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Recovering From Depression

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My first episode of depression was when I was eight years old. I remember being deeply sad, crying a lot and feeling as though I was removed from the rest of the family, from the people around me. It was sparked, I think, by my family moving from Peru, where we lived at the time, to Argentina. This happened around Christmas and I remember feeling really bad. I remember my family weren't very patient with me; they thought I was just being a cry-baby.

Then a few years later, when I was about 11, I attempted suicide. My parents were in a very violent relationship, they were not really happy together, and I thought that if I killed myself, their grief would be so great that it will bring them together. Why I had that romantic notion, I don't know.

So I overdosed on sleeping pills that I took from them. A doctor was called to the house. I don't remember very much what happened, but the whole episode was completely ignored - next day they had a big fight as usual. So it didn't have the impact that I'd hoped for.

When I was 17 I moved to Australia with my husband, who was Australian. It was lonely at times, because I didn't speak English, so I could only communicate with my husband. And I was frightened, as I had no family here. But it was my chance to make a new life. And I was expecting my first baby - it was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life to have the child.

I managed a shop, which failed, and it left me in a lot of debt, which I worked very hard at paying off. At that time, I was deeply depressed. I would get bursts of energy and at the same time I'd be depressed. I have bipolar depression, but with me, instead of being euphoric one moment and then depressed the rest, they're combined - so I become hyperactive, I don't sleep, I don't eat, and I have a million projects in my mind.

For two years I was in this state, working very hard to pay for the debt from the shop. I knew I was having difficulties, and I would go and see doctors but they were not much help.

Finally I found a GP who took me under his wing. His wife is a psychologist, and she would say, "You're in a tunnel, even if you can't see it, there's light at the end of the tunnel and you can walk through that tunnel and come out the other side."

But even with their help I was too far gone. One morning, around 4 o'clock in the morning, I woke up my husband, talking in Spanish and asking for help, and being very hysterical. A doctor came to the house, and gave me something to put me to sleep. From that time on I stared acting strangely; and then I started harming myself - I started cutting myself, doing very bizarre things to my own body. And then I tried several times to suicide by overdosing. I tried, I think, three times to suicide.

I felt like a building whose foundations had collapsed. I lost concentration, I lost memory; my language skills really went down the drain - in both languages, Spanish and English. I remember struggling to find words, to say the most common things.

From that low point, very slowly, I began to come up, to recover.

The last time I attempted suicide, my daughter came to visit me in hospital. As she walked down the hallway with a big bunch of irises, I saw the sadness on her face, and I realised that it was me who was provoking that sadness, and I had no right to be doing that to my children. I had no right to teach them that the only way out of handling depression was to do away with yourself, to commit suicide. I didn't want them to commit suicide, so I realised had to learn another coping strategy.

I began to remember what my psychologist had told me, about being in a tunnel and coming out the other end. I think that at that point I was ready for change.

I was lucky enough to be involved with a psycho-social rehabilitation centre run by the Uniting Church in Melbourne, called the Prahran Mission. They place a big emphasis on recovering from depression through doing things - it could be woodwork, photography, art, crafts - and at the same time learning skills about life: how to feed yourself well, how to relax, how to mingle with other people. And it was there that slowly I discovered painting, and that I could express myself through painting and drawing, and people liked what I was doing. Six or eight months ago I discovered oil painting and I'm in love with it!

I was on medication, but my body wasn't tolerating it very well; I had to stop taking it around 18 months ago. I still get the highs and lows but I can monitor them. If I sense I'm going into an episode, the first thing I do is and acknowledge it and try to talk to myself positively, by saying, "OK, Cecelia, you're going a bit off the rails here," or, "Cecelia, you're a bit down, don't be silly". I do relaxation exercises. If I can't sleep I take a sleeping pill for a couple of nights and usually that does it.

In the past, I never used to be able to visualise myself a year or 10 years hence, or growing old, and now I can. Now I'm actually looking forward to being old. I hope I can get to be an old lady, so I can see my grandchildren.

I'm working very hard on being a nice human being. Not a goody-goody, a nice one.

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