There’s no cute title for writing about Clinical Depression.

And isolation breeds isolation which creates the stigma and discrimination we need to eliminate. The brain is an organ — just like the heart, liver and kidneys — and we need to encourage everyone to treat it as such from both a medical and social perspective.

Joe Pantoliano, Founder of “No Kidding, Me Too.”

If are new to my blog, I have clinical depression.  The first time I experienced the REAL, genuine, gut-wrenching, debilitating, life altering, horrible, sink hole depression started in the Spring or early Summer of 2002.

Each person has a birthright of joy to reclaim. — Foust

What I didn’t know.

When I fell into my worst (and first) case of clinical depression eight years ago, neither Tom or I knew a thing about real depression.  What I mean by real is not that there is “fake’ but clinical depression is different than mood swings or melancholy.   I have since studied and I could give you an ear full on the topic. But I won’t.  This is some of what I have learned over the last eight years.

One of the most impressive things I learned over the years is that you have to fight it. And it’s a fight lemme tell you, at certain points for your own life.  Sometimes it’s fight someone who loves you takes on as well.  You have to want something better.  That’s difficult when you are so depressed that you can’t sleep, eat, talk, move, and lost all pleasure for life — but if you have received  professional help to get out of that place, THEN you have to fight AGAINST the next time.

I have worked hard for the emotional, physical, and spiritual healing that I’ve achieved.  All the while I am confident that this is going to be a lifelong struggle.  I have a propensity toward it, this illness that involves the mind, body and the soul.

That is not true of everyone.  Some lucky people only have situational depression where a life event like a divorce, illness, death, birth of a baby, job loss, or other tragedy occurs and we become depressed in response to it but you don’t have regular episodes for the rest of your life.

Depression affects how you feel.  It changes your thinking in crazy ways.  And it causes you to behave in a way quite unlike yourself.   These can be a clue for a friend or partner that something isn’t right.  If not dealt with it can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.  And eventually, in scary cases, you may come to feel as if life isn’t worth living.  You most definitely lose sight of the belief that you have a right to joy.

  • Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.
  • Major depressive disorder affects about 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
  • While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.
  • Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men.

(Stats from Mayo Clinic website)

I will never forget a relative** (changed to protect the ignorant) calling when she heard about my depression, saying,

“I’m sorry that you feel so sad.”

My heart sank.  Depression is not sadness or the blues or even a bad mood.

The Stigma of Getting Help. Let others help you.

Contrary to what many people believe, depression it is not personal weakness that you can “snap out of.”  Depression is a chronic illness that may require the treatment of a Psychiatrist and the counseling from a Psychologist.  A medical doctor should not be diagnosing it, unless it is to send you to psychiatrist.  I would not (now) trust a Medical Doctor to treat depression with medication.  I have learned that the medications are so unique in their effects on each person, that it takes someone specially trained to help you called a Psychiatrist.

Some liken it to diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure that are serious but treatable.  For me it feels more like a cancer in remission, life threatening but you can fight it.  But it is true that most depression is treatable.

It is easy to get discouraged with the diagnosis.  Easy to begin to feel you will never be free of the stigma of depression.  You will never be happy.  That is I thought for a long time, when I was in weekly therapy working my ass off in counseling.  That is some of the hardest mental work I’ve ever done, not to mention emotional and even physical.  You have to be committed and even when I was there were lengths of time when I had to take a break from weekly therapy.  I simply wanted to enjoy a month or so of feeling okay.  Then something would trigger, and I’d be back at it.  My work was on the past, learning to rewrite the negative tapes in my head, attacking the lies.  Waking up grateful.  On taking risks and daring to succeed.

As I mentioned I have received a lot of help from psychological counseling and eventually at a dangerous point, began to take medication.

I do not want this to be a life sentence.  I have worked hard.   But there’s also a spiritual aspect that cannot be overlooked.  And as a person who believes in the message of Jesus, I have disciplined myself to be open to  the Holy Spirit and I have quit a few bad habits because of that including admitting that I am an alcoholic July 17, 2008.  My last alcoholic stupor… (that’s it’s own story. Check the TAGS.)

