Stigma Fighters: Lisa H.

I’ve been living with depression on and off since I was 13 years old. It’s a black hole that I haven’t been able to climb out of on my own when it reaches the clinical level. Everyone gets depressed sometimes, and a lot of people can get through it to the other side on their own with the help of family and friends and time. But when a person experiences CLINICAL depression that’s a different animal altogether. That’s what I think is hard for some people to understand. There is NO “snapping out of” clinical depression. That’s when talk therapy and medication may be needed – and ARE needed for me.

When I’m clinically depressed nothing gives me joy. I cry A LOT. It’s hard to do normal everyday things like the dishes, or laundry, or even read to my kids. My pattern of depression before children was a tiredness so profound it was hard to get out of bed. Since I had kids my depression manifests itself in the opposite way – insomnia. I’m trying SO hard to keep going to take care of my family that my body can’t relax. I experience anxiety so bad, afraid that I’ll collapse under the weight of my depression, that I physically shake. So with this current bout of depression I’m also being treated with added anti-anxiety medication as needed.

I’ve been hospitalized twice – once for a serious attempt on my own life when I was in my early 20′s. It’s truly a tragedy when you think the world would be better off without you, or when you’re convinced that you will NEVER be able to function in the world and NEVER be able to get rid of the pain you feel. Emotional pain becomes physical pain – only no one can “see” your wounds, and that makes it even harder. That’s why I even went through a period of cutting, and burning myself – so I could have a physical manifestation of my emotional pain. It’s really hard to reach out when you’re in the black hole of depression because gravity sucks you farther and farther into yourself. You think you don’t deserve help, you’re convinced no one will understand, and you believe you’re some kind of freak of nature that the world needs to be freed from.

There have been times in my life when I’ve been therapy and medication free. Before this current bout I hadn’t been in therapy or on medication for almost FOURTEEN years. But after marrying my husband, having 3 kids (one with a severe allergy and asthma, one with autism and one a surprise), and the death of three of four of our parents, depression came crashing down again. I tried my best to fight it off, but in the end, both my husband and I knew it was time for me to get back to therapy and medication. Financially it’s been a HUGE burden, and one that I feel some guilt over once in a while. Even though we have insurance, mental health coverage just sucks all the way around. But I tell myself the financial sacrifice is worth it, because I absolutely HAVE to be around physically AND emotionally for my children.

In my professional life I’m also a Christian pastor. There is a lot of stigma in some church circles around mental illness, especially depression. But contrary to the mindset of some folks, it is entirely and completely possible to be a faithful believer (in whatever faith you practice) AND struggle with mental illness. I don’t share my particular issues with my congregation, because it’s my job to take care of THEM, not the other way around, but I’m always careful to preach what I believe – that faith doesn’t protect us from life’s pain, faith helps us as we confront life’s pain.

I have a good life now. I see my therapist regularly. I take my medication. I smile and laugh and enjoy my family and friends. I look at my kids and I’m glad I’m here for them. I enjoy a healthy emotional and physical relationship with my husband instead of making excuses because I just don’t have it in me. I work and help others.

If I hadn’t just shared all this with you and we met you would never know – because those with mental illness are all around us, living their lives, being productive members of society just like everybody else. We are no different than someone who is being treated for diabetes or high cholesterol.

Depression is an enemy that would love to suck the life out of us. Fighting back against it is a struggle. It’s hard to reach out and get help when we feel like we don’t deserve it and when we’re afraid of what others may think of us. But reach out anyway, because getting help is not a weakness, it is an awesome strength. And it’s worth it.

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Bio:  Lisa is a late 40-something pastor, mom, wife and new blogger.  She blogs about parenthood, autism, faith, depression, and anything else that inspires her at lisaleben.wordpress.com