Two Years Ago Depression Nearly Ended My Life. Here Is What Helped Me Survive.

On a recent warm and sunny April afternoon, I was at the rehabilitation center where I work as a per diem physical therapist. As I passed a young woman, I overheard her say to a patient “it’s too beautiful outside to feel depressed!”

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “She really doesn’t understand depression.”

As the April weather was warming up just two years ago, I found myself in a hole so black and deep it felt impossible to escape from. Mental health challenges after the birth of my children resulted in several incorrect diagnoses including bipolar disorder, and the medications I was prescribed to help me did a whole lot more harm than good. By the spring of 2017, I was so depressed that I was unable to work or care for myself much less my children without the help of family. Yes, I occasionally sobbed, but it was far more involved than ‘sadness’: anxiety caused me to vomit nearly everything I ate. I slept as much as possible just to survive.

I’m going to be frank here: it was so bad that I wanted to die. Dying felt preferable to living through the amount of pain I was in on every conceivable level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I will tell you the exact reason I did not harm myself two summers ago: the root of my suffering was childhood trauma, and therefore traumatizing my own children was a complete nonstarter.  

And so over the next several months, I clawed my way out of that hole, inch by inch and day by day by figuring out what worked for me. I emphasize that last part because we all have unique physiologies, backgrounds and beliefs and I wouldn’t pretend to know definitively what will work for anyone else. If even one thing I share gives a person currently suffering through this nightmare new reason to hope, however, I’m happy to pass this list along. It is not complete.

  1. I admitted to my family and then my doctors how dark my thoughts had become. This was the hardest thing I have ever done, by the way.

  2. I listened to my body, and with the help of my doctors weaned off all prescription medication except for medical cannabis.

  3. I sought professional help and followed through on all recommendations including a two week partial hospitalization program, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for trauma, Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for emotional dysregulation, family, group, and individual talk therapy

  4. I practiced yoga with a tribe of people who were happy to see me no matter what mood I was in, and quick to give me a hug I didn’t know I needed.

  5. I identified toxic friendships and ended them one by one.

  6. I stopped drinking alcohol as my primary form of stress relief. I still imbibe occasionally; restriction always backfires for me because I’m human.

  7. I got really clear on my NEEDS (not wants) and was uncompromising no matter how inconvenienced others felt or the consequences that I incurred.

  8. I stopped pretending to the outside world that I was perfect and accepted help in many forms.

When you look at this list you’ll notice that walking outdoors on a warm and sunny day simply didn’t make the cut. And while I fully acknowledge that this young woman meant no harm in what she said, hers and similar comments have the potential to make depressed people feel even more alone than they already do.

So to them I say this: you are not alone, not even close. And you are worthy of the work it will require to find what works for you.  

Kathleen Schwarz