Friday, April 15, 2011


As a result of Catherine Zeta-Jones' statement regarding her Bipolar Disorder, the news media and internet are a flurry of commentary. I adore Zeta-Jones for her brave admission which helps to destigmatize depressive disorders. I have many dear friends who've battled their own depressive episodes. My friends Christine and Lindsey each write beautifully and openly about their dealings with depression. I find all of these women inspirational and sheroic (I totally stole that word from someone and I can't remember who they are so I can't give them credit. Apologies to that inspired person).

Yesterday morning, as I sat with my lap-top and read my Twitter stream, I read these two tweets from another shero, Jane Roper:

Jane Roper, writer
Yes, that's right. I just overshared in a big way. But it's part of my ongoing mission to destigmatize depression/bipolar disorder.
Jane Roper, writer
Forgot to take my meds last night. Feel like junkie in first hours of withdrawal. (I think?) Oy.

Brava!, I thought. Good for you and everyone who does their part to normalize this disease. HIGH FIVE. I applaud anyone who does anything to destigmatize depression because each time we share our struggles we extend air into another's lungs and normalize the human experience.

But my elation quickly retreated as one of those sneaky "uh-oh" feelings wrapped around my lungs. I realized--with gut-wrenching clarity--that I hold onto old, worn beliefs about my own depression which contribute to the very stigmas I wish to see obliterated. (But, luckily for everyone else, I reserve all my vitriol for me.)

My continual self-flagellation and judgement of my disease actually perpetuate the stigma. Damn it!, (shaking fist at the sky) I hate when that happens! This insight didn't fully crystallize until yesterday morning--I am so disappointed that I still suffer from depression. I thought, that by now, that I'd be able to manage this disease without medications. Or that, by now, I'd have sent this dark monster packing. My disappointment dances through my days while jeeringly mocking me. And frustratingly, the bitchy self-critic is actually a symptom of the very disease against which I rail. I feel that I'm weaker, somehow, less-than, because I've haven't mastered depression.

My logic denounces this silliness. Even as I see the words on my screen, I cringe at the ridiculousness of them. However, I realize that the maniacal stronghold of depression works into the dark recesses of my being--and my thoughts. I hope that by sharing these thoughts here, I can begin to jettison these cramped, toxic untruths.

Depression runs through the intricate tributaries of my heritage. Many different variations of the disease clog my genetic pool. Bipolar ebbing here, depressive episodes rising there. It'd be quicker to list those relatives who do not suffer some form of mental illness than to list all those who do. Unfortunately, because of those aforementioned societal taboos, no one discussed the depression epidemic in our family. The malformed DNA strands responsible for this unwelcome disease were brushed aside and ignored. Until recently. Now, it's discussed with a bit more candor. But, in my very humble opinion, not enough.

I hope to change that in my own family. I hope to find the wells of strength to do just that. Smash open that damned taboo. Today, I start. With this post.

I've always held hope in my palm, like a penny at a wishing well, hoping that with further self-actualization and maturation I would step out of the inky depressive rivers. Over 15 years later, I still take anti-depressants and occasionally I take anti-anxiety meds. I still need them. And this pisses me off immensely. I recognize the irony in this bitter pill--I know the drugs help me--I KNOW they allow me to function normally. But...that but still lingers....


I remember the first days after I received my diagnosis of depression, roughly 15 years ago. I'd known for months that I was very depressed and finally found a doctor with whom I felt safe, comfortable and heal-able. She prescribed an anti-depressant and lots and lots of therapy. I embraced the thought of therapy. But the drugs? Nope. I wasn't ready to take them. Fear perched in my gut and heart--I was so, very, very scared.

Would the drugs numb me to life? Would I still live fully? Would I still feel? Would I become a zombie-lady, bumping aimlessly through life?

The first day, the foil starter pack stared at me from my Formica bathroom counter. I stared back. I didn't break the foil--I didn't take a pill. I proudly breezed off to work thinking, I don't need those things. I'm stronger than this. The second, third and fourth days that pill pack sat, untouched. I saw it each morning and each night, those tiny little pink pills that would supposedly make me feel better. That would lessen the caustic, damning views of myself. That would allow me to get healthy. Geesh, I thought, as IF.

Day six day came and I belligerently grabbed that now water-stained foil pack of pills. I sat on my gold, wide-wale corduroy couch and stared down the pills. The late, Saturday afternoon sun spilled into my tiny apartment; dust speckles danced on my grooved, faded hardwood floors. The sounds of my Chicago neighborhood, usually audible in a constant din, faded completely. The only two sounds I heard: my throbbing, questioning heart and the crinkle of the foil pack beneath my fingers.

One of my tanned legs swung over the edge of the couch, the other sat tucked beneath me. Disappointment flooded me, almost drowned me. My defeat inundated the room and thwarted the noble efforts of the tenacious sun beams. My failure owned me--depression was stronger than I. The foil pack glinted and fought with the sun, casting funny patterns on the ceiling. I turned the pack over and over, mentally volleying my decision. As much as I grappled, the answer was clear--continue through the caustic, grappling days of my depression, or give this foil-wrapped life--line a try.

I grabbed a glass of water. I pushed a pill through the foil wrapper. The foil crinkled. My heart thumped. I pushed through the inky, low-lying clouds. And I swallowed that pill.

