I didn't know I was depressed. I wasn't that lady in the anti-depressant commercial who couldn't get out of bed until her dial was wound back up. I wasn't thinking about ending my life. I wasn't staying in bed all day, losing interest in things that made me happy. I was going to work. I was functioning.
I couldn't be depressed. I made people laugh. I socialized. I was successful. Sure, I felt sad and irritated a lot. At times it felt like I was going through the motions and putting on a show, but I was used to it. It would make me exhausted, especially when surrounded by people for long periods of time, but that's just the product of being a mother with a full-time job and family, right? My time was limited and my responsibilities were endless. My energy and self-esteem were often low but after having children your body never looks the same and you question every decision you make, so of course my self-esteem was low. I felt hopeless and alone at times, but that's normal. I didn't have the luxury of meeting a friend for dinner or focusing on me whenever I felt like it. I felt agitated and irritable other times. I'd rationale every feeling away convincing myself it was just part of being a working mom in a stressful job.
I had periods of joy and laughter but I'd always come back to that same feeling of blah. It felt like a piece of me was missing, the piece that could feel hope and excitement. It was numb. I'd look at my two exceptional children and my fabulous husband who makes me laugh everyday and I'd be happy but still felt empty inside. I felt unable to focus or make decisions and unmotivated to start my day. If someone hurt my feelings, I'd spiral into self-pity. I'd beat myself up for things I had done or didn't do, for the way I looked, or the way I may have come across to others. I would spend days denying myself certain foods because I'd convinced myself I was going to gain weight. I would obsess over what others thought of me. I'd feel guilty.
I was able to hide most of it from those around me but my immediate family noticed. My own daughters were growing older and I felt like a hypocrite telling them to love and honor themselves while I was emulating everything I wanted them NOT to be. I was an insecure woman pretending to be happy. I didn't love and honor myself. I was terrified they were going to notice. Something had to change. I made a decision right then and there. I will do whatever it takes to be whole and happy for them.
That's when I learned about dysthymia, or high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression is what I like to call "depression-light." People with this type of depression experience less-severe depression symptoms. Symptoms last for at least two years. These symptoms are often dismissed as a part of your personality. "I'm just a moody and emotional person who cries a lot. I have a short fuse. I take things too personally."
No one knows for certain what causes dysthymia, but it could be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a family history of the condition, a history of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, stressful or traumatic life events, physical brain trauma, such as a concussion, or chronic physical illnesses. I was basically a ticking time bomb with almost every single factor listed above. It all started to make sense.
Guys, it took SO much courage to admit something may be wrong. It took so much courage for me to talk to my doctor and call a therapist. But I did it. Why? Because I refuse to suffer any longer. I refuse to teach my children that misery is acceptable. Suffering through depression did not make me stronger. It robbed me of enjoying my life.
Talk-therapy and/or anti-depressants are very successful treatments to treat high-functioning depression. I started with my primary care physician and went over my options and you can too. If you think you may have dysthymia, don't waste another second.
Help is available. You do not have to live this way.
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The pictures above represent the most EPIC year! I've been so blessed to travel all over the world. My family and I spent two glorious weeks exploring Australia. It was a bucket-list vacation I still can't believe happened. In fact, in the past year, I've been fortunate enough to visit NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Beijing, and Zurich! I hiked the Canadian Rockies, walked on the Great Wall of China, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, AND sipped wine surrounded by the breathtaking peaks of the Swiss Alps! Not bad for a girl who lives in a small suburb outside of Philadelphia, right? Can you say picture-perfect flawless life adventures? My social media accounts look like heaven!
The truth is the person I portray on my social media accounts deserves an Oscar for hiding my very real struggles with depression. My posts only show a one-dimensional side of my life because I never post the hard stuff. You see my highlight reel. You don't see pictures of me falling apart on our last night in Sydney, when I was sobbing on our hotel balcony, wondering if I'd fulfilled my life goal of traveling to Australia too soon and therefore I'd have nothing to look forward to anymore. I didn't share that planning and being excited about our trip to Australia distracted me from the grief that consumed my soul after losing one of my best friends. I didn't share that my husband was afraid to leave me alone that night on our hotel balcony.
