I have always been open talking about my depression. Having been diagnosed when I was eight years old, it was something that I had learned to accept would always be a part of my life. Something I knew I would always have to work hard to keep at bay.
I was capable of being happy just like everybody else, but for me, it just took a little more work. I call it my ‘recovery toolbox,’ things I used to combat a particular low point. This includes things like eating healthy and limiting processed foods, alcohol and tobacco, working out, listening to music, reading, and writing.
Because I have been talking about my struggles with depression openly for so long, it’s almost as if I forget it’s there. I don’t recognize it as much as an outsider might.
If I fallback, my family and close friends might realize before me. They might better be able to call off a concerning behavior before I would, because the disorder tries to convince you that these behaviors ARE your new normal.
Depression, or other mental health disorders left untreated leave the sufferer at a greater risk for self-harm, mood swings, eating disorder, or substance abuse issues.
I have always been a proponent of treating my depression naturally, with things like exercising, eating healthy, and yoga and meditation. However, my latest bout resulted in an extreme weight loss of over fifty pounds and a manifestation into anorexia. I developed a fear of food.
I can’t think of another way to describe this point in my life than a fish that’s been out of water too long. I was desperately flopping on shore, hoping that if I flopped long and hard enough, I would land in the water, and once again return to the flow of things. I could swim again.
I did reach for help.
I talked to my mom, my sister, and a few close friends.
I searched for metaphors to try to describe the scene that was playing out inside of my brain. The only thing they could think to say was: “I don’t know what to tell you,” and “I don’t know how to help you.”
I went on floundering for about six months with family and friends pretending they didn’t notice the changes in my behavior, in my attitude towards them and the fact that I was now lashing out, angry and tired all of the time. They pretended they didn’t notice my change in appearance, and how my skin color had changed to include a grayish tone, my eyes were sunken in, and my bones were protruding. They didn’t ask questions.
If no one asked questions, we wouldn’t have to talk about it. We wouldn’t have to acknowledge the elephant in the room that was getting smaller and smaller by the day.
But that’s the thing; if you avoid talking about mental health, it doesn’t go away, but the sufferer might.
That’s a reality we need to face.
I remember crying to my best friend, how I felt stuck, how I hoped I would wake up tomorrow with a renewed sense of hope, things would be brighter. We had been through this before. I thought she might be able to help pull me out of it.
“You should just be baker acted,” she said.
My own best friend had stigmatized me, too. She thought I was crazy. She insisted I be locked up against my will. To her, I was beyond help, and I should be locked up.
I felt like it was a slap in the face. Who did she think she was anyway? A mental health professional? Dr. Phil?
I felt sorry for her for lacking empathy.
I felt sorry for myself, because she was right.
Not too long after she sent me that harsh message, my weight had gotten so low, that my heart rate was in the mid-thirties. My BMI was dangerously low, and my organs had started to show signs of shutting down after feeding off of themselves for so long.
I was admitted to the ICU, where I would be placed on bed rest for five days. I couldn’t walk, anyway. I was too weak. My legs were too thin, and it hurt to stand on my feet for an extended period of time.
Gone too long untreated, my mental health was at an all-time low, and now my physical health was in severe decline.
After the doctors spent the week stabilizing me, I was transferred to a medical-behavioral unit, where I would be monitored for any changes in my heart rate and try to increase my weight.
It was here I got the news that I was placed under a baker act for 72 hours for the first time in my life.
I was only 21 years old, but in complete shock.
“How can you place me on Baker Act?” I asked. “I am not hurting any one and I would never!”
“By restricting your food intake so low, you are a danger to yourself,” the doctor told me.
“What do you care?” I shouted.
My lack of urgency to up my food intake and start taking matters into my own hands resulted in the doctors declaring me unfit to make my own decisions.
My mom would be taking over, and I was pissed.
The disorder tried to convince her that she shouldn’t be there. She should go home, and leave me here. I wanted to go through this alone. I needed to get better on my own and didn’t want to drag anyone through the mud with me. Not again.
My weight wasn’t improving, but still on the decline. Doctors were convinced that despite all of their efforts, I still was not taking the imminent dangers seriously.
I was scheduled to attend mental health court with the hospital the following week.
I never knew it was possible to get sued for the rights of your own body.
If the court declared that I posed a threat to myself and they believed that I wasn’t able to make healthy decisions for myself, they would grant the hospital 30 days to keep me here against my will. If my intake did not improve, they would be able to take me back to court, in hopes of getting them to agree to surgically insert a feeding tube inside my stomach.
I lost in court.
I had finally agreed to take the medicines my doctors have been relentlessly trying to administer to me. I was determined to show them signs of improvement, so they would be more willing to discharge.
The first day the medicine kicked in, almost immediately, the dark cloud that seemed to live inside my brain for the past year seemed to turn a light shade of gray. I was able to sit up in my hospital bed for the first time in at least two weeks. I didn’t feel like sleeping all day and I didn’t feel as angry. I sat up and for the first time in a long time I was able to have a full conversation with my mom. A conversation about nothing in particular, but one that felt like a victory to me, because I wasn’t angry and I was able to focus.
It was the first time in a long time that I felt hope.
It was possible to feel better, and for the first time in my month in the hospital, I shed real tears. The numbness subsided and I felt.
I would be under care in the medical-behavioral unit for a total of five weeks. Here, I regained my strength by relearning to walk, doing physical therapy, and getting stronger each day by walking laps up and down the hospital floor, dragging along my IV and feeding tube. My mom was a significant part in my recovery, as she had the difficult task of helping me in the shower (my IV line and feeding tube was covered with plastic bags) and I hardly had the strength to take the wash cloth to my body, I used it all to keep my balance by holding on to the bar inside of the shower, hoping I wouldn’t fall. I was only twenty one years old, with the physical stamina of an eighty year old. It took an immense amount of leg strength for my to get on and off the toilet, a task I was hellbent on completing myself.
Even as I lay in bed praying for some strength back, my mom worked hard to pretend she didn’t notice the internal struggle I was fighting to lift the fork of spaghetti to my mouth and swallow. My disorder was trying to make me disappear by slowly killing me, by shrinking me down to nothingness, until there was nothing left to take. When my sister and friends called they tried to distract me with stories about dates they had went on and problems with they encountered with coworkers to make me laugh.
They gave an awkward sympathy laugh as I told them stories of other patients on the psych floor, not knowing what else to say.
Even though I was staying among the other patients, even though I was here many weeks longer than those stricken with severe mental illness, I found myself stereotyping them.
I didn’t know them. I didn’t know their stories, and they didn’t know mine. We were here under different circumstances, but we were all in the same place. We were here together and we were one. We weren’t all that different, as we all had obstacles to overcome.