Like Mother, Like Daughter: My Depression Diagnosis
I have not always felt like Eeyore, Winnie-the-Pooh's depressed friend. But 2023 was a rough year for me and I’m glad to see it in the rear-view mirror.
That is not to say living with clinical depression is anything new. On the contrary, it "officially" started about 12 years ago when I was balancing full-time work at a university with full-time care of my ailing, now deceased, mother.
My mom had depression, too
Mom was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder a couple of years before me. She worried a lot and cried a lot (with good reason). Living with heart failure over many years took its toll on her, both mentally and physically. It was my job to be the optimist, to downplay the dangers that may have awaited her with every frequent hospital stay.
One day, a few months before her death, she asked me to stay seated by her bedside. "You don't have to say anything," she told me. "I just feel more confident when you are nearby."
At the time, I thought her use of the word "confident," was a little odd. But of course, I sat at her bedside and prattled on about this and that to take her mind off her sadness, her feelings of hopelessness, and everything else.
Naturally, I was brokenhearted when she passed away. (In some ways, I still am.)
Are you coping with grief and loss right now?
The toll of caregiving for a parent
Shortly before that time, my then-primary care doctor had witnessed the toll being a caregiver was taking on me. She saw that I was gaining weight, not sleeping well, and in general, my demeanor was changing in a meaningful, noticeable way.
The wise-cracking, talkative Susan was now quiet, withdrawn, and without energy. It was not something I could snap out of. I was not just having an Eeyore day or 2. It was something more.
Passing down depression
Lo and behold, I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Sound familiar?
My former primary doctor prescribed an antidepressant but did little else. In fact, I do not think she ever mentioned my mental health conditions again.
Instead, I relied on "advice" from others – gems like "take a vacation," "snap out of it," "suck it up," and "other people have it worse than you."
Where did my old self go?
At that time, I did not know better about depression. Those sort of solutions to the problem are ludicrous but hit me hard. Why couldn't I, in fact, bounce back and be my old self again? Why couldn't I have a more positive outlook and cure myself?
But back to that corresponding thread with mom. While she lay dying in the ICU, I was a few hospital room doors down in surgical ICU after an unexpected, emergency stomach surgery.
Guilt and an unfortunate interaction with a doctor
I felt so guilty about not being there in the ambulance to give her "confidence," when she was transported to the hospital for what turned out to be the last time. I was unable to sit at her bedside because I was hooked up to wires and myself in pretty dire straits. Critical condition, in fact.
It didn't help that, in the hallway, I encountered an ER doctor who treated her. I was standing there in a johnny, holding an IV pole, and he berated me for not bringing my mother in sooner. Duh.
I tried to explain that I obviously was in the hospital myself but he waved his arms around and strode away. That dude messed me and my head up for a long time.
Who in your life is also living with depression?
Grief for my mom amid clinical depression
Literally days after the funeral, I will give credit to my former primary care doctor for suggesting I see a "grief counselor." She handed me a list of practitioners to possibly contact.
However, a little research showed me that the people on the list specialized in things like drug addiction and other mental health conditions. Nowhere did it say a thing about depression and/or grief.
I found a counselor in my town with those specialties. She liked to say she helped with "life transitions." When I was subsequently diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer without a cure, my counselor reminded me I was going through another life transition.
And so began my active journey seeking help for my mental health condition(s). And it's been a doozy of a ride.
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