Friday, May 5, 2017

Little Dysthymic Me

My name is Terry, and I am mentally ill.

Before you start throwing out: "this doesn't define you!" or "you are not your mental illness!", let me explain with some insight into my life.

In hindsight, knowing that I have a mental illness would have made my whole life make a lot more sense. I always knew I struggled with depression, but I found out in 2008 that I have Persistent Depression Disorder, also known as Dysthymia.

Dysthymia is a mental illness that causes low energy, drive, self-esteem, and a very difficult time truly enjoying the pleasures of life. Essentially, it feels impossible for me to feel "ok" like others naturally feel it. I end up accepting that this is "just how life is." On top of this, I end up experiencing terrible episodes called "double depression" where things seem so bleak and dark that I can't see a single ray of light, no matter what. It's a very terrible place to be.

So with that in mind, here is...

My Story

The School Years

Grade 7 sucked. Well really, I felt like all of Jr. and Sr. High sucked. It was a dark time because things seemed to change in my brain. Even in Grade 6 I had started getting something I didn't understand at the time called "Brain Zaps." This should have been a sign that something was wrong, but I didn't know. Like my dysthymia, I just accepted that this was normal and everyone was like it.

I found Gr.7 was plagued with self-doubt, a strange self-hatred, and a sense of defeat and dread over everything in life. It's like with each passing year, those destructive elements of my mind would grow and continually devour me.

Don't get me wrong, I had some really great times in the middle of it all too. There were high points in there, but there was always this pervasive depressive cloud that I fought off time and time again, until eventually in Gr.9-10 I began losing. Terribly. My saving grace in these years was a friend named Susan, who shared her pain of depression and gave me some sanity in the midst of it all--something I'm forever thankful for. There were a few other friends that helped carry me through, but I continued to spiral.

Every waking moment in those years, I found myself embracing darker things. My music was terribly depressive with "Darkest Days" by Stabbing Westward being my theme song. Anything to do with darkness, depression, or death, I found myself fixated by. It got me through. Yeah, it was probably pretty emo (hey, I was emo before emo was emo) but I didn't care. I actually hid it immensely well, because everyone thought I was such a happy and well-adjusted kid. Truth be known, I was screaming out in agony on the inside.

I did let some people in... eventually. But to be honest, in those years I struggled with the desire to kill myself on a monthly basis--if not more. This continued all the way up to Gr.12 (which was the best of the school years). In these years, I used to claw at my skin, cut myself with a knife, bang my head against the headboard of my bed, and pull at my hair. Along with my depression and suicidal thoughts, I also was harming myself as well. You know who I told? Only two people.

That's right. I kept everything to myself. You know why? Because I had to put on the good image. I had to be the good Christian boy. I was going to be a pastor. I had to keep my head up. Don't let them know I'm depressed... others need to be happy. In my self-hatred, I focused on making others happy.

This. This right here is the biggest mistake of my life--I focused so much on others that I neglected myself until the age of 31.
I didn't want most of my friends to know, because I didn't want to be a burden. I didn't want my parents to know because I didn't want them to think me a failure. I didn't want anybody to know because I might be a disappointment.

Let me stop the story right there and say this: "Depression Lies." How depression weaves its little filthy fibs into your mind and deceives you of reality. It tells you: you're alone, a failure, a wreck, incompetent, ugly, stupid, worthless, unloved, empty. It tells you these things. And frankly, with a Persistent Depressive Disorder, this enveloped every area of my life... but I kept on a good face, even as I went into...


Quite a few of my friends at this point knew I struggled with depression. They knew it was a challenge. I know people cared, but I couldn't really accept it. For some reason, I couldn't. I had people who would talk me through it all, but I continued to feel suicidal and barely get over those humps when the double depression hit. I continued to hurt myself when I felt overwhelmed. My friend Paul managed to help me along it all for several years there in Toronto from 2003-2005. To be honest, those were great years, but the depression was vicious then. I think my cousin Bernadette was the biggest factor to me surviving it. She, of all people, was the most open and loving person I had ever met, and she supported me daily through it all.

2005 I moved to Edmonton, Alberta and really was more emo than ever (thank goodness, all those pictures of that haircut are gone...). In college I met Larissa, the most beautiful and amazing woman ever. She introduced me to World of Warcraft, which became a serious investment of my time and energy for escapism from my depression. Even my roommate had mentioned that I seemed to get into serious slumps where all I would do is game, just to get away from everything, so he would pull me out to go to Tim Horton's and other places to try to snap me out of the episodes. 

I think one of the greatest things that came of online gaming though was the time I got to spend with Larissa, who later became my wife. She was always there for me, even online, just to talk things through. I was thankful for her love in the middle of it all. I was 100% open with her about being depressed a lot, and she was nothing but supportive.

The problem with my dysthymia, is that it impacted every area of my life. It caused me to be late for work, to forget things constantly, and to feel disconnected and removed everywhere. Although I quickly became a manager at McDonald's, I'm thankful for how much patience they had for me. I was late for a lot of shifts, and probably wasn't completely with it a lot of days. Dysthymia invaded small little corners, and made it near-impossible to enjoy any work that I did, no matter how hard I tried.

My Breakdown

We got married in 2007, and it was a beautiful-yet-challenging year. The most challenging thing was somewhere around 5-6 months into our marriage that I finally snapped. After so many years of growing depression, it finally took me.

