Survival by Katheryne Patterson
It was at 18 that I discovered I had a family history of depression. There was Athie, my great grandmother who received shock treatments and was unable to care for her last child, my grandfather with a gun pressed against his temple, and the cousin who drowned himself in a creek by filling his pockets with rocks and tying his legs together. Up until my 18th year, my world had been innocent. I was an ostracised, miserable nerd in High School, but this isolation was nothing compared to the depression that descended upon me suddenly and violently when I entered college. My mind was no longer my own. It had joined Athie’s and my mother and father’s and eventually my brother’s.
Being depressed is like being trapped underwater, and things on the other side are a blur. Sometimes you see the people walking by and the possibilities, but they are impossible to reach. Your mind gambles on the thought of being absolutely alone, surrounded by no one…alone. You are a failure; your mind is paralyzed; decisions are not possible, and it feels there is no way out. One day you realize…this will never stop. And that is the hardest part. I think I could bear depression if it lasted a week, a month, maybe even a year, but it has been over two decades now. If I could only put it down for a moment… get some rest. Could anyone carry this demon for me, just for today? But how could I send someone straight to hell?
I am a fighter; I’m stubborn, and I never give up…on anything. When I was in college, my first therapist told me to withdraw from my classes because…how could I possibly pass them? I found a different therapist; I passed all of my classes, and I maintained my scholarship. After college, I survived two years in the Peace Corps in Africa even though the anti malarial drugs magnified my depression to such a degree that I started randomly falling. I lost my ability to feel until I became a person I try not to remember.
Today I am extremely lucky. I have a family who is very supportive. Once I accepted the fact that I will always be on medication, I improved. But as I get older, and life’s responsibilities weigh more heavily on me, my depression has become stronger. The antidepressants I take aren’t as effective as they used to be, so I have developed other survival skills as well.
It’s difficult, but when I’m depressed, I find that I must force myself to do the opposite of my strongest impulses (even though these impulses seem to be my truest self). I lie to myself, Get out of bed! Go to that wedding, the birthday party. Concentrate on the people talking to you. Smile. Look at them. Sometimes I go running in the morning, before depression’s fatigue makes it difficult to lift my arms, to lift my legs, to listen to my husband or even ask him about his day. At 8:00 PM I am in bed, and if I have to keep going, it is very difficult to continue for a few hours to fight my impulses and do the opposite.
Transitions bring on sharp, frightening spikes in my depression such as empty time where I am not working or interacting with my kids. Something small like the drive home from work triggers depression’s descent. There have been times that I went to the park in a panic and forced myself to run around and around, seeking some relief. Throughout the run, I am fighting my legs, my arms, my mind, and forcing myself to reach that point when a small army of endorphins appear to save me for another day.
Another day comes and goes, and I continue. I have my bachelors and masters degree and a wonderful husband and two amazing children. None of this would be possible without my family’s support, my antidepressants, running, and my survival techniques that I continue to develop day by day. Maybe one day, I won’t need these strategies anymore. Perhaps one day, a new medicine might ease the symptoms enough, or a cure could be discovered. But until then, you will find me running…as fast as I can.
I’m Katheryne Patterson, a 43 year old mom, wife, and teacher. I have a wonderful husband who does all of the cooking. I have two children, a girl who is 9 and a boy who is 7. I live in a city that I love, and I know I could never live anywhere else. That amazing city is New Orleans. My parents and brother literally live blocks away from me, so I have a lot of help.
I also have a history of depression that runs on both sides of my family. I am very strong willed, and I work very hard to live the best life I can despite this depression. I also take antidepressants every day which help, and I try to run as much as I can. This helps me as much as the medication! I need both of these things to help me do the best I can. Writing helps me deal with some of my challenges that depression brings to my life. When I keep my depression a secret, it has more power over me. I want to be honest about what it is like living with depression. This honesty, I hope, will help me continue to fight…and fight…and fight, and I hope it will help others fight on, too.