Through writing poetry I have made inroads into my Life Story and discovered how it made me who I am.  I have discovered a lot, admitted to anger that I didn’t know was there.  The opposite side of the coin of depression is anger, but I thought I didn’t have any anger.  Perhaps most important, I worked on forgiveness and on being a more honest person.

Over the years I have had a lot of help and support.  Number one being my husband Tom who not only carried the load of a full-time job but during those very difficult times he did everything else. I have a number of incredible friends who are always right there when things are really bad.

So many people tell me how amazing it is that I am so frank and all I can do is thank them.  Alcoholics are liars.  Addicts are liars.  Whether you lie to yourself or to everyone else, you convince yourself of many things that are untrue.  I protect myself from that by being brutally honest.   I have worked very hard to give up the destructive things that were impacting my body for the worse.  I will always be an alcoholic. I’m not ashamed of that.  I’m strong enough to have quit and let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who struggle with drinking habits but are unwilling to consider giving it up.  I get that.  It took me about five years to admit it finally.

What I’ve learned.

So beyond what I’ve already said I came up with a list of eight things that I have learned along the way.  If you don’t suffer from depression, you  likely know someone who does and it is hard to know what to do.  Perhaps these thoughts will offer some help and hope.

1]  Each person must find the healing path for themselves.

(with the help of professionals, family and friends.)

Because I’m a curious person and I want to help myself, I read a lot and have learned there are many, many opinions for how to get help or to help yourself.  There are new things to try all the time and you have to keep working until you find what works for you.  New to me is Yoga something that I have never done.  Up until hearing about Amy Weintraub (see below) I had not heard Yoga described as a practice for healing from depression. I have tried an eight week class in Mindfulness and found it to be terrific, but like any discipline it must be maintained for it ongoing benefits.  Exercise of any sort is the same way.   Research shows that exercise is equal to or more effective than medications for treating depression. Both exercise or medication must be combined with the therapy work of a counselor.

What I do know is that I do not want this struggle my whole life.  But I accept that I may never be free of depressive episodes.  I know this.  If this is the case then my ability to work on being healthy will be important.   My commitment to managing the pain also important.  Perhaps I will have to work on acceptance of it so that I don’t get resentful or bitter.  I think it is important to prepare either way.

2]  You can learn to feel it coming.

Though you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps when clinically depressed, YOU CAN LEARN TO FEEL IT COMING. And before it completely takes over, you can fight back.  But how does one fight back?  Keep reading.

3]  You should listen to your body and take care of it.  Also, listen to your mind.

  • Get back to counseling.  Sometimes just a check-in with your Psychologist can help get back on track.  For me the voice of reason asking me “What’s the worst that can happen?”  or “And you believed that, why?” is good!  Logical questioning helps me immensely.  Tom is also able to do this for me now, but not at first.  I’m stronger now so I “hear” him differently.
  • Make sure you are exercising regularly.
  • Make sure you are eating regularly and well (fruits & veggies, protein, whole grains.)  I crave sugar and it’s the absolute worst for my moods.  I stop eating meals and binge on bad things.  It’s true.  When those habits pop up again it’s a sure sign something is up.

4]  Take care of our soul —  whatever that means for you.

  • Get back to church (if you go) no matter what it takes.
  • Pick up the phone.  Get together with a  friend; one on one is best.
  • Learn to be a friend even when you aren’t well.  I was completely knocked out recently by the realization that my good friend was also suffering and in my complete focus on myself I didn’t even know it.  We got together and laughed, cried and hugged, and listened to one another.  It was a profound lesson for me that one can heal by giving and receiving.

Perhaps the next suggestion should be first, underlined and italicized.

5]  Don’t be afraid to admit that you are depressed.