We were washing dishes and I had been feeling really down again. Double depression and all. Larissa and I were washing dishes together, and I had washed a bowl or glass or something. She made a comment how I didn't wash it entirely and missed a spot...
Then I snapped.
Things went black at that point. I don't actually know what happened other than screaming: "Nothing is ever good enough!" I regained awareness when I was sobbing uncontrollably on the bed. Larissa came in and asked if I was ok. I said "no... I need help."

It was a dark night. My mind snapped. I quickly got an appointment with my doctor and he prescribed me 10mg of Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide), which I later moved up to 20mg. He suggested that therapy would help as well. Thankfully, the church Larissa worked at during that time paid for me to get counselling, since we couldn't afford it. I did 3 sessions and the last one was a semi-hypnotic therapy that helped me deal with some unresolved triggers of my past.

To be honest, things really started improving after that. They got better for a few years. In all honesty, I improved quite a bit. Although there was one element that wasn't really resolved.

Late 20's

After 3 years of being on Celexa, I finally decided I should come off. Actually, it's because someone pushed really hard to convince me that I shouldn't be on it, and made some "spiritual arguments" that I bought into, probably because I wanted to be all done with depression forever. Maybe if I believed it was gone, it would be? Maybe that's why I felt better at this point?

I tapered myself off with much pain. Those were some of the most hellish weeks of my life. Brain zaps, tremors, shakes, sweats, nausea, etc. It wasn't easy. I managed to go off though eventually.

For a while I thought I was fine. I mean, I had some down days, but it was no big deal, right? I was all better!

Once again, that's the problem with dysthymia. You think you're ok when you're really not, and there's no real way of knowing. But in all honesty, there was an underlying layer of irrationality, hyper-emotionalism, and brooding anger that continually built. It would happen over the weirdest of things. For several years while I pastored, I found myself going deeper and deeper into depression. Sure, I talked about it in front of people, but always from an angle of victory. Looking back, I wasn't victorious at all. Dysthymia hides itself like that.

We had two children and after the birth of both, I experienced some serious postpartum paternal depression. I managed to work through it with the help of a co-worker, but it wasn't easy. My wife was suffering from postpartum as well, making our house a very tough place for either of us to be. But we managed, somehow. We made it.

The Present

Here's where things get real. I left pastoring, and still know it was the right decision for my life. All the signs were there. I became an electrician and I've never been happier! At the same time, my depression would begin building again big time in 2017. 2016 was challenging for a bit there. I had hernia surgery, and I had a heavy double depression episode towards the end of the year while I was working on a hotel... but nothing like 2017.

The week of April 17-21, I hit one of the lowest episodes of depression I had experienced in a very long time. It was dark... very dark. And in all honesty, it's hard for me to admit that. I have two beautiful boys that I absolutely adore, and the most amazing wife ever. I have everything that anyone would want, and yet I felt so dark; so empty. Dysthymia, once again, told me: you're alone, a failure, a wreck, incompetent, ugly, stupid, worthless, unloved, empty. The double depression was so bad, I had intense thoughts of suicide that kept invading my mind.

I texted a few very close friends and said: "I need help." We talked for a while and my one friend Scott said: "Sounds like before you first went on your meds. I think you need to go back on." He was right. I did. I needed help. My buddy Carlos texted me pictures of my family and helped me snap back to reality with what I really have. Judah, Asher, and Larissa... the three greatest pieces of my world. I had to do this. I had to get help.

I told Larissa that I needed help, and she agreed. How could she not see it? She sees every part of who I am, and knows me more than anybody else in this entire world. So we agreed, and she got me an appointment with my doctor. Friday, April 28th, 2017, I went back on 10mg of Celexa. The transition wasn't very hard. Celexa's always taken well to me. Thursday, May 4th, 2017, I moved up to 20mg and at the time of writing this, I feel really good. The dysthymia is getting under control and I can finally smell again; taste again; breathe again; think again; feel again. Everything is brighter for me now.

For Shame

I want to be honest... I was so ashamed of the thoughts that it wasn't until after I was on my medication for nearly two weeks that I admitted to her I was suicidal. I knew I wasn't in my right mind. And once again, depression tells you that you can't talk to people and be honest, and that you should be ashamed.

To be honest, I finally figured out the biggest reason that I went off of my antidepressants in the first place, and why I never looked back until recently. That one issue that I never did resolve?

I was ashamed to admit that I'm mentally ill. Depression is a mental illness. Persistent Depressive Disorder, aka Dysthymia, is a mental illness. I had no problem telling people to embrace their own struggles and admit it, but I hid mine to this day.

So here I am, on antidepressants for the rest of my life because I have a chronic mental illness and I no longer want to be ashamed of it.

Mental Health Awareness Month

In this month, it's time to no longer be ashamed of being mentally ill, but stepping up and doing what it takes to get mentally healthy. Maybe it's sharing your story? Maybe you need antidepressants, counselling, or therapy? Maybe just reading someone else's story helps you step forward for one more day.

Whatever you need, if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, talk to someone. Find somebody nearby to talk to and get the help that you need. You're not alone in your struggles. We all suffer in one way or another, and there should be no shame if your struggle is with your mental health--I know mine is.

So dysthymia, you're part of me, but you don't own me.

My name is Terry, and I am mentally ill.