Genes, Divorce and Hormones
There are three factors I consider prominent in my mental illness blossoming when it did: my parents divorce, puberty and genetics.
My parents divorced when I was 11. I considered this a positive thing because my father was a violent, narcissistic mess who couldn’t stand being around his kids and wife. Although I was glad to have him out of the house, I still yearned for him to love me and accept me for who I was. I hadn’t realized yet that this was an impossibility.
At 11, I was very close to puberty and, as I would come to understand, my hormones didn’t play nice. They stirred up my illness.
Finally, mental illness runs through both sides of my rotting family tree. I could no more escape mental illness than fly to the moon.
So, at the young age of 11, I experienced my first depression. It swallowed me, forcing great waves of tears out of me. I felt a darkness in me. My mom kept asking what was wrong and I had no answer.
I finally started seeing a therapist at age 15. She told me I would just have to accept that my father didn’t love me.
I lay on the floor in my bedroom many days wishing for death, silent tears rolling out of my eyes.
I should have seen a psychiatrist, but I didn’t know that and neither did my mom. This was the early 80s and there was still quite a stigma attached to mental illness.
My mom’s friends reassured her that all kids my age get blue. I told my mom that I wanted to die. I knew that wasn’t normal.
So I stumbled through my teen years, depression hitting me every few years, anxiety part of my everyday life.
Start the Pills
Finally, I saw a therapist who recognized the depression and got me in to a psychiatrist. I started Prozac and, to my amazement, it worked. My depression lifted. I felt like I was seeing life as it really was for the first time. For 12 years, I only took Prozac. I was really lucky that it worked for me so long. I have also been on it a few times in my adult life and it has been a life saver.
My early adult years saw me going through depressive episodes about every three years. Then, at age 30, I got pregnant and my illness turned into a whole new beast.
I was depressed throughout most of my pregnancy. The hormones surging through me were too much for my brain. I spent many days in bed, anxiety-ridden and wickedly depressed. I couldn’t tell my friends. What would they think of someone who appeared so ungrateful to be pregnant?
My son was born a week and half early by emergency C-section. For five days after he arrived I was the happiest I had ever been. Then the biggest attack of anxiety I’ve ever had struck and I was terrified. I was hearing things and seeing shadows. I saw my psychiatrist and he said that if I continued to breastfeed the only medicine he could put me on was anti-depressants. I was bound and determined to breastfeed so I tried a new anti-depressant. It did nothing.
The other bad news my psychiatrist had for me is that it appeared I had developed pregnancy-induced Bipolar Disorder II. What?!
My moods began to cycle with my menstrual period. For two weeks I would be agitated, anxious and depressed and then two weeks of relatively normalcy. This continued through three hospitalizations and ten years.
Suicidal thoughts have been a constant through all of this. I promised my husband that I would not commit suicide and this promise has been all that has stood between me and my doing myself in.
Mayo to the Rescue
I was hospitalized in my local mental health facility and it only helped a little. The next time I was down in the pit, my psychiatrist wanted to send me to the Mayo Mood Disorders Clinic in Minnesota. My husband made the seven hour drive to get me admitted and I spent a week adjusting my medications and learning coping skills. I felt so positive when I got out, yet, six months, later I found myself in the pit again and back to Mayo we went.
This time I started a medication combination of Zyprexa and Prozac. Within days I felt different. I wasn’t scared all the time and the black thoughts had receded a bit. I would only continue to get better.
I was in partial remission for four and half wonderful years. During that time I started Group Therapy which has been a lifesaver. There are nine women in the group with various physical and mental difficulties. We meet once a week with a therapist facilitator and discuss our issues.
I also started a wedding officiating business and have married over 60 couples.
My self-confidence bloomed during this period. I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and felt good interacting with others.
My personality shined and I was excited to be alive.
Stumbling a Bit
Lately things have been a little rough. I’ve been going through periods of depression mixed with restlessness, anxiety and agitation. My doctor and I have been experimenting with medications once again but haven’t found the magic combination.
I just keep pushing through. I know what if feels like to feel good and I want that again.
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Mental illness is an elusive foe. Changing shapes all the time. It feels like every day there is something new to cope with….some new challenge to my coping skills.
I am very lucky to have good health insurance to pay for all the doctor’s visits and medications. But there is still a huge cost associated with being chronically ill. I spend at least $300-$400 a month on mental health treatments.
But I am so glad to be alive and so grateful for all of my blessings. Despite all the troubles in my life, there are a lot of great things as well. My husband and son. My friends. My family. My dogs.
Life is good. I just have to keep fighting.