Depression. Commerical ads would have you believe, depression’s color is gray, its expression is sad, it can’t function day-to-day, and it can be cured with medication. These ads further misrepresent depression by inferring that you, or someone else, can actually recognize depression in yourself or another person. If only depression were that easy to diagnose or identify. It’s not.
I got up early every day, on time. I went to the gym every morning and worked out, on my way to work. I dressed nice. I styled my hair, applied make-up, had my nails painted, and spritzed on perfume. My world was colorful. I engaged with people. I had conversations. I was witty. I smiled.
I was working two jobs and went to college. I lost weight, not because I was trying to diet, but because I was exercising and would forget to eat, or simply couldn’t afford to buy lunch. Coffee was my filler-upper. I engaged with others, I took care of my children, I went out occasionally with friends, I was dating.
One day my period stopped.
Then my universe imploded.
The day before my eldest daughters’ twelfth birthday, I had five dollars to spend on their gifts. I purchased two pairs of colorful leggings from the discount rack at a popular clothing shop. It was a Friday. That night, after wrapping their gifts, I started crying. And I cried through my sleeping. And I cried through my waking the next morning – on their birthday. And I cried on my way to my second job. And I thought I was ill. The flu perhaps? So my crying self told my supervisor that I didn’t feel well, “I must have the flu,” and I drove my crying self to the nearest clinic. And I cried as I went up to the receptionist and told her that I didn’t feel well.
I have no recollection what happened between then and when I woke up on a gurney in the emergency room – still crying — looking up at the doctor, my friend, and my friend’s mother.
And I heard the doctor say, “She is suffering from severe depression.”
Then he had a nurse help me off the gurney and into a wheelchair.
“She will have to stay here a few days,” he said to them. “On Monday we’ll have a psychologist access her and then we’ll know more.”
I looked up at my friend and her mother and said through tears, “I can’t be depressed. Don’t tell my girls that. Don’t tell Ernie.” Depression was a foreign visitor I didn’t want to entertain. It was the stranger I didn’t want my girls to meet. Ernie was the man I was in love with, but our relationship was not on solid ground yet. Thoughts – random and concrete filled my head as quickly as the tears came.
And as they were wheeling me away from emergency and into their resident psych-unit, I continued to cry, but I said, to no one in particular, “I can’t stay here. I have to go home to my children. It’s my twins’ birthday. I have to go to work on Monday.”
And then I threw-up.
I was placed in a room on the other side of a courtyard that separated the units from the lounge and dining area. I sat in the hospital gown on the side of my bed and cried.
I have no idea how long I sat on the edge of the bed when I looked up and saw Ernie walking across the courtyard towards me. He hugged me. He said, “I know you’ve told me that you’ve been struggling with your bills, your ex-husband, with many things. But I guess I wasn’t really listening. I’m sorry. Don’t worry about the girls. Don’t worry about anything anymore. I’m going to speak to Father [the priest at the parish he attended] and have him come here to see you. Just get better.”
And he left. And I cried.
The next day I managed to get dressed and go to the dining area. I sat in the lounge. The crying stopped temporarily. I watched the others who were there. Many were talking to no one in particular. Fussing over imaginary items on walls, on tables, in the air. I didn’t belong there.
Ernie showed up with the priest. We talked. Then prayed. Then I went to see the resident psychologist. He said, “You’ve experienced an emotional breakdown, but you don’t belong here. Tomorrow we are taking you over to Charter Oak. I think that’s a better place for you to recover. You will meet with the psychiatrist once a day and go to group therapy daily. Your insurance will cover everything.”
The next day, I was driven by the hospital staff to Charter Oak, where I was placed in a room and met by the psychiatrist. When I checked in, I was given a toilette pack with no.sharp.objects. Then I was allowed to make a few phone calls. I called home and spoke to my friend and her mother. (I rented two rooms from them in their home.) They told me not to worry about the girls. They would take care of them. Then I called my job and explained what had happened. My boss and all my coworkers were shocked to hear I had suffered a bout of severe depression. “You? Depressed?” No one would have ever thought of me as being depressed. Least of all me. That evening I called and spoke to my daughters. All I could say was that I was okay and not to worry. I would be home soon.
In the lounge area that evening, as other patients were playing board games and watching T.V., I thought of my girls, my life, but I wasn’t crying anymore. A nurse came by with a cart of small, white, paper cups and offered me one.
“What are these?” I asked her.
“This one is to help you sleep and this one is an anti-depressant,” she replied.
“No, thank you,” I said.
She looked surprised. Everyone in the room looked surprised.
“Are you sure you don’t want them?” she asked.
“Yes, I am. How can I know I’m getting better if I’m medicated? When I can sleep soundly through the night, I’ll know I’m getting better.”