I hid my depression because I didn't want to be judged. I hid it because I didn't want to admit it to myself. I hid it because when I was 11-years-old, my father ended his life and even though I didn't understand what depression was, I learned that if you are depressed, you commit suicide. Depression leads to suicide and that is shameful! I wanted none of that, so I pretended and preached about how we needed to end the mental health stigma, assured people depression was nothing to be ashamed of, and silently suffered, feeling like a complete hypocrite every day as I created picture-perfect posts of my life.
Through therapy and a lot of patience, I've learned to understand my depression and my triggers. I've learned about my unhealthy coping mechanisms and faulty beliefs, and that depression isn't anything to be ashamed about. Depressed people can be happy. Depressed people don't always end their life. Depressed people are pretty freaking amazing!!!
It was only recently that it occurred to me that maybe I'm not the only one silently suffering. Maybe other women feel ashamed for feeling depressed. Maybe other women need to hear my story in order to share their story or ask for help. Maybe I can make depression relatable and together we can end the stigma of depression! Maybe we can support, understand, and encourage each other through our dark days. Maybe we can share some laughs along the way.
I have depression. I am not crazy. I am worthy of love and friendship. And so are you.
Thank you for reading my story! To read more and be alerted of new posts, like my Facebook Page, The Ordinary Chaos.
Okay, so I'm not technically friends with Rachel Hollis, but I've been reading her bestseller "Girl, Wash Your Face" and her infectious encouragement and in-your-face just-do-it attitude has given me the courage to (as she says) turn someday into today! Go me! (Rachel, if you see this, I've decided that one day we will have lunch and compare stories of similar tragic upbringing that turned us into tenacious go-getters! Then we will be guests on The Ellen Show. I'm dreaming big, my friend)!
So here goes. I'm launching a community where women can connect with each other. A place where we can share our stories, relate to one another, and support each other as WE ARE. A place where you don't have to be learning a new diet or be a new mom or want to be more fashionable, you just ARE. A place where you feel normal because your life matches the life of so many other women who haven't found work/life balance, who may have given up low-carb diets long ago, who can't keep up with the latest style trends. We live ordinary chaotic lives. We talk about real life stuff like flabby thighs and just barely surviving day to day. We ask for advice. We come from different backgrounds with different life experiences and we help each other grow. We connect.
What if we lifted each other up, as we ARE, instead of as we want to be (skinnier, healthier, a better dresser...)? What if we shared our truths and didn't feel criticized, shamed, or guilty? What if we found others that feel exactly how we feel? What if our truth was accepted and valued?
It could be as simple as needing advice on what to wear for a night out or how to get over a breakup. You may be contemplating divorce or a new career. This community is for women to share and get feedback from all walks of life. A place where we can be authentic, honest, and feel a real sense of belonging. Share as little or as much as you’d like. Maybe you are great at encouraging others because you’ve got so much experience and expertise your input could change lives. How awesome would it be to have real life mentors helping us through our chaotic lives?
Sure, I may be crazy to think this online utopia could exist. You may be thinking, she’s insane! I’d never share my life with strangers!!
I’m taking a leap of faith here. Over the past 20 years I have belonged to wedding planning groups, pregnancy groups, new mommy groups, essential oil groups, weight loss groups. And each group was amazing. I’ve made friends and met so many women who make me feel like I’m not alone. There is so much beauty in the moment you can show vulnerability and get meaningful feedback in a safe and nurturing environment.
Maybe I am crazy, but I say we give this a try! Are you in?
Check out my Facebook Page and join the #MeantToBeMe Group HERE!
Heidi shares personal stories of her ordinary chaotic life. She gives an honest raw look at what it means to be a mom, wife, counselor, and friend struggling to keep it all together. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression give her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as an adolescent and adult.