“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t help you.”
“You just want me to admit that I am broken! You are looking for a reason to leave”
“No. I am looking for a reason to stay.”
Not everyone can can look at the exact moment when their lives changed. I am lucky. My partner Gray was brave enough (or tired enough) to say what needed to be said. He has stood by me everyday since then and I will be forever grateful.
Of course, it didn’t start there. I was a shy child. That is what I thought, my parents thought, even teachers. Twenty to thirty years ago that is what it would have been called. We didn’t diagnose children back then with social anxiety.
In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. That was the start of a twenty year battle with myself and my high-functioning depression and anxiety.
At twenty-nine I had my first panic attack. I had six more in six months. That is when I talked to a therapist. Therapy didn’t last long. I figured I could control it with yoga and diet. I wasn’t someone who needed medication or professional help. I wasn’t THAT bad. That wasn’t me. So I learned to control my diet and do something physical and take prescription strength antacids to control physical effects of the stress levels .
All the way into my thirties I knew I had depression and anxiety. I just figured that since I got out of bed everyday and did the things I was “supposed” to do that that meant that I wasn’t severe enough to really need help. I could handle it on my own. I just needed to suck it up and stop feeling bad. Other people managed it, I could too. That is what I thought. What I avoided facing were the people in my life that started to distance themselves.
I went along like this until I turned forty-three having what I considered to be good days. While I can’t say I was ever happy, things were status quo and that is what I thought life was like. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
Gray and I were trying to figure out our relationship and I was working on what I wanted to do for work for the rest of my life. We would argue (couples do that) but I noticed I would be unable to function the next day. He would tell me he loved me and my brain would tell me he was just saying that to try to calm me down. He would get upset because I had accused him of not loving me or wanting to leave or whatever… because that is the story I was telling myself. He was going to leave, everyone did, it was just a matter of time and why couldn’t he either just tell me truth or convince me I was wrong.
I didn’t expect someone to challenge me. I didn’t expect him to stick around and make me take a good hard look at myself. I didn’t expect him to look for a reason to stay.
I made an appointment with my doctor the next day and decided to go in and be honest with her: I was having erratic and strong mood swings, I was sobbing uncontrollably for apparently no reason. I would suddenly get very angry and there were some days I couldn’t do anything but sit on my couch and stare into space. I diagnosed myself: clearly I was emotional and lazy. She asked me some questions and diagnosed me instead with PMDD and depression.
I suddenly felt lighter. You mean there is actually something happening with my brain chemistry? Okay, well, I am still not “bad” enough to need medication. The doctor sat me down and talked to me about just starting on a low dose of prozac to “take the edge off”. I decided that I would try. I had a follow-up visit 4 weeks later and I had her take me up to the next dosage.
What I hadn’t expected was that even a low dosage would take my anxiety down. It would almost stop the ruminations. I realized I had never really lived without those things. I had no idea I could. I found a therapist and he explained anxiety and dysthymia to me. He explained what happens when someone with dysthymia also has deep depressive episodes.
Now, two and a half years later, I have good days. I actually feel happiness. I also still have bad days. I recognize them most of the time and can ask for help. I get tired of fighting my brain some days but I know that another good day will come.
Over the last year I started to talk to people openly about my struggle. It helped me to just let people know that some days are a fight, to ask them if it would be okay to lean on them when I needed to. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of people that were grateful that I had spoken up because it made them feel less alone. People began to tell me their own stories. Suddenly, instead of being alone we had networks of people that we could ask for help or even just for the simple comfort of a silly picture. People were surprised that I had been struggling.
Last year Gray and I lost a dear friend to PTSD-related suicide. That was the last straw for me. The path was clear to me, I needed speak out whenever and wherever possible. Some days, writing posts, talking to people or just reminding someone they are not alone is what drives me. I want there to be better resources for people who are struggling and I want everyone to stop fighting about whether medication is the answer or not. We need to be for better health coverage and making resources available to everyone so they can find what works for them. For example, medication doesn’t “fix” me. It makes it possible for me to look at things objectively. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and practicing mindfulness also play a huge role in managing my depression and anxiety. Those things won’t work for everyone; they have worked for me. Resources should be available and people should be able to find what works for them without fear of ridicule. We live with enough fears.
Speaking without fear has played the biggest role in getting me here. It started with that conversation with Gray and continues every day and with each person I meet.
My name is Natasha and I am a 45 year old entrepreneur. I live with my partner Gray who stands by me everyday while I struggle with chronic depression and anxiety. What started out for me as something I hid or just denied has become something I talk passionately about everyday. It is my belief that by talking about mental illness we increase the chances that someone else will realize they are not alone. They may even start to talk about it themselves.
Natasha Bounds can be found on Twitter.