  • Tell a trusted person what’s really going on.  This is sometimes the first and most difficult step.  My pride, my fear,  my feelings of failure and personal responsibility for “allowing” it to come back — the lies that crowd in — are hard to overcome, but when I finally admit what’s going on it is such a relief.  A trusted person will help you walk through getting help.  I guarantee you will get to a point where it gets more and more difficult the longer you wait.  Once you start to fight back against what is happening to you, you will get better.  And fighting is good and necessary.  Do talk to your spouse, partner or a parent.  Anyone who has walked with you through life’s challenges.
  • It isn’t wise to tell an acquaintance or a friend on the periphery of your life because you will be disappointed by their inability to stick with you.  It is not because they are bad people or even that they don’t care, but because they just cannot be there.
  • Don’t let pride get in the way.  Need is humbling.  But it may come down to a  life or a death.
  • Your friends cannot help you if you are unwilling to tell them.  People live busy fractured lives.  Good, caring people rush from one activity to the next, especially in the Christian community.  So busing doing, slowing down to notice you is difficult.  It’s simple a fact of American culture.  Tell a friend.
  • If someone tells you they plan to take their own life, no matter who they are to you ALWAYS believe them.  Get them help.

6]  Repeat after me.

I have intentionally written this in the first person.  (Tom always has to remind me.  Yep, every single time…)  Say it with me now:

  1. I am not responsible for my depression coming or returning.
  2. Depression is an illness, not a weakness or character flaw or sin.  It is not a spiritual mistake.
  3. I will be “happy” some day!

7]  Work on your relationships when you are not struggling.

Life brings all sorts of people to us.  The ones that will stick with you when you are at your lowest  or “worst” are the ones that we can be investing in when we are at our best. Never forget that the people in your life need you as much as you need them.  Remember the corny phrase “You have to be a friend to have a friend.”  Well, as silly as that sounds it is true.

I hope my life will include months and  some day years where I am healthy and my depression is in “remission.” I want to pour myself into the people I love.

Depression has given me a sense for people that I never had before, or at least an empathetic ear.  I never ask “how are you?” unless I have time to hear how they are doing.   Once the answer took three hours.  Sometimes it is just a hug.

People are hurting all around us.  They have physical trials and pain.  They live most of their lives alone or lonely.   They hurt and I will never know that if I don’t ask.  You will never know unless you ask, and mean it.  Unless you notice the people in your life and push back when they say “I’m fine” you won’t be able to show them that you heard them.

8]  It is important to have a creative outlet or a hobby that you love.

There is a woman in my neighborhood that I don’t know well, but I enjoy very much.  She has Multiple Sclerosis.  She uses her blog to chart her illness’ progress and to write about something that she loves, which also nourishes and heals, which is FOOD.  It arose out of her wish to pay attention to her body and her healing. She says on her blog:

“I am working with what I am given, trudging through difficulties without turning away.”

I love that.  That’s why I write about my depression.  That’s why I blog.  I want to encourage others and I need to be continuously learning and reminding myself of the progress.  By writing I make discoveries about myself.  I can celebrate the journey I am on and not turn away from it.  I can tell the truth.

But I also have my photography which has been an incredible place to express myself, even on the worst days.  When I feel so badly that I don’t pick up the camera, that’s an alert.

My Complete Honesty Now.

When the clinical depression is at its worst, it is hell — It saps your energy, your self-esteem, your passion for life, your decision-making ability and steals everything that makes you unique.  It is a liar and a thief.   A betrayer. (I have some powerful poems about it.)  Here’s a powerful one .

I Am Destruction

I wake with the familiar headache.
Deeply tired.  My bones in protest.
Emotions already chafing; dazzling, fluorescent, raw. Ablaze.
Coffee the first panacea of the day.
Sip by sip, its power over me if not to heal, then to awaken.