I have more to say. So much more. But for now, I have some questions for you: what stigmas, if any, do you hold? Are you open and caring with others while judging yourself? Have you ever dealt with depression, or helped someone through depression?


Lindsey said...

Yes, yes, yes to being more gentle with others than I am to myself. Um, YES. And the stigma of depression still dogs me - I hate that I still take meds, that I fell off such a cliff after my daughter's birth, that I can't simple Get Through It. But I can't, and honest, frank posts like this one, that look unflinchingly at both the reality and the societal pressures, help so much. Merci. xox

Anonymous said...

Of course I know, you know I know. ALL OF THIS. Even now, six months after taken my own first tiny pill, I judge myself, I worry what it says about me.

I'm with Lindsey, I hate it all. But the more we talk about it, the better it will hopefully be for others who struggle like us, and for those who will come after us.

This is important stuff. And I don't just mean on the surface, I mean everything that rolls around underneath with it. It's painful, it's dark, and it's ugly. But the kinship we can find is quite beautiful.

Thank you for being brave and for sharing. But more importantly, thank you for being MY friend all of the times I've needed it.

Justine said...

Brava to YOU for taking this big step. While it's not something I can relate to, at the same time, I know what it feels like to speak honestly about your own life. To admit the things that society deems taboo because only then will we squelch archaic notions.

I have struggled on my blog to admit to the fact that I'm not married (because of my very traditional family who might be reading and they've always assumed I was) and just recently, I came clean about the struggles my partner and I went through, where it almost destroyed our family. But the truth, when it came out, liberated me. Like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

By admitting to these, I was hoping that others in my situation will know they're not alone in their own struggles, that it's not shameful, that it's part of the experience of living and that it's OK to give voice to our pain and insecurities. Because only then will we allow ourselves the strength to move forward, and in so doing, pave the way for others to do the same.

Denise, I applaud you for this post. Thank you for being so brave and so honest. And so you.

Pam @writewrds said...

All sorts of mental illness -- and other illnesses -- run through my family too.
Thanks very much for sharing.
It's an important subject to discuss.
I look forward to reading more!

MaFerron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MaFerron said...

Ladies and Gentlemen...I commend us all! We have all taken the steps required to live a fuller more authentic life. I have been dealing with some form of anxiety and depression for my entire life and finally after a nervous breakdown in college I took matters into my own hands and sought help. The stigma of depression has long ago escaped me (thankfully). Like I take b12 monthly to lessen my cyclical cramps, I take medication to maintain an even keel. Of course, the real me is there but when I feel sad, I feel sad in the healthy way, not the way that says I must end it all. Medication, whatever that may be, pharmaceutically based, exercise based, talk therapy etc is really just another way of employing tools so that we can become our best, authentic selves. Cast off the stigma!!!! Literally crumble last year's leaves in your hand (to signify the stigma) step outside alone, breath deeply and release the stigma/leaves into the wind. Rest assured that by acknowledging your needs, you are allowing your "shero" to stand loud and proud. Thanks for sharing and allowing this conversation to be had.

Cynthia said...

You couldn't have said it better. Yes, to all your questions. People often say to me why are you so hard on yourself and so understanding, caring, and supportive of others. I wish I knew why ... meds and talk therapy have been my savior. Cringe as I wrote that last sentence.
Thanks for sharing. The more we talk the less power we give stigmas.

bob said...

Maybe it's because I'm diabetic and had to overcome the stigma of injecting insulin, but dealing with depression and taking meds for it is nothing. If someone has a problem with it, that's exactly what it is - their problem. Like Denise said, it's that damn DNA and there's nothin' we can do about it. I think we also need to give ourselves credit. It takes a strong person to say 'something's wrong' and to work on making it right. Depression is part of who I am. And - maybe in part because of the meds - I LIKE me!

Laurie said...

Denise -

What a brave and beautiful post. You're my new shero.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri said...

Important post Denise. I admire you for sharing your truth. Lately, maybe through my own doing,
I've placed myself in a box. Mainly because I only have one child. All around (even though sometimes I may be imagining it) I feel like people are judging me. Sometimes I don't know if it is society's stigma or our own judgments that create the stigma. Thanks for this post.

Katrina said...

A year ago, I sat across the table at a restaurant with one of my best friends, and confessed (through tears) that I'd finally started anti-depressants. She laughed (in a caring way) and said "you & a dozen other friends!" Coming from an impressive family history of depression (incl. a sister who is bipolar), I still found it difficult to say "me too."

Hope to see you & Lindsey soon. Cheers to all of us!

Christa said...

My dear Denise,

You - weak? No, honey, no.

And this proves it. Brava to you for cracking this egg open even wider.

If it helps - my struggle has been life long, really. Meds? Yes, and plenty of them, tried it all. For a very long time. Now I have lots of other tools in my toolbox and use them regularly. Every day. But if I needed to, I'd go back. Meds can be a bridge to the place where you can do your work. And you are doing it. Beautifully.

Love to you...

And I know I am not

Cynthia said...

Glad had this to read today!One of those days... Thanks!

christine said...

Beautifully written Denise. I am, as always, so impressed by you.