Depression, PPD, and Decades of Living Through It: Chapter 1

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It scared me when I created the above title and picture that it has, in fact, been decades that I have suffered from depression.  I will be 38 in August and have suffered from depression since I was as young as 10 and probably earlier.  I read tonight a blog,, and was taken through this woman's inner struggle with depression and anxiety.  

I have never been so taken back by the rawness of her words and my empathy with her situation, but also the realization that she was describing so many of the things I have felt myself.  To be fair, I have been on meds since I was 20 so the past couple of decades have not been the dark dismal abyss that many endure.

So, let's start from the very beginning, shall we?  My grandfather was manic depressive bipolar and was born in the early 1900s.  A time when mental health was not talked about and the practices surrounding treatment were questionable at best.  My family is also from the South.  We don't much talk about those things now much less back then.  My family, however, was fairly progressive in nature and did recognize that my Paw Paw was touched.  Manic depression and bipolar tend to be delayed in their expression in life as well.  Therefore, the full extent of his condition didn't totally reveal itself until after he had married my Maw Maw and had my Mom.  

I can't even begin to imagine what shame my Maw Maw must have felt when the crazies began nor how bamboozled she must have felt to find out her farmer, hard-working husband was afflicted.  My Paw Paw was raised on a farm in rural NC and had 10 brothers and sisters.  All of them attended college.  Now, you don't have to know much about the South to know that sending 10 kids to college in the early 1900s (including all of the girls) was unheard of.  It also demonstrates my family was progressive in nature.  

When the episodes began or as Momma describes them, when the sap started rising the spring, Daddy would start rising too.  He underwent multiple electrotherapy shock treatments and for a while would be fine.  Then, it would happen again.  (Footnote - shock therapy is still used today and believed to be effective when nothing else is.  Check here with the Mayoclinic if you don't believe me.)  My Paw Paw would wander around at night, in the dark, with his gun, trying to scare off lord knows what.  His best friend, a black neighbor, would round him up to the back porch and settle him down after while.  Again, another incongruity with a black man and white man being best friends and the black man sitting up all night with the white one to talk him down...but that is for another post.

My Maw Maw and Momma have/had the strength of the Almighty to live through it and come out on the other side.  While there is stigma today, I don't believe anyone born this side of 1975 could possibly understand what STIGMA really meant back then.  It wasn't until I was older that I was told of my Paw Paw's condition.  It also meant that my Mom is a stalwart of strength and weak emotion or better lack of control of your emotions particularly the dark deep ones is well in a simple term just not allowed.  Or at least it felt that way when I was growing up.  My mother is the epitome of a Southern Lady and carries herself as such at all times.  I am, on the other hand, probably a little too flamboyant in happy times and way too depressed in the bad times.  

Fast forward, my Mom marries my father and has me in 1980.  My father passes away in 1983.  I am 2 1/2 years old.  That's a bummer for sure, but what did I know I was still in diapers?  My Mom remarries in 1985.  My step-grandfather, Tossie, dies when I was 7 and I freaked out.  Another loss in 5 years time?!?  Why was everyone leaving me?

Then, my Paw Paw passed away in 1994.  By 14, I was a typical angst ridden teenage unhappy with the world in which I lived.  I had lost a parent I didn't know and felt this undeniable whole in me.  Who was he?  How was I like him?  Would he love me?  And a plethora of other questions that I had no answers to.  My Mom didn't talk about him much; my siblings are much older and so there just wasn't a lot of knowledge shared.  I felt isolated, alone, and that no one understood me.  I had great friends that hugged me and tried to help in working through my profound sense of grief, but their experience just simply didn't match mine.  In fact, at 12, I held a knife to my wrist in front of a dear friend and just wanted it to end.  The horror I feel in sharing that is abysmal and it most certainly was not last time I had that thought of just wanting it to end.  

There were so many more episodes of crying my self to sleep, crying in my car at 16, at staring at the black hole just wishing I could fall in and really just be with my old Daddy.  If I was with him, he couldn't leave again or some other such nonsense.  There was a black fog that I carried no matter where I was, where I went, or how I tried to escape.  

College wasn't much better, but I got to fuel the fire with lots of booze.  That wasn't really a good idea and led to nights of me sitting in the middle of the street, crying in the rain, as my boyfriend at the time had to pick me up and carry me into my parents' house one summers' night.  

My sophomore year, my housekeeper, second mother, care-giver, my Helen, passed away from cancer.  That was the last straw until it wasn't.  Because a month later, my best friend's father (and a surrogate father), Dr. B, also passed away. Before I had turned 20, I had lost 5 people that were in my inner core circle of life.  These were the people I grew up with, loved me, cared for me, and they were dropping like flies.  They ALL WERE FUCKING LEAVING ME ALONE.  I cannot underscore this loneliness and aloneness factor strong enough.   

So, I started therapy and heaven help us all what a nightmare.  I had therapists put me in a little room and not ask questions, not engage in conversation, but stare at me and expect me to just talk and divulge.  Now, I might have rebelled and gone to school in DC just to prove I was different and I wasn't Southern and I was this, that, or tother, but I am Southern to the core when it comes to sharing feelings.  You just don't do it.  You don't talk about them; you try your damnedest to not express the bad ones and you certainly don't share the gory details of your life to a stranger.  So, I would sit and tears would stream down my face for an hour each week silent.  I would not talk but I would feel all this nastiness inside that I could not share.  Then, I would go home, turn off all the lights, and cry by myself and not know how to recover.  

My senior year of college I was so anxious about entering into the real world.  I didn't sleep for 6 months.  I am not exaggerating.  Between the shitty therapy, the anxiety of becoming an adult, trying to find a job, and extreme sense of loss, I had come apart.  So, if you have never experienced severe insomnia, it goes something like this:  you don't sleep a few nights, you think it's a fluke, then it keeps recurring, you lie in bed and wait, the thoughts start to swirl and keep on swirling.  You stay in bed; you get up; you read; you watch TV; you go back to bed; repeat; repeat;repeat.  Well, a funny thing happens after you haven't slept for a few weeks, your brain starts to not operate normally.  When I would be lying in my bed after a while, I started to hear voices and I started to see things.  I was fully convinced that Helen and Dr. B were talking to me about who knows what and that there were definitely other voices talking to me that I didn't know.  At this point, the full crazy as shit alarm has gone off.

I make an appointment with a shrink.  Therapy clearly is getting me nowhere and I'm hearing and seeing things that aren't freaking there.  My meeting with this doc was less than ideal and he was about as warm as a cold dead fish, but he prescribed me drugs.  Fortunately, after several weeks of taking them, I was finally sleeping again.  I also had to tell my mother what had been going on.  That was fun.  I also started to wonder if I was manic bipolar.  I had read somewhere once that it skipped a generation and my mom sure didn't have it.  I was hearing voices and seeing things.  Not to mention, this cloud of blackness that seemed to follow me, my thoughts, my actions, and the very essence of my being.  All the while feeling so very alone.

Next Chapter: My Twenties.



Unknown said...

I'm so sorry you had to endure so much so young.. it's hard getting through tough times when you feel like you have to do it alone... Thank you for sharing your story­čĺ×

Unknown said...

That is amazing that you have spoke out about it! Everything in out last determines our now bit it does not define who we are. You're more than a stigma babe! xo♡