MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH SINCE 1949
Did you know Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949?! Am I the only one just now joining the bandwagon of recognizing this debilitating life-threatening illness. Fifteen years ago I would have thought calling mental health issues “life-threatening” an exaggeration. I guess it’s part of the stigma of why awareness has taken so long to take root. There is shame in discussing this illness. But why?
ATTILA THE HUN
I’ll speak for myself.
I grew up in a family where you were taught to be strong and independent. If you’re sad or hurt, rub dirt on it and move on. My Dad told me to read the book Attila the Hun so I could learn how to navigate life.
Attila the Hun was the greatest battle captain of his age, his reputation striking terror in his enemies who both feared and respected the Scourge of God. More than fifteen hundred years later, his name remains synonymous with aggressive cavalry and the warrior ethos.
It doesn’t get more bad axx than that! The only feelings that seemed acceptable to express were strength, determination and conquest (of my goals.)
DAD, ARE YOU PROUD OF ME?
I know I’m not alone in growing up during a time where it was honorable to dismiss your feelings. Acknowledging your feelings, much less discussing them, meant weakness. This trait was great at work. It helped me climb the corporate world in a job that was 97% men. I wasn’t soft, I didn’t complain, I was fierce. I worked hard with my head down to outproduce all my colleagues and competitors.
Early on in my career (1991 – 25 yrs old) I had moved from Chattanooga, TN to Walnut Creek, CA (25 min NE of S.F.) My family lived outside Orlando in Altamonte Springs. I called my Dad one day because I was missing home terribly and asked him if he was “proud of me?” I remember choking up when I asked him the question. Dad replied in a strong gruff voice saying, “Of course, I am.” In other words don’t ask such a stupid question. But I needed to hear the words. And even though he replied in a dismissive way, it was music to my ears. I still remember where I was driving in Silicon Valley (my sales territory at the time.)
As a little side note to parents: your words carry so much weight, remember to use them often for good.
FIRST TRIGGERING EVENT OF DEPRESSION
Fast forward 3 years later, I moved back to Orlando because my Dad had been put into an assisted living home. My empathy was in overdrive and I couldn’t stand the thought of him sleeping and waking up with other strangers. I appealed to senior management for a cross country transfer. The company needed a position to cover Puerto Rico and since Hawaii was also part of my territory I knew I would be an excellent candidate with hazardous waste maritime experience. Wish granted.
Once I made it to Orlando, I quickly rented a two bedroom apartment and kidnapped my Dad at 2 in the morning (not kidding) out of a low cost assisted living facility. I was horrified by the conditions of this place. But in defense of how he got there, Dad had no money, no insurance and was unable to live on his own anymore. He needed around the clock care. Dad lived 4 more months but I’m grateful for all the final moments we had together including the time when I brought breakfast into his room and sat on the side of the bed while he ate. When he was done eating I laid my head on his chest and when I went to get up he held my head down a bit longer…not usually his style. It still brings me to tears.
One morning he woke up disoriented. I called 911 and took him to the hospital where they said his O2 intake was off. I thought, “Okay, now that we’re here at the hospital just fix it.” Little did I know this was the beginning of the end. He also was on dialysis every two days which would knock him out. This time they were doing dialysis twice in one day. He was in a room with several other very sick people lying in bed getting his dialysis. The room was dim and quiet. When he opened his eyes they were so bloodshot. I knew getting a second dialysis treatment was exhausting him so I said goodnight and told him “I love you.” He lifted his head with all his might and whispered, “I love you, too” as I gave him a kiss goodnight.
That was the last time he was conscious. He passed away 48 hours later. It was 1994.
MY DRUG OF CHOICE
I do believe this was the event that triggered the beginning of my depression. I had always been a sentimental more sensitive child growing up. As I look back on my childhood one consistent thing I did was oversleep. I slept so much my parents wondered if I had mono. You know the ‘kissing disease.’ Fatigue is one of the main symptoms and can take up to 6 months to recover from. I never had mono but even as an adult I still require a good 10 hours of sleep to feel good. Certainly my drug of choice. More on this later.
