Last year, on February 23, I tried to take my life. I have since written about the experience, describing my life depression, and received a tremendous outpouring of support. I was shocked. I knew that depression was a killer: My ex-husband had taken his own life in 2006 at the age of 45. Every 40 seconds, a life is lost to depression. But I didn't truly understand how many people had been touched by depression until I wrote that piece. Men, women, and children all over the world shared their own desperate stories with me.
Depression is one of the most well-documented illnesses in history. Ancient Greeks believed depression resulted from an imbalance in the four basic bodily fluids. Through years of study, we have learned that it is actually a chemical imbalance in our brains. Yet, because it has to do with our brains and our emotions, it's treated differently than other medical conditions.
There's no stigma attached to breaking your leg skiing — everyone wants to hear the story and sign the cast. But try telling your friends you can’t leave the house because you don’t have the emotional energy. They’re not going to rush over to sign your Kleenex. In my case, very few of my friends did anything because I was ashamed to let them know how bad it was. When I finally did confide in them, those closest to me did the only thing they could: They worried about me.
Depression is an ongoing struggle. It’s a battle every day between the real you and the you that you must present to survive. It’s feeling hopeless when you’re at the top of your game. It’s fabricating a bigger-than-life personality to hide the pain. The real you is always terrified that someone will find out just how hard it is for you to function. You are locked in that battle day after day with yourself until one day you choose to stop fighting.
Losing just one person to depression is unacceptable when we have so many resources available. If it were not a mental/emotional issue, it would be considered an epidemic and treated aggressively. That label, the “crazy” label, causes sufferers to remain silent. They fear judgment and being labeled by society even more than they fear dying. This has to stop.
My battle didn’t end on February 23. In fact, it was just the beginning of a hard, cold, rocky year, throughout which I was at the mercy of my emotions, my health, my employer, and the threat of poverty. There were days when I wasn’t sure I could hold on, but I took my medication as prescribed, and reached deeply into spirituality for an anchor.
On the bright side, I published two new books (they’re really good, by the way, or so I’m told). On the not so bright side, health problems made it impossible for me to return to my job, disability was denied, unemployment ran out, and food stamps were accepted. My applications for jobs that I was well-qualified for were dismissed out of hand, likely because of my age. So, the final months of 2015 were even bleaker for me than the first. But I lived.
Then, despite everything, I celebrated the most blessed holiday season ever. Love became currency when friends and family stepped up. One friend sent a gift package of turkey, ham, beef, and sausage — enough for us to live on for months. Another sent a cash gift so that my husband and I could keep Christmas real for our grandchildren.
Another gave me two gift cards with the instruction that I buy something for my husband, and he something for me, to put under our tree. I cried on Christmas Day as I thanked my family, because for the first time in my 61 years, I realized the true significance of the day. I don’t know that I will ever feel that much emotional abundance again.
I lived. I beat it. I learned that depression does not have to be the victor. So I celebrate my “rebirthday” on February 23. I'm talking honestly about my struggles in the hopes that I can help someone out there feel comfortable admitting he or she needs help. And to ask that we all work together to remove the stigma of depression so that more lives are not lost.