Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Sad on Sunday...I’ve written enough columns over the years that it’s probably not a real surprise that I repeat myself occasionally, and I hope you don’t feel cheated by it. I update the content so it doesn’t look too much like a column with a Farah Fawcett hairdo, but I do apologize if you’ve read this before, didn’t like it then, and now you’re being annoyed twice.
I thought depression was something that happened to other people. Mothers who’d just had babies and were overwhelmed by the endless and huge responsibility of it all; middle-aged men who’d lost their jobs and didn’t know where to find new ones; people who’d suffered emotional losses of such magnitude I couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt. Being on the self-righteous side, I also thought you only really suffered from depression if you gave into it, if you didn’t outrun it with a healthy sense of humor, or if you just wanted people to feel sorry for you. Average people, people like me, didn’t get depressed.
A little over nine years ago, I stopped smoking. I knew I only had enough will power to get me through about 20 minutes without a cigarette, so I did it with medication. I didn’t care if I was a coward; it worked, and the side-effects of the medication were minimal. I’d always said that if I didn’t smoke, I’d gain 50 pounds--not a good thing if you’re short and small-boned, which I am--and I’d suck down antidepressants like they were candy. I was joking, okay?
I’m not going in to how much I weigh, but I did gain some in the year after I stopped smoking, and never lost it―food a great replacement for nicotine. But the other thing that happened in that year was that I found out depression really does strike average people. To borrow a term I heard often then, I hit the wall.
Since I’m one of those people who always have the symptoms described in articles about diseases (it’s amazing I’ve lived this long!), it was no surprise that I had several of the indicators of clinical depression. You know what they are. You’ve read them in the doctor’s office while you’re waiting or at Wal-Mart or Kroger’s while you’re taking your blood pressure. You’ve read them and thought, “Hmm...” because you had a couple of them. Sometimes. But then they went away, so you were okay.
But what happens when they don’t go away? What do you do when you were sad on Sunday afternoon and you’re still sad at bedtime on Thursday? When you’re so tired you can barely get through the day but you’re sleeping way too much? Or what about when you’re hardly sleeping at all? When nothing’s fun anymore? When you can’t see an end to feeling hopeless? When, even though you’d never consider suicide yourself―oh, of course, you wouldn’t―you understand people who do?
When I hit that wall, I was one of the lucky ones in that I never for one moment thought suicide was an answer. I was seldom sleepless, never slept too much, still had fun. Sometimes. But working an eight-hour day exhausted me to the point that I never really wanted to get off the couch after I got home. I looked around at my husband and kids and grandkids―yes, even them―and was bewildered because, Good Lord have mercy, how could I possibly be unhappy?
But I was. Oh, I was.
I didn’t really want to start smoking again, but I knew I’d be happier if I did. What was worse--to die of lung cancer or of depression? “I don’t know what to do,” I told my doctor. “Maybe I need to smoke again. Just some, not a lot.”
“No,” he said. “No. I know what to do.”
So he gave me a prescription and talked to me a long time about clinical depression. “You’ll be fine,” he promised. “Maybe six months, maybe longer. But you’ll be fine.”
I hated taking Zoloft. It was for weak people, people who gave in to being sorry for themselves, people who wanted others to feel sorry for them. I’d try it for a little while, but it wasn’t going to work, not on me, Mrs. Average.
But I would try it for six months. That should get me over the hump, and maybe I wouldn’t start smoking again. I could always blame the weight on it. You know, I couldn’t lose weight because I was “on medication.” No one had to know I was a spineless wuss who was taking antidepressants.
Six months became two years. Not that it took me that long to feel better―that’s how long it was before I got the courage up to stop taking the Zoloft. What if I feel that way again? I thought. I would surely die from it. But stopping was painless, and depression is only a distant memory. But it’s a memory that can make me miserable in a heartbeat, make me question myself if, just once, I happen to be sad on Sunday afternoon.
But I am all right, I remind myself, because by Thursday night at bedtime, I have forgotten the sadness. I feel good. No, better than good; I feel wonderful. I haven’t smoked for nine years and three months. And I will never, ever take any of it for granted again. It is a gift.
posted by Liz Flaherty # 8:00 AM
Inspiring, Liz. You have more inner strength than you know...
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