MY IDENTITY WAVERED
In 1996, the company moved me up to Atlanta from Orlando. It was a couple years later I found my home church at Northpoint Community Church (NPCC,) where I have been ever since. In 1999, I had gone through a relationship assessment test with someone I had been seriously dating. The results were pretty bad. There are 4 quadrants you could fall into. The first quadrant indicates you’re a pretty good match. The 2nd and 3rd quadrants get progressively worse and present issues that should be addressed before you get married. But the 4th quadrant is where they don’t recommend working on your issues. They recommend you breakup! We fell in the 4th quadrant. Debbie Causey, counselor who reviewed our results, asked me one simple question and helped me see a different path for myself.
After breaking things off with my boyfriend, Debbie asked if she could walk me through some curriculum on identity and who we are in Christ. I grew up Presbyterian and never had this type of teaching so I was intrigued and said yes.
She uncovered some deep rooted issues and we worked through a lot of my negative thinking patterns. It helped me to break through my depression but she warned me that once you’ve experienced depression you are 50% likely to have it again. It was so awful the first time I told her I’d never go back to that dark place again! Oh sweet naive Danielle.
In 2007 my cat was violently killed in my front yard. I’ve recovered from pets dying in my past but the violence of this act triggered some deep rooted anger, which was enough to throw me back into deep depression again. In addition to the depression, I was also struggling with my faith. Embarrassingly, it took until 2015 for it to break. Our counselor would say I never left the faith but in his words I was walking through a “spiritual wilderness.” The depression was broken through a significant spiritual healing prayer. I’m so grateful for the spiritual healing Karen McAdams poured out over me. Little did I know the worst was yet to come and it was right around the corner.
MOM, PLEASE DON’T GO…
In summer of 2016 my Mom passed away quickly. She went from a high quality of life (as high as it can be living with Multiple Myeloma) to entering the hospital for a chemo treatment and dying 29 days later. The emotional aspect of losing my Mom was rough but coupled with administering morphine orally wrecked me…still to this day.
Shortly after this loss in 2016, two additional most unexpected events took place. I won’t go into detail about them but experiencing the grief of losing my Mom, the PTSD of spending 29 days with someone who is dying and not sleeping myself, completely broke me. I had lost any resilience left in my cup and couldn’t weather these two new storms, in addition to losing my Mom.
PRIDE WAS MY RULER
I remember when I came home from Orlando after Mom had passed in Summer 2016, I asked a counselor if I should consider taking “something.” This was a bold question for me to ask because I always believed you should exhaust eating right, exercising and going to counseling before you take drugs to help you because you “feel down.”
He recommended me to hold off and see how I felt 90 days later. I liked the idea of waiting because I was scared of even considering taking something. Why, you ask? I had spent my whole life getting by on my own determination, my own strength, my own will. It was how I was conditioned. Learning about my identity in Christ was something that came later in life and wasn’t part of my core upbringing. So when I went low, I didn’t know how to cling to Christ nor to others, so I slipped even lower into depression.
Everyday for almost two years 2016 – 2018 (minus 12 weeks*) was like grasping for air, not knowing how to breathe. I felt so much shame and couldn’t discuss it with friends because if I’m a Christian I wouldn’t be struggling so much, right? With shame in my walk, I became even more silent. The enemy was having a field day.
I THINK IT’S TIME…
Let me take you back to a brief period of calmness in the middle of 2016 – 2018. In April 2017, I sat exhausted in front of my counselor, Dr Boyd Whaley, and he strongly recommended that I try some kind of anti-depressant. I knew it was time so I called up a dear friend, who is also my primary care doctor, and asked for her opinion. When I met with her and described my journey with depression and my concerns for taking anti-depressants, she recommended Trintellix. It is a new anti-depressant that helps prevents weight gain. This would certainly address one of my concerns since working out was so important to me.
With tears in my eyes, I asked her if she really thought I should get on something. I laugh when I think back to this day because I was a hot mess. I was in no shape to be asking and questioning now two doctors’ opinions. I needed someone to tell me what to do. I’m so fortunate to have such a gracious Dr who tiptoed around my pride and gently helped me see that this was a good solution.
