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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reaching For Hope

I just found out that my aunt died. My mom's sister, Bonnie Christensen. She was found dead in her home today. Possibly a suicide. She had attempted so many times. It’s heartbreaking news. And I find myself in need of some good news today. And I suddenly realized that the good news was my own good news. But not the Relief-Society-Good-News-Minute kind of good news. If you read blogs for that kind of news, today’s not the day to find it here.

But I have to say that my aunt’s passing prompts me to do what I already felt prompted to do, which is share my own depression story, even though it’s difficult for me. And I want to say at the outset- it has a good ending! But I have nightmare visions of friends of mine reading this and then having crazy reactions, like, “Ooh. She has anxiety disorder. We probably shouldn’t invite her to the movies.” Or “Now that I know this, I don’t want her babysitting my kids because she’s sketchy.”

I hope that my being candid can create awareness so that victims, family & friends of this ILLNESS (they really need to find a different term than depression- something like Frontal Lobe Hippocampus Cellular Atrophy) might be a little more equipped to fight it. It’s a drop in the bucket of the awareness that needs to happen. I don’t know what went wrong with my aunt’s situation. I know she was hurting so much for so many years. Because the depressive-illness monster is so personal to me, and I have had a glimpse of what she may have been battling, her loss is even more sad to me. I hate the thought of anyone experiencing the type of pain depression brings, even to a much smaller degree, and that is why I want to share this. Everyone should know that it can be overcome.

As you probably noticed, I took a break from blogging for a while, and a dear friend wrote to me out of concern & I have posted our correspondence below.

Dear Natalie,

I just recently learned that "clinical depression" is something very different from the mere discontent of people who carelessly use the words depressed and depression when life doesn't happen the way they planned it. I have friends and relatives who become "depressed" - and mean and bitter - when they work home taking care of their infants, and heal the moment their one year olds are hauled to some crowded day-nursery, women who are "depressed" when living at rent and using public transportation - and again healing immediately after getting a house and mortgage and a car. I sincerely apologize for thinking that you were one of those ladies, for I did not know that there is a real depression, and that the real depression is a chemical imbalance in ones brain, which imbalance indeed makes all seem gloomy and hopeless without the poor victim of the illness having a say. I am sorry you have to suffer such an affliction, and MAD that some vain ladies are using the same word when simply whining and covering up the weakness of character and lack of dignity!

You haven't written your blog for awhile - I hope all is well. Natalie, I think you are a real hero hanging on there and doing humbly and courageously the right things, though life truly is harder for you than for some other sisters. In my stunted little existence I have no patience and empathy for whiners, but to you I do have, and not only empathy, but respect as well.

- hanna

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Hanna,

Thanks so much for your note. I know there is a perception in the world and even (or should I say especially?) in the church that if you are not happy, you are sinning/whining/not doing all you should. The past few years I have read a TON of books about depression & I get frustrated with some of those false perceptions and I have even had them before!

But at the same time, I'm definitely not upset with myself because I am working SO HARD on trying to heal. And I'm actually happy and proud of myself for doing this. It's become my hobby & is part of the reason I don't find time to blog-- because all my time, whenever I'm not taking care of my home, husband & kids-- is devoted to getting healthier, mentally & physically (which both effect each other, almost a direct correlation!)

I have been clinically depressed, and now diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder & panic disorder and also obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). When I first realized something was wrong with me, Mia was about 1 year old (but I should have realized earlier because I now remember it started clear back at the end of my pregnancy with Mia- I was uncontrollably crying every day during that 9th month), and I started getting medicine prescribed in 2005, but no talk therapy. Actually, I tried, but I wasn't satisfied with my therapist & didn't feel it was helping or worth all the money we were paying.

So the medicine- between 2005 & 2006 I tried 8 different medicines that were prescribed for me & some worked for a bit, then stopped working, and some didn't work at all. So in the spring of 2007, I gave up the medicine & went to an LDS church member therapist and she is wonderful. She helped us with our marriage (because obviously, when I don't feel well, it's hard on Chris, and it puts a strain on our family life, but things are so much better now), and she has helped me progress a lot and learn coping methods.

