in march of 2014 – almost exactly four years ago – i got sick. i was hospitalized for the first (but not the last) time for severe depression, panic and suicidal ideation. before i got sick was a different time. kind of like bc/ad.
before i got sick i didn’t think that depression or anxiety were real illnesses. although i had been diagnosed with both for a decade. although my dad had died by suicide. i didn’t take them seriously, i underestimated their power. i thought that if i tried just a little harder i could overcome the sadness. if i worked a little harder i could overcome the anxiety. and if i loved a little harder i would never be abandoned again.
before i got sick i worked long hours and tried to do it all. i poured all of my energy into my jobs, never saying no and always wanting to do my best. i thrived off of the praise of my colleagues and didn’t know how to moderate my energy level. i didn’t have healthy boundaries. i would push myself too far too fast, burn myself out, find a new job and do it all over again.
before i got sick i didn’t exercise. ever. i didn’t do many hobbies outside of work. i thought i didn’t have the time to go to the gym. or take a dance class. or learn how to make pottery. i didn’t make room for experiences that would feed my soul. “self care” meant getting a manicure or going to the mall. i was hooked on an anxiety/adrenaline/manic cycle and shopping was my extracurricular activity. shopping temporarily filled the void. shopping made me feel beautiful. shopping distracted me from a deep-down need to be loved and taken care of.
before i got sick i didn’t see the patterns. the highs and the lows. the nature of my depression. the grip of my anxiety. the hard-wired ptsd. i didn’t understand how childhood trauma still impacted me on a daily basis. i didn’t know how close i was to the edge of a mental health crisis, that i was hanging on by a thread. i didn’t talk, i didn’t share. i couldn’t even say my dad’s name out loud. denial isn’t the right word – i was way past that. i was living an out of body experience – detached, unaware. totally unaware.
before i got sick i didn’t take my treatment seriously. not like i do now. if a psychiatrist gave me a prescription i filled it, no questions asked. i did no research about the medication. i was not informed and i didn’t want to be, didn’t think i needed to be. i showed up at therapy week after week, venting about coworkers or boyfriends or friends but staying far far away from the deeper issues. if i was given suggestions about things to try outside of counseling i didn’t try them. if books were suggested i didn’t read them. and if my dad’s suicide came up, if “childhood trauma” was mentioned the walls went up and i shut down. sometimes i would stand up, walk out and leave the appointment.
before i got sick i would wish a lot. wish that i didn’t have these problems that seemed to keep coming back on repeat. wish that my dad hadn’t killed himself. wish that i didn’t feel like i was sitting on the edge of an ocean of sadness. wish that i could feel like “everybody else,” believing that other people’s lives were categorically better than mine. i didn’t know about coping tools. or dbt. or mindfulness. i was miles away from having a recovery tool kit. i didn’t even have the box.
before i got sick a doctor told me that i needed to go off my antidepressants if i wanted to have a baby. so without question, without reservation, without much thought at all i did just that. i was a woman with a ten year history of often severe depression whose father killed himself and whose body she discovered. going off of medication was a dangerous move. it was downright irresponsible medical advice. but i had no idea at the time.
before i got sick i would push myself past limits i didn’t even know were there. as i weaned myself off of my meds i didn’t see the red flags going up one after another. like a boulder rolling downhill i hurled past breaking point after breaking point, unable to stop the momentum. while my ability to function at work and at home unraveled i watched from outside of myself, unaware of what was happening and unsure of what to do about it. by the time i realized how bad things had gotten it was too late. i crashed. all of the years of untreated mental illness, trauma, shame and grief rose up around me and swallowed me whole.
before i got sick got me where i am today. before i got sick had to happen for recovery. i have traveled an incredibly long way. but before i got sick i was beautiful. i was scared. i was strong. i was young. like a little seed underground, burrowing in the dark soil, i was preparing to grow. to stand up tall and look my pain in the face. to be drenched in the rains of grief and to be warmed by the healing sun.