Slowly flooded by familiar disappointment.
Weary, I begin to See myself.
I am Destruction.
I am Broken Promises
wielding their power.
The surge of rage,  justified.
It hurts.
My body adjusting to an awareness
of this old enemy within.
Destruction’s impact yet unknown.
Fury toward the innocent who contribute to the chaos
of my life and toward, the hell inside me.


But I have learned, over the years, how to live with depression and “manage” it.  I do believe this strategy is the only hope for me and perhaps something here will help you or someone else.  That is my hope.

Be well, friends.


  • I recently learned about Amy Weintraub who worked to cure her own clinical depression over time by practicing yoga.  She tells her story in her book Yoga for Depression.   I can’t wait to read it.    The thought that I might be free from depression some day; I do not believe it if I am completely honest with you.  I am a realist when it comes to dealing with pain.  Pain just is.  And so I  have imagined the diagnosis of clinical depression as a life sentence from which there is no long-term cure.  Unless I can find something more to help or experience a modern-day miracle life will be challenging to manage.  Who knows, perhaps yoga.  As I said, search until you find what works.

What’s a Woman of Leisure? (Not that you asked)

“I just want to be happy.”

As I spoke those words to my father on the telephone, I meant them.  I could not remember the last time I felt genuine joy.  I was coming off of three pregnancies in rapid succession and being a person that worked 60+ hour weeks in a rewarding but stressful job.

Tom and I had decided together that I would stay-home with our three kids who were all still in diapers for two reasons.  One, because I wanted “out” of my job.  And secondly, it made sense financially to not put three kids in daycare.  But I hadn’t found it to be a positive change for me and after a year at-home I was suffering from major depression — although I did not yet know  what to call.

I was expressing a desire for something that I could not have defined exactly.


This was one of the last real conversations I remember having with my father.  It was the summer of 2002, and I recall my father saying, “Do you need me to come?  I will come if you need me.” and I deflected, thinking as usual that my need was not important.  I said, “No, I’ll be okay.”  Which was the farthest from the truth.

I wasn’t okay and wouldn’t be okay for a very long time.  But that day, sitting on my back stoop looking out at my yard with unseeing eyes, I couldn’t imagine what he could do to make things any better.

You see the idea of him coming was better than the actuality.  My parents did visit in October, and my father was preoccupied with work —  on his laptop and cell phone the entire visit.  He was critical of our choices — We took them out to a Thai restaurant for dinner instead of cooking.  That was wasteful or indulgent, which he did not approve of, never mind that we were buying.

But I was depressed still five months later.  And when you are, things like grocery shopping and cooking are impossible to do.  I didn’t stick up for myself at the time.   And I knew Tom felt no criticism of me for not cooking.  So we went out.

It turns out Dad was suffering from brain tumors (though no one knew at that time) which would be diagnosed a few weeks later.  He had brain surgery in early December.  He died five months later, in May of 2003.)

Recently we were dining (at home, if you must know) with some new friends.

Tom and I are both making an effort to make some new relationships, as this has been a theme at church lately. We were gathered in the kitchen — as often happens in the minutes before enjoying a home cooked meal together — and Tim asked if I needed any help?  I usually do leave some things for when guests have arrived, because it gives me something to do with my hands.  (I’m a nervous, socially introverted tongue-tied  person, especially with new people.)  And a task sometimes makes a guest feel good.

I flippantly and off the top of my head said “No, I’m a woman of leisure,  so I finished everything ahead of time.”  Where in the hell did that come from, I thought immediately? 

I’d never described myself that way before.  Haven’t even put those words together in a sentence before. And I haven’t felt bad about being a stay-at-home for a good long while.

Oh, it creeps in now and then, as people ask the “good ol’ American get to know ya questions” like “What do you do?”  Awkward when you have all your kids in school and you’re not “working” outside the home.  My self-esteem would definitely be enhanced by a salary and some hours working at tasks that have a higher purpose or a more obvious result.  But no, for now this is working for us.  I am at-home.  I am a full-time MOM, two-hour a day max home-keeper, and working on my health.

It all leads back to that desire to be happy.