Plus I am doing cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) partially via the professional therapist, but also a book called, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated by David Burns and that has helped me so much that I've read it twice now, and I'm reading it again, & intend to never stop until I memorize that thing! :) I read it a bit every night with my scriptures! There is research that CBT can literally change your brain chemistry almost as effectively as medicine. Also, for the anxiety, I am now trying a few herbal remedies. David Burns also has a book on Anxiety/Panic that I really need to get & see if that is as helpful as his other book was for me.

I've been spending a TON of effort on nutrition & exercise, but it's hard. This whole thing has been a dark, dark trial in my life. I've had so many priesthood blessings, I can't even count them. There is no doubt in my mind that my brain chemistry is bogged down with problems. My mom, brother & both sisters have all been on anti-depression medication at some point in their lives. And right before my dad died, he was going through a depression, too! (He died of a heart attack, luckily nothing to do with the depression.) My mom's mom, and of course, sister struggled with this.

I never wanted to commit suicide, but at some of the lowest points, I couldn't stop saying to myself over and over, "I just want to die." The emotional pain I was feeling was so strong, and like I say, I never wanted to hurt myself, but I could totally understand some people's minds who are called, "cutters," who cut themselves with razors (and there are other types of self-injury problems) because the emotional pain is so strong, you feel desperate to escape it, even enough to give yourself physical pain instead to take your mind off the emotional pain. I would feel some days such a heavy darkness around me & every thought was so negative, that I knew they weren't my own thoughts. And the most ironic part of this is that I was hiding it all from the world! I would go to church with this huge smile on my face. I was in the Relief Society presidency, having people over to my home all the time, putting on all these Enrichment activities, then coming home and crashing in secret.

And luckily, that is all in the past now. I'm doing so much better!!!!!! My "low" points are no big deal, when I think back to how it was before. Don't get me wrong, things are still hard occasionally, but at least I'm aware of triggers, and therapies. Just a month ago, something triggered a relapse into depression & I was crying in my room for 2 hours. But at least at the end of that 2 hours, I got out a notebook and started working on my CBT and I came out of it! Before, that depression may have lasted 2 weeks instead of 2 hours.

One big difference between now and the past is that before, I only got help when my emotional problems were hurting my husband or children. Now I'm getting help because I love myself & I know I don't deserve to feel that way. I'm learning that some attitudes I've had for years (like pleasing people or being addicted to love & praise or feeling guilty and mentally beating myself up & saying such mean things to myself in my thoughts or feeling like everything has to be perfect/"all or nothing"...) are no longer acceptable & I have to work on changing them.

Now I'm just working on the anxiety part of things (another good website I've been learning from is www.thehatchedegg.com). My goal is to get to the point where I'm not waking up in the morning feeling afraid, panicked & anxious for no reason (this paralyzes me & I want to stay in bed the whole day). Or I'll be saying my prayers at night & I'll start this obsessive terrible worrying about all the things I was praying for and I'll stay up all night worrying about it, all the while trying to stop thinking about that, but I absolutely can't (this is part of the OCD). Depressed peoples' brains get literally addicted to negative thoughts, and without some sort of intervention like medicine or therapy, you just keep downward spiraling worse and worse.

So I'm so happy to be getting the help I need now. Oh, also this sweet lady named Marla Cilley (www.flylady.net) is a coach to women who are trying to be better homemakers & I listen to her radio show a lot and get her emails & that is helping me, too because she is all about trying to avoid perfectionism and trying to LOVE AND RESPECT YOURSELF!!! Her nickname is FLYLady, and FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself. Cool, huh? :)

Besides the time factor, I have to admit the anxiety/OCD, etc. is probably partially to blame for me not blogging. But feel free to follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/tryingtofly) or (www.twitter.com/nataliecardon). I'm actually considering using this note to you as a blog post because I wonder if a lot of my friends could use an honest explanation to what's going on with me. There was such a loneliness when I couldn't share any of this. Even my mom & sister who are my best friends & know how it feels to be depressed still felt uncomfortable hearing again and again how awful I was doing for these 4 years and that I'm still struggling.

