Crazy – A life with Depression
Today I’m honoured to share the next post in the Crazy series, and this one is from a friend of mine, Carolyn Franzke. She’s sharing her beautiful story of being a mum and managing depression. I love her perspective of learning how to live with her illness every day instead of approaching like a fight that can be won. This is how I’ve learned to manage my VWD too, and its so much more peaceful, gentle and kind way. I hope you love her words and find them as inspiring as I do. Read on…
Depression is a journey I continue to travel along. It’s been a partner in my life for many years now – sometimes beside me, sometimes in the background and sometimes right in my face, blocking my way until I do something about it. How I’ve treated myself during my depressive episodes has transformed as I’ve learned more about myself and the way this illness affects me.
Hi, I’m Carolyn Franzke – a mama to two gorgeous and high-energy girls, wife to a high-energy adventure-racing husband, maths teacher, bakery employee, cross country skier and blogger at A Life Transformed who is navigating her way through life with depression.
Depression is a nebulous and debilitating illness. Although the list of symptoms is consistent and well-documented, how it looks for each person is so different that it can be hard to diagnose. There aren’t objective medical tests to determine if you have it, only subjective screening questions and behavioural observations, usually answered and carried out by the person suffering from the mental illness themselves.
Ultimately then, the diagnosis is up to the sufferer – they must recognise they have a problem enough to take themselves to the doctor, they must answer the depression screening questions accurately (despite overwhelming stress and confusion from the illness), and they must take their diagnosis and act upon any recommendations of counselling and medication. All the while they’re feeling low, they’re struggling to make everyday decisions, and if they’re a Mama like me – they’re confused because many of the symptoms can look like general life as a Mama of young ones (tiredness, not sleeping through the night, low energy, trouble concentrating, social isolation).
And herein lies the irony – it’s a tired, low, scared person, with impaired thinking ability, who needs to act and make decisions when the way forward is overwhelming. The lack of control in this situation is debilitating and adds to the illness itself.
For me, once I admitted I had a problem that was out of my control, things initially became worse because I needed to make decisions about medication, about my ability to look after my family and about whether to continue breastfeeding whilst taking antidepressants – this made an overwhelming situation highly stressful (not what a tired, depressed Mama needs at all). In addition, antidepressant medication takes 4-6 weeks for full effect and there are side effects for the first 2-3 weeks including (and here’s another irony of the medical treatment of depression) increased panic, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. You can imagine the scariness of these stronger feelings when I was already at my edge.
Having said all this, medication is a necessary part of the treatment of my depression. I’ve tried ‘going it alone’ several times with limited success. In my current situation there’s not much flexibility to change and so at the moment medication is very much needed. But it’s not a total solution either.
Here are the other ways I live joyfully with my illness on a day-to-day basis….
I’ve shifted my perspective and surrendered to my depression
I believe we have depression for a reason. I believe it’s a wake-up call from our soul – beckoning to us to go after those great things we’re dreaming of in life. And so the other parts of my ‘treatment’ are ones that I’ve come up with myself, ones that shift my perspective of depression and put it in a positive light.
When I think or write about my depression I’m very careful to choose words and thoughts that are both uplifting and realistic. Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps, but hear me out.
When we change our thoughts to reflect how we want to feel about a crisis, we can change our whole way of relating to that challenge. My depression won’t go away – I’ve had it too many times to expect that – but I can change the way I think and feel about it by shifting my perspective and choosing different words.
I want to feel positive, healthy and lovable and I want to look forward to my life with joy – and so I choose to think of depression as my partner and teacher on this journey. She keeps me company and on track with my purpose in this life – to help others through teaching and writing. I choose to live alongside depression, in harmony with her, open to the vulnerability she brings. I don’t push her away or hide her beneath an exterior veneer.
I’m open about my illness
When talking with others I am open and honest about my depression, I start conversations about it and I share information with vulnerability and humbleness in order to remove any stigma surrounding my situation. I am just an ordinary person with a mental illness – nothing more, nothing less.
I also write a great deal about my experiences, constantly updating the way I look at my illness to reflect the positive changes I’m making in my life. Most of this writing happens on my blog – A Life Transformed – where I’ve found that my depression gives me inspiration and motivation to write about something that matters, and provides a way through which I can connect meaningfully with others.
I’m building stronger boundaries and slowing life down
I’ve streamlined what I let in and am building stronger boundaries. My friendship group has narrowed to include only those who are close and supportive of the changes I’m making and my new perspectives on life, I’ve moved my daughter to a smaller school community, I’ve let go of many false expectations I’ve had of myself and become much closer to my family – turning to them first for advice. In addition, my media and news intake focusses only on uplifting, real stories where people are making the world a better place (I refuse to let conventional media stories within my boundaries).
I’m changing my diet
More recently I’ve begun experimenting with my diet in order to bring about a decrease in my symptoms, with the hope of one day coming off my anti-depressants. There seems to be a strong link between gut health, immunity and mental illness and I’m pursuing this for myself by initially cutting sugar out of my diet and working with a health coach to help define the diet that works best for me and depression.
With these changes – medication, perspective, writing, talking openly, diet and strengthening my boundaries – I’m working with depression and life feels full and meaningful again. Each day brings greater clarity and understanding about myself and this illness, and for that I am grateful.
Wowozas! What did you think? Share your thoughts below, and share this post around. You can help contribute to the conversation about mental and emotional health just by sharing with this post on Facebook!