ALMOST A REPRIEVE FROM THE PAIN
Boy was it ever! First, I started off on 5mg but burned through the effects of the dosage by the third week. So we upped it to 10 mg. Burned through it again by the third week. We upped it to 15mg. Yep, burned through it by the third week. And then when we went to 20mg and it still lost it’s effect after 3 weeks, I weaned myself off the medication. It had been appx 4 months and I was ready to get off the medicine. It had brought me 12 weeks of relief and I knew I wanted this to be a short term solution. I would have been embarrassed for anyone to know I was taking an anti-depressant. Although this provided a brief respite, even my doctor said it was too soon to stop and that I should consider alternatives instead of going cold turkey again.
ONE OF THE WORST DAYS BESIDES LOSING MY PARENTS
So it’s late fall 2017, I’m off of the Trintellix and I move through the rest of the year working hard on myself and my relationships. Then comes January 30, 2018. If there is a day more heartbreaking than losing your parents, this was it. My 22 year old nephew had passed away via suicide. There are no adequate words to describe this time but when I try to explain it is the most gut wrenching horrifying feeling you could ever experience and that’s from an Aunt’s perspective. I’ll never know fully how awful this has been for my sister’s family.
A few months later my Aunt from Holland passes away. Her daughter, my cousin, walked through every day with me when my Mom was dying so I was reliving this with her as much as I could via text and the time difference of Atlanta vs Holland. It was like reliving my pain over again of losing Mom. It was extremely hard for me to be there for my cousin but she deserved all of me considering how generous she was with me every day for 29 days when my Mom was dying.
Then our second cousin, great friend of our family and my Mom’s best friend in the States, passes away a couple months later. I had talked to her everyday since Mom passed so it felt like another part of Mom was gone, as well.
During this time, Russ lost a close high school friend to suicide and his Uncle passed away.
Death hit our family hard.
I chose to go back on Trintellix August 2018 but my depression only seemed to get worse. I took the 20 mg dosage and soon was sleeping 14 – 16 hours. By September I was getting up to eat breakfast and going back to bed and sleeping hard for several hours even after a full night of sleeping. I instinctively knew something was deeply wrong and this medicine wasn’t helping so I weaned off of it again. Now what do I do?!
During this time, I had wonderful dear friends calling and wanting to meet up. To show you how depressed I was, it never occurred to me to reach out to them and ask for help. All I wanted to do was to stay in my dark cold bedroom and escape into a deep sleep. But before I move on I need to share something extremely sensitive. It was also during this time I was having suicidal ideations. I knew I wouldn’t do anything but I just wanted to fall asleep and not wake up again. I was so tortured by my thoughts.
It’s another reason why it pains me that I did not share my rocky journey with depression with my nephew. I didn’t know he was struggling. I’ll always regret this decision to keep quiet but my shame prevented me from opening up. I’ll never know if it would have made a difference but it’s why I don’t care who knows about my journey now.
This rocky journey has taught me that we can’t isolate ourselves into healthy living. I honestly thought when I came home from my mother passing that I could CrossFit my way into being healthy again. I thought I could grieve on my own. There were suggestions to join a small group of people who are grieving but I’m so empathetic I knew I couldn’t handle listening to other people’s pain in addition to my own. I needed to lean on healthy friends who could help me weather this storm but I didn’t. I honestly didn’t feel worthy of connection.
For those of you who reached out to me and have been patient with me…thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thankfully I did spend time in counseling and probably leaned on Russ a bit too much. The worst thing a depressed person could do is stay isolated. Thank goodness for my Crossfit community and the necessity to produce content for this website to keep me active or I would have curled up in ball never to be seen again.
The first 1/2 of 2018 events took a mental and physical toll on both Russ and I and by December 2018 I was sitting tearfully back in Boyd’s office exhausted, emotionally exhausted. This time he said it’s time to reconsider medication or do an intensive meditation retreat where you can learn to meditate yourself through this. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to invest in a meditation retreat so I reluctantly accepted the medicine path.
Here we go again.
I met with a psychiatrist. Just going to that appointment was embarrassing. Hopefully I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew? Maybe if I just eat better or do more Crossfit? Maybe I should take supplements? I drilled the psychiatrist with a million questions before we landed on taking Prozac.
FOG HAS LIFTED?