Even I hate listening to people talk about their depressions, but I find that it's not as heavy to listen to when I learn that they are actively working on getting better & not just staying in denial or showing an unwillingness to do the work that it takes to get better. And I actually think that almost everyone could work on being more positive in general and having healthier attitudes towards the world. I think everyone should read "Feeling Good." It is seriously my favorite book. :)

I know that when this is a little farther behind me & I can see all the progress I've made, I will realize what all I've learned from it and be grateful for having that trial. And even now, still somewhat in the midst of this trial, I would much rather have this than so many other things that could go wrong in one's life. I do still have such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Thank you for being such a benevolent friend and for cheering for me from such a long distance. :) I'm cheering for you, too, even though I don't know what all you are going through, but I know & believe that it has been tough for you, too. Thank goodness, too, that we have a Savior who knows us & loves us and that love truly never fails and will truly conquer all.

XO,
Natalie

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Natalie,

Thank you for taking the time to educate me through your wonderful letter. I did not know how life consuming the illness can be! It's amazing how far you have already come through perseverance and self education and exercise!

These words of yours are so true: "Even I hate listening to people talk about their depressions, but I find that it's not as heavy to listen to when I learn that they are actively working on getting better & not just staying in denial or showing an unwillingness to do the work that it takes to get better" .
It really is not hard to stand by a sufferer - even throughout life - when you see that she/he is doing her/his very best to get better, or to manage life despite the difficulties. Your husband and children must be very proud of you Natalie : )

Now I'll go and investigate the twitter and the flylady : )

- hanna

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And my husband IS proud of me. I shared these emails with him, and this was his response:

..........................................

Natalie,

You are lovely, loyal, likable, lovable. I'm proud of you for all you have accomplished in the past few years.

I see the hope you display in this email and it elevates my hope and I know there will be better days.

I love you.


Chris

......................................

And the most amazing thing is that better days sometimes come sooner than you thought possible. Since I wrote this letter I have found almost a MIRACLE supplement. It has pretty much erased all my symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic & OCD. Unbelievable, I know. It may not work forever, since as I mentioned, medications tended to work for a short time, then poop out on me. But this is called INOSITOL and in the vitamin B complex. It started to work for me 5 MINUTES after I took it. It’s been about a week & I seriously feel like a new person. Completely back to myself. I’m not even kidding. I am having a great time getting reaquainted with the old me that was able to enjoy things, have a sense of humor, be in a good mood, etc.! I feel like I've risen from the dead. I almost erased the entire part of this post that had to do with anxiety because I’m not struggling with it anymore. What a blessing & a miracle. And even if it does poop out on me, I have built a foundation of knowing how to fight the anxiety & depression without medication. I have to add that 5-HTP also helps me.

If you are struggling with depressed feelings or suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, take time to educate yourself. Read articles on the internet. Read “Feeling Good.” And there are a lot of other good books out there. Here is a mini online version of a depression assessment questionnaire. You deserve to feel better. Therapists are not just for the really super ill/deranged. Get rid of the stigmas attached to therapy and anti-depressants! You wouldn’t say to your friend that has diabetes or asthma or epilepsy or something: “She has a character flaw. She shouldn’t take that medication because she has brought it on herself. If she were making better choices she wouldn’t have asthma.” Don’t say or think this about others who are depressed, and don’t say it about yourself. Depression is a real disease, and you should get help BEFORE, and I mean LONG BEFORE it gets to the point where you need hospitalization.

And the final thought I have is the same one I had, the last time one of my family members died (my dad in 2001.) Isn’t it a blessing to be alive? How thankful I am for the sun on my face, my beautiful husband and kids around me, so much ahead of me to experience and live. Especially to those of you who are lucky enough to have a plentiful supply of serotonin in your healthy brain, go enjoy it! To all of you: Live life to the healthiest and happiest you can!

