"I was compelled to let people know it isnt normal to feel depressed all the time."(DEBORAH GRAY)Its hard to recall when I first felt depressed, because for a long time it was indistinguishable from my personality. As a child I was introverted. Giving and receiving physical or verbal affection made me uncomfortable. My parents divorced when I was 2, and for years I dated men twice my age in an attempt to fix my relationship with my father. I believe my depression started when I was just 7 years old.
My doctor said I had PMS!
In college, my depression became severe. My grades were so terrible that I was kicked out for a semester. I had zero motivation to go to class, study, or do anything. Most students feel the stress of growing up, but I realized my problems were more than stress. I constantly pushed away people who tried to be my friend, didnt leave my room, and had no energy to do mundane tasks like laundry. When I finally went to a clinic, the doctor told me I had PMS! My low mood wasnt cyclical, but I didnt know what else it could be. He sent me away with instructions to keep a diary, but when youre depressed, its hard to articulate your thoughts, much less write them down. I never saw that doctor again.
After graduation I found a job, but I was barely making it through the workday. I would do only what was absolutely necessary: Get up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. There was no joy, motivation, or sense of accomplishment. Though I wasnt suicidal, I couldnt imagine life five years down the road.
It wasnt until I was 27, when I read Darkness Visible by William Styron, that I understood what was wrong with me. He articulated beautifully all of the feelings of loneliness and despair Id been fighting for the past 20 years.
Next Page:Â Depression diagnosis [ pagebreak ]Depression diagnosis
I made an appointment with the head of psychiatry at a nearby hospital. He diagnosed me with depression and set up a meeting with a psychiatrist and psychologist, who suggested I begin therapy and get on antidepressants. As a teenager I had been on sedatives for migraine equivalents that had caused grogginess and flattened personality, so I was somewhat antimedication and opted not to get a prescription.
Talk therapy was a good start, but its hard to participate when youre so completely absorbed in your depression. My thoughts moved like mud, and I couldnt feel anything.
Six months after my depression diagnosis, I decided to take Norpramin. It took about six weeks for my body to adjust, but it was a complete 180. Small things that used to require all my energy, like taking a walk, became effortless, and I could express my emotions in therapy.
There were some unpleasant side effectsÂ—morning nausea, dry mouth (which caused my teeth to decalcify)Â—but I took Norpramin for 10 years. Id choose the negative side effects over being depressed any day.
Breaking the silence
Silence kept me away from treating my depression, and its what keeps others away too. It's so isolating. I was compelled to let people know it isnt normal to feel depressed all the time. So in 1995, I started my website, Wing of Madness, because I wasted so much time suffering.
Almost immediately, people emailed me to ask for advice and to tell me they were relieved to hear of someone else with the same problem. To help connect others, I began a forum for others to lick their wounds, feel less alone, and get encouragement. It was hard to coordinate, but it helped me evolve into a crusader for depression.
Even with the website, I couldnt deal with depression by myself. I was still going to therapy and trying to switch to an antidepressant without as many negative side effects. I spent a year on Prozac, in part because my doctor felt it would also help my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He was right, but it caused anorgasmia and my personality felt flattened. I went back to Norpramin for a few years and eventually switched to Wellbutrin.
In 2000, I hit another roadblock when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease affecting the central nervous system. I lost my job shortly thereafter. My husband, George, and I were living in a rural area, and it was isolating to deal with MS and depression without a job to distract me. I began to work even harder on the website, and it became my community. It strengthened me for the next life change I was planning.
Next Page:Â Dealing with depression during pregnancy [ pagebreak ]Dealing with depression during pregnancy
Ever since I was diagnosed with depression, I dreaded the day when I would become pregnant. I wanted children, but most antidepressants carry a small risk for the fetus. I assumed Id spend the majority of my pregnancy depressed. When I found out I was pregnant in 2002, I called my psychopharmacologist, who advised me on how to wean myself off my medication.
I had gone off antidepressants once before, when I was trying to conceive with my first husband, and it was the most horrible three months. My depression was worse than it had been beforehand. I fully expected it to continue, but I was shocked when I didnt experience any depression during my pregnancy. It was as though I was still on my medication. As soon as I gave birth to my son, Lawrence, I began taking Wellbutrin again to avoid any bouts of postpartum depression.
Having MS while working and trying to keep up with a very active little boy is a challenge, but I refuse to just crumple up into a little ball. Some people are fragile, but Im just too damned stubborn to waste time moaning and groaning about how fate has dealt me a bad hand. Im not even sure if Ive learned to cope with depression, but antidepressants are a lifesaver.
Coping by staying active
Leftover time and energy are scarce with my full-time job scheduling classrooms at UC Berkeley, being a mom, and spending hours each week organizing the forum and adding mental health news stories. But I think that every minute I spend writing about depression is worth it.
With the help of antidepressants and a weekly therapist visit, the majority of days are good ones. In college I chose the safe route, spending most of my time studying alone. Now Im completely differentÂ—I love learning new things. Who knew I was interested in business and science? When I get that spark of interest, I decide to pursue it. Friends constantly tell me they cant believe I do so much.
I am still dealing with depression and probably will be for the rest of my life. Sometimes its still a struggle to find the motivation to do household chores, like making a simple set of curtains for our kitchen. The difference is now I use my support system of doctors, family, and friends to keep me healthy.