Am I a woman of leisure?  God help me, no!  But I guess I joked about it because I don’t know how to tell people what my life really involves.  It’s not typical for someone to admit ,

“My #1 job is staying healthy mentally. What do you do?”

Yup, I have a mental illness (there I said it) and it’s chronic (meaning it comes back, all too frequently) and I am learning through trial and error, research, and lots of effort and hard work what it takes to get healthy, stay healthy, and be healthy. 

I know that I could do a 9-5 job and sort these things out on the weekends.  But I am grateful that I don’t have to and so I’m working on my health every day (or most days. Many are too full to think about me. I am a mother of four, active in my church, and writing…)

Major depressive disorder was the diagnosis and it has led me to a half-dozen different therapists, psychologists as well as psychiatrists. A near fatal suicide attempt.  Medication.  Hospitalization.   Alcoholism.  And …the depression comes back.  I start all over again.  Well, the truth is …

I work, work, work  …

on my sanity.  And on the good days I think why the hell does it take so much time just to be healthy?  On the bad ones, well, I just can’t think. I struggle to be functional.  But it’s not quite like that.   A depressive episode builds, like a few rolling waves at first sliding into a tsunami.

If you’ve never been in therapy, you’ve no idea how much work it is.  It’s hard when you are not depressed.  Hellishly difficult if you are.  If you are committed to getting better and growing and changing, you have to do it.  There is no other choice.  No one wants a  relapses, of which I’ve had more than a half dozen over six years.

It feels like two to three months of going through life like The Undead.  Your body is heavy all the time — It feels like you are filled with sand.  And your head, your mind, your soul, your psyche is a Black Hole.  Everything swirls around into it and nothing worthwhile comes out.)

If your commitment is to health you have work on it EVERY DAY:

  • On your spirituality, because I’d hate to give you the impression that “healing” only comes from doctors.
  • On your physical health, I have learned that exercise and diet are probably most important, after Psychotherapy.
  • On your friendships.  Isolation is a big danger and a signal that you’re slipping backwards.
  • On your relationships with family, which must stay positive and healthy.
  • You have get off drugs or alcohol, because at least alcohol is a depressant.  [The story of alcoholism well, it will have to be another day for that.  I am two years and two months into sobriety as of this writing.]
  • You have to do the therapy, which only works if you do the work.

So what does a woman of leisure do?

This one works on her stuff.  And sometimes keeps house and cares for four kids — nine, 11, 12 and 22.  Our youngest has learning difficulties which have involved years and years of advocacy and therapies and doctors appointment.  Being an advocate for him meant getting an education on many things including how the public school system works to help children with disabilities, pushing the insurance company and doctors and teachers, learning about hearing, and speech and attention-deficits.  Learning about nutrition and medication and side effects.  Just regular stuff mom’s do if they have the time.  Most women have much less time for this than I do, so I feel fortunate.  But managing all that, during the same years that I’ve been ill has been hard.  Rewarding but difficult.

I volunteer my photography skills and writing when I can or when asked. I ventured into a photography business for about three years, but decided that I didn’t really want it that badly.  I serve in various places with a variety of things — as I hear of needs at church and school.  I study further on things will help me do all this in an intelligent way.  When they were little I was in the kid’s classrooms volunteering every week and was going on field trips.

I do love being at home when my children come home from school — world-weary, and kind of beat up from their day — offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen or a word of advice.  It just happened last night with my 22-year-old and it is awesome.

We only have a few years with our children and so I have concluded – selfishly perhaps – that if I can take these years then I will.  Gladly.  Joyfully.  And try to best of my ability and with all the strength I have in me to live well. 

For them.  For myself.  For the pure sake of being happy to be alive. 

Who knew, as a child, that just being happy would be so much work.  What does this woman of leisure do all day?  Some days I wonder that myself if I’m truthful.  But I hope I will look back, in the years to come, and have no doubt it was time well spent.

MHH September 15, 2010

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