Oh my goodness, you guys!!! Within one day I felt 50% better. By the next day, my whole body felt rested after I woke up. Within 48 hours I was a new person. I felt so rested. A rest so beautiful that it was the first time I felt good since Mom passed. It’s true when they say you don’t know how sick you are until you feel better. It was like I had been in a permanent fog everyday and everything took a lot of energy to move through all my activities. I hadn’t noticed how foggy it had become.
Another significant thing that stopped was the looping. I couldn’t get off the hamster wheel of dark deep thoughts. I would analyze and reanalyze how to solve some relationship issues but the analyzing only existed in a vacuum, never with the persons involved. Again, another example of how depression can cripple you.
After starting the medication, I went about my normal activities and didn’t experience any side effects other than my taste buds going bland and the weird ‘hot radioactive’ taste of the medicine in my mouth. This left after 90 days of taking the medicine.
VULNERABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
So where did my embarrassment, the shame, the pride go?
I’ve learned through years of leading a short term marriage group with 4-6 other couples that transparency and vulnerability are the keys to unlocking shame. Thank goodness for Brené Brown sharing her research because I’ve learned that vulnerability feels weak when you’re sharing something hard but is received by others as courage.
Of course, our parents never wanted us to display that kind of vulnerability. They never tried it because their parents probably coached them the same way. It’s in this vulnerability that allows others to see themselves and know we are not alone. I’ve watched the incredible effects of transformation happen over and over in our married small group over the past 7 years with people learning the power of being vulnerable and transparent.
I’ve been sharing this struggle privately in our Thrive groups over the past 7 years but sharing this in an open forum like the world wide web is on another level. I’ve watched the TV commercials trying to normalize mental health issues and see people share openly about their struggles. Yet, I still believed I could conquer this fight with Crossfit and eating better and certainly not discussing it openly with others.
I had to let go of who I thought I should be. After taking Prozac I now see what a losing battle I was fighting.
For those of you who care for the more scientific explanation, Prozac (fluoxetine) is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used for treating depression, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
The best way I can explain how this works for me is the Prozac prevents me from losing serotonin. Serotonin is produced while you sleep and for some reason it leaves my body as quickly as I make it. I still need a good 10 hours of sleep but now I’m not desperate to go back to sleep. I can see that serotonin was probably deficient even in my high school days. I’ve always required a lot of sleep. Today my mood has lifted but not in an artificial way. I actually feel more like myself again. Before I was extremely anxious and could never get my system to calm down.
3 LESSONS I’VE LEARNED:
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:
- Just like a diabetic needs their insulin sometimes our brains need a little help. Why is the brain the only organ that gets kicked to the curb when we are ailing? We treat everything else in our body?!
- It’s almost impossible to work on yourself and/or your relationships when your thoughts are skewed.
- Taking an anti-depressant is not a life sentence. I’m still working on my faith walk and who I am in Christ, as well as practicing self-care. Like any medicine, I’d prefer not to be on something long-term. Maybe one day, I will stop taking it but only with a drs approval this time.
So are you ready to address your mental health issues? Yes, I still cringe at the phrase “mental health issues” but I refuse to keep quiet any longer. I’m here for you and happy to share more details about this rocky journey.
BEFORE I GO…ONE MORE THING
Resilience: The speed and strength at which you respond to adversity — and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone. – Sheryl Sandberg
Clay went on to discuss the Victor Frankl quote referenced in Sheryl’s book that our suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds meaning and purpose.
So as nervous as I am to put this post out into the world my hope and desire is it will free someone up enough to ask for help. For someone to recognize they are not alone even though the depression causes them to isolate themselves. Remember that it feels weak to be vulnerable but what is received by others is how courageous you are for reaching out. My hope is you won’t wait as long as I did. It’s called being stubborn!
Through prayer, medication and some godly doctors who I call dear friends, God has helped me build my resilience back up. I love the verse 2 Corinthians 1:7 Clay references in his talk:
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (notice the key word: share)
1. You can’t bounce back alone.
2. There are other people in your life that can’t bounce back without you.
3. There’s someone that needs your struggle. Others need to know how you made it through.
4. Your suffering just might be your superpower.
Perhaps depression is not your battle and you want to be there for others but not sure what to say? Here are some suggestions from the Gottman Institute:
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