, but I would like to start doing this again. I talked to my children about it last night, and we decided that each night before we go to bed, we will each say something we are grateful for. I’m going to write it in my journal as well. I challenge everyone reading this to do the same. Start a gratitude journal or at least spend some time each day thinking of what you have to be thankful for. I guarantee it will make a difference in your life!

More Than the Baby Blues (Part Two)

In my last post, I talked about my experience with postpartum depression after my first baby was born. It took around three years before I finally started feeling like myself again. Because of how difficult that time was, my ex-husband and I decided to wait a bit longer before trying to have another baby again. My plan was to wait for our daughter to turn four, and then stop using birth-control. However, a few months before her birthday, I got pregnant. Yes, it was an accident. Don’t worry, I won’t gross anyone out with the details.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first, I was nervous, yet excited. It was a fairly easy pregnancy—so much so that I actually liked being pregnant. Crazy, right? This was not the case the second time around. When I found out I was pregnant, I was not happy. I didn’t want to be pregnant yet. I hadn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. Finding out I was having a boy was even more depressing. I didn’t want a boy. I wanted another girl. I knew nothing about boys or what to do with them. It was a difficult pregnancy, too. I was sick most of the whole nine months—like violently-throwing-up-all-the-time sick. I had heartburn, indigestion, constipation. And the kid never rested! He was always doing somersaults and jabs and kicks. It was like a constant martial arts competition was going on inside of me! I rarely slept, I was always exhausted, wasn’t active like I was during my first pregnancy. I was miserable. And I was also terrified about getting postpartum again.

Eventually the big day came, and I delivered my baby boy naturally just like I had my first, and it was just as amazing the second time around. I instantly fell in love with my new baby. He gave a single cry when he came out, then promptly fell asleep. He slept all the time! I guess he wore himself out so much inside of me that he had no energy left after he came out. He was an angel baby—so easy-going, so mellow, hardly ever cried. And I didn’t get depressed.

woman-1302674_1280Those first few weeks after he was born were wonderful. My baby slept well, I slept well. He took a bottle so his dad could actually feed him. (My daughter refused a bottle so I had to breastfeed her all the time.) I got through those first few weeks feeling absolutely great. It felt amazing knowing that I didn’t have to suffer the way I had the first time. And then, three weeks to the day after my baby boy was born, I crashed. That overwhelming sense of darkness closed in around me, like all the light and life had been sucked out of me. The next week was hell. I cried all the time, feeling depressed and alone and worthless. When I went in for my four week checkup, I told my midwife what had happened.

“How do you feel about medication?” she asked.

“Give it to me,” I said. This time, I wasn’t going to be stupid. This time, I had learned. My midwife prescribed me an anti-depressant. I could feel the effect within weeks. It didn’t cure me, it didn’t completely take away my depression and make me happy, but it helped so much. So much. It honestly made a world of difference. I was able to function so much better than I had after my daughter was born. I was able to enjoy my new baby in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

After about six months, I slowly tapered myself off of the medication, hoping it would work better than going cold turkey. Yet within weeks after completely going off of it, I was back to that same world of darkness and depression. That’s when I knew it was more than likely that I would have to be on medication the rest of my life. And I was okay with that. If taking medication gave me a fuller, happier life, why shouldn’t I take it?

trees-18509_1920The thing I think people don’t realize, however, is that medication doesn’t always “cure” mental illness. I have a friend who calls her anti-depressants “happy pills” because they do make her happy. She functions like a totally normal person on them—has a job, hobbies, is a wife and mother, a great friend. But it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Being on medication made a huge difference as far as making normal living more doable, helped me enjoy life, my kids, neighbors, friends more easily, but the struggle was still there on a daily basis. My anxiety wasn’t as out of control, but it never completely left me, and my OCD only seems to get worse as time goes by. The winter is especially hard. I have seasonal affective disorder, and those long winter months fought back against the medication, dragging me down.

So, did my postpartum depression ever go away? I think it just flowed into an ongoing, lifelong struggle with mental illness. The difference this time was my willingness to admit that I needed help. I think sometimes, as a society, we view that as a sign of weakness, when really it can take great strength and courage to admit that you can’t do something on your own, then accept help from others. I think the key is experimenting, keeping your mind open to many possibilities, until you find what helps you. And there is help out there!