Again, to all of you, blog readers: Take care of yourselves! You are precious & loved.

XO

Natalie

Finally, one last note. This blog title is inspired by a great book by two LDS women, Meghan Decker and Betsy Chatlin, that gives a great overview of depression in general, and a fantastic LDS perspective. It's called: Reaching For Hope : An LDS Perspective on Recovering from Depression

23 comments:

Sarah said...

Great post, Natalie. And kudos to you for taking care of yourself. I know I don't know you super well, but I never would have imagined these struggles. You are a strong and powerful woman. Keep up the good work!

A sweet woman in my ward suffers greatly with bipolar disorder. She wrote an article in last month's Ensign entitled 'The Blessing of the Blackberry Bush.' It's so true that the Lord does not see as we do, and trusting in Him offers much hope.

Dana Broderick said...

WOW Natalie! You are my hero!!! What an amazing post!!! Thanks soooo much for sharing. I have some of those tendencies that you have described. I have never been diagnosed with depression but I have struggled with many thoughts of inadequacy to the point of immobility at times. I have been able to overcome them in many instances but I know how to fight them too and have gotten better over time. I LOVE YOU! Thanks for sharing all of that!

Ryann said...

I just came to your blog a few days ago and was wondering if you were alright. I am really happy to see that you are taking control of your disease and that you are getting the help that you need.

I have that last book "Reaching for Hope..." as I was also clinically depressed for a time. And you are so right there is hope! You are a fighter and with the love and support of your family, you will keep getting stronger. Much love and many prayers are being sent your way!

Lisa T. said...

Wow, what a powerful post. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Jee! - Uusi, ihmeellinen blogi-kirjoitus!

I'm sorry to learn of your aunt - so sorry for your loss.

Through your candid post it is once again proven that they are the brave, the diligent and the faithful who draw on the powers of heaven and witness exceptional growth - even miracles!

Terveisin: pieni toveri : ) ... terveisiä myös kiltille, hienolle Chris:lle.

Chris said...

Natalie,

I think that you are an talented and strong woman. Thank you for sharing your journey for the past 10+ years. I love you.

- Chris

RebeckerOnline said...

Natalie, thank you for sharing this post. I needed to read it and I am actually going to forward it to a few people that are experiencing some of the same challenges.

Sorry to hear of your loss.

Jen Cardon said...

Hi Nat,

Congratulations on your excellent progress! I'm proud of you! I also have read/studied the Feeling Good book, and I highly reccommend it! Life is such a journey--and sometimes the challenges seem more than we can bear--but, you are doing all the right things to heal, and you should be commended for that! I'm so happy for you!

I'm sorry for you loss of you Aunt.

Blessings to you!

Michele said...

Thanks for sharing so openly. You are loved and admired and always have been!

Sandra said...

Natalie...so sorry your aunt died. I'm sure that's hard for your family.
It's such a relief that you decided to write about what you have been going through and what you are doing to help yourself. We pray for you and we love you. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Natalie, my sister Rebecca, forwarded this post to me and I'm sooo glad she did! I empathize with pretty much everything you said. I'm still struggling with this...off all my meds. right now, coming to terms with being honest with myself and my husband, and looking into some more natural/herbal remedies. I appreciate all your references/links to other resources too, and look forward to investigating them. I appreciate more and more HONESTY in those who are tired of hiding behind a mask of happiness or the "I'm fine" phrase....telling it like it is has been a great help to me recently. I am still far from where I'd like to be, but as others have said, you have given me HOPE!!! Thankyou so very much! renaye

Jenny said...

Natalie, thank you for sharing your experience. I have always thought you to be an amazing person and was sad when I didn't see blog updates from you. Now I know you ARE as amazing as I've always thought you were. I too am going to forward this to a few people I know.

Shauna said...

Nat, you are an inspiration to all! Thank you. It IS a blessing to be alive and I too am grateful for so much. I'm so glad you are on the road to living healthy and happy. We love you. Shauna

April Cobb said...

Hey, my dear friend. That was so nice. I have told you about the month long depression I had, and ironically, I met you just as I was coming out of that. I have been so grateful for that experience (not during, but since) because it helped me to understand better what depression really is. It isn't just being sad. It is feeling worthless, unmotivated, and hopeless. I hate to think of you ever feeling that way about yourself. You are so loved and so valued. And I am so grateful that you are in a good place now. You have taught me so much. XOXO

JJ said...

Nat, you are AMAZING! Thank you! Loves and smiles, Jenn

Tom and Angie Archibald said...

Natalie, i feel bad that it took me a couple weeks to find this post, but i love reading your thoughts and feeling your strength amidst trials. You are a great "warrior" for yourself and for your family. That is such great news about the new supplement you are taking. Is it working still?

I am proud of you!

Angie

Hatch said...

Dear Natalie, I love and appreciate your candor. I love your frankness. You are a good and expressing feelings and events clearly. I am sad to hear about your aunt. And put me in the depression boat, I've been there too. Sometimes it was not sadness, but feeling totally overwhelmed. Anyway, I have two listening ears. I'll find you on Facebook and give you my number. You probably dont need me now, but please write it down anyway. I wish I could see you more often...er, ever. :)And congratulations on finding medication that works. Hurray.
jenny hatch

Kathryn said...

Hugs to you Natalie...so happy to know you are doing well..I too love Feeling Good (ironically given to me by an LDS therapist on my mission who was treating my companion.) burns has a new book Feeling Good for couples...Have it on my nightstand ready to read. Wish we lived closer!

Anonymous said...

Hi Natalie,

What a great post!
And what a great message of hope too!
Having got my own diagnosis in January, missing 2 months of work and trying to remember to take my pills now every day. I'm just learning to cope with life that went from filled with colours to dull and gray...
But as long as there is hope, things will work out!

Katja :)

JoAnna said...

Hi! My name is JoAnna and I'm a close friend of Shellie Rowberry. She sent me a link to your blog because she knew i would enjoy this post. And I did. Thoroughly. Because I can relate. Not to the anxiety part, but definitely the depression part. Thank you soo soo much for openly sharing your experience. It is so comforting and encouraging to hear another person's experience and insight. Thanks for your fabulous attitude as well.

Amy said...

Hi Natalie,
Thank you for being so brave and putting yourself out for everyone to see. I think you will help a lot of people. I went through a difficult time about 10 years ago during which I took anti-depressants and went to therapy. I was surprised how strong the stigma still was regarding mental health. If you have diabetes, no one sees a problem with taking insulin. The experience made me realize how physical depression can be..that I had to get my serotonin going the right direction to feel better. I am happy you have found a supplement that is working for you. You are a beautiful person. I have enjoyed getting to know you better through your blog posts and I have missed them.

With much love,
Amy Barker

dina marie said...

Natalie,
I just happened upon your post when I was googling the book "Reaching For Hope". That book has been a life saver for me. I have also worked out of the "Feeling Good Handbook". I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder nine long years ago. It took eight years for us to finally find the right medications, understand my triggers, learn about the illness, and accept as a family how to keep me well. It has been a long road. I share the book, "Reaching for Hope" with everyone I come across who experience depression. I buy them in bulk whenever I see them on sale. :) I appreciate your openness in talking about your experiences. I have been frustrated with the stigma that comes along with mental illness, so it is refreshing to see others address it straight on. I am happy that you are doing well. It is a tough road for all of us and it is good to hear success stories. I have a blog that shares some poetry I wrote during one of my most difficult years. There are also some quotes that have been helpful. It is good to know that there are others who experience the same challenges.

Best Wishes.

http://www.dinamariegardner.blogspot.com/

Payne Family said...

Natalie,

You are such a beautiful person. I haven't really talked to you in a few weeks but I hope you are still feeling well with the new supplements! What a blessing you are to everyone who knows you.

Carey