And, it strikes back … only because I had to be a Mrs. know-it-all. Mrs. know-it-all hated the fact that she sees a psychiatrist. She hated her medication and that big secret, because “El Osool” has a say about illnesses too … it is not okay to be psychologically ill in Egypt. It’s actually a very big deal.
A terrifying secret that must be kept to oneself at all times! A lot of patients disguise themselves while going to clinics and never tell a soul or they will end up being the gossip of the century! Shrinks are only for frail and crazy people. Normal people like us (I mean, like you guys) never need them and if it is ever known that you’ve visited one even once, it could destroy your future. Your relatives will become suspicious and your friends will start to fear you. Your colleagues will tell your boss, who will not tolerate a mental on their team, and prostitutes will have a better chance landing a husband than you ever will!
So, I hated the fact that I’m sick. My mind refused to believe that what I had is a disease. ‘It’s just a temporary condition’, I repeatedly said to myself. When I first started dating my husband, I told him about that “condition” of mine on our first week and I will never forget a thing about that moment. It was about 9 pm and I was walking on the beach, barefoot with my sandals in my hands. It was chilly, which made me even more anxious. I did not hesitate and spilled all the beans, waiting nervously for his response … ‘Nothing can scare me away’ is all he said.
I had an amazing time with Rami and as we were planning our wedding, my life was nothing but peaches and cream (minus my repetitive bridezilla outbursts). So, I thought, ‘why not quit my medication? Life’s great. I’m great. It’s completely useless to be on drugs when you don’t need them’. And so, I did, despite everybody’s discontent and disapproval. Life continued to be great, until I found myself hitting rock bottom without notice. Relapsing, especially in cases like mine is a catastrophe.
My OCD was thankfully gone, but I was left with ruthless depression. It was nothing like anything I’ve experienced before. You wake up and you feel empty! You feel utterly hopeless, helpless and worthless. Nothing can get you out of bed because you lost the will to live and even if you want to, you can’t because it feels like you’re on a roller coaster and any attempt to set foot on the ground will be met with nothing but vomit! People with depression suffer from either insomnia or hypersomnia and in my case; my body chose to sleep my life away. Being awake was a form of torture. Eating became the hardest chore asked of me and guilt was over feeding on my brain. I seriously wanted to put my never-ending pitifulness to an end for once and for all!
My family and husband fought with me on a daily basis to go see my psychiatrist who I desperately needed, but my mind despised the thought of her. I believed that seeing her means giving up. ‘It’s just a phase and it will pass’ is what I kept telling them. But one day, my husband snapped and took me to the last place I wanted to be. I will never forget the look on her face when she saw me … people usually greet you with a ‘hi’ but the first thing she said was, ‘what happened to you’?
I had lost a lot of weight by then, my hands were shaking, and my eyes were wide open and didn’t blink normally. I cried, and then stopped crying for no reason at all. I yelled every time I tried to speak. And the way she looked as she listened to me revealed how crazy I must look to everyone.
‘Do you know what depression is’? She asked.
Me:‘Can’t you see me? THIS is depression. I AM depression, but I’ll beat the shit out of it’.
‘No, you wont’, she said calmly as she took a sip of her tea.
My blood boiled and I wanted to smash her head against the wall. How dare she say that? Out of all people, she’s the last one who should freaking say that to me. She doesn’t give a shit. It’s her job to prescribe meds to pathetic people like me and there is no way I’m taking the easy way out again!
‘I know you don’t like where you are now and I can’t argue with that, but you’re not helping yourself. I would like to explain to you exactly what’s going on in your head. Then, you decide’. She said.
I didn’t say a word.
‘Everyone suffers from occasional depression for all sorts of reasons. Everyone can feel sad and pessimistic, but when those symptoms last for 2 weeks or more, it becomes a clinical disorder (Major Depression). In that case, the structure of the brain undergoes physical changes due to the reduced levels of chemicals we call neurotransmitters. They are the messengers that allow communication between nerves and most importantly, they are responsible for mood regulation. In your case, those neurotransmitters are facing great reduction, specifically the serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine’, she explained.
‘You have very low levels of serotonin (The feel-good hormones), which causes depression. We call that a chemical imbalance’.
Me: And why is it that I have this chemical imbalance?
Her: Your brain is simply not producing them. Have you ever heard a diabetic ask, ‘why don’t I have enough insulin’? You tell me why some people have heart conditions and others are perfectly fine! You are suffering from a common disease that many others are suffering from. The good news is, you can live a happy and healthy life, not having to worry about it for one more second.
Me: I don’t want any MEDs
Her: Anti-depressants increase the amount of neurotransmitters that you lack. And, if you want to feel normal again, you need to take them.
Her: Sarah, I will prescribe you the MEDs. And, I will need to see you once a week. Do we have an agreement?
I nodded … Rami was outside and as we were heading to the car, I threw the prescription paper in the nearest trash bin. There was my answer, loud and clear. How dare he treat me like I’m crazy and convince himself that MEDs are the only way to fix this? I am not crazy! I was an angry girl, who now feels extremely hurt and insulted.
As you could effortlessly predict, I got way worse. I quit my job, shut my phone and never left bed. All food tasted the same and was pointless effort, so I depended on water to stay alive. My tantrums were more frequent and more aggressive than ever. By that time, I was completely isolated from everybody else, because I didn’t have the energy to talk or even see anyone anymore. The only thing I did other than sleep was cry and cry and cry some more. It went on for a month!
Then, one day, my mom told me to go shopping with her (which is normally my favorite thing to do), but I couldn’t care less. I walked indifferently through store aisles and didn’t buy a thing. When I went back home, I felt excruciating pain in my chest, but it was not physical. I’m not sure how I can explain it, but I started screaming my lungs out and banged my head against the wall until I was out. The stars were all I saw as soon as my eyes opened (Just like the ones rotating around Tom after Jerry had hit him on the head with something).
I picked what was left of me up and rushed to my doctor. I had no appointment and was the first one at the clinic so I went straight in.‘Help me’ is all I said, and help is what she’s given me. I took my MEDs regularly and went to see her once a week for psychotherapy. She saved my life, and I’m thankful. Not because I have depression, but because I chose to face it and society’s babble about it not being a real disease. It’s a very serious and dominant one indeed. I am neither spoiled nor weak. I’m a very strong person who will let no one who hasn’t a clue about what they’re talking about affect my life that way again.
Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway and many more suffered from depression. Those people were not weak and they were definitely the farthest thing from crazy!
For those of you who don’t know, here are the facts:
- 340 million people around the world suffer from depression and rising.
- One out of four women will suffer from depression at some point of her life.
- As many as two thirds of people don’t realize they have a treatable illness and do not seek treatment.
- The risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times more than that of the general population.
- More than 90% of people who commit suicide were suffering from depression among other mental disorders at the time of their deaths.
- Research shows that the risk of suicide is associated with changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Decreased levels of serotonin have been found in people with depression, impulsive disorders, people with a history of suicide attempts, and in the brains of suicide victims.
- Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80% and 90% of people with depression respond positively to treatment.
- Studies indicate that the best way to prevent suicide is through the early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric diseases.
I don’t want to leave the impression that meds are cool, especially if you’re asked to take them for the rest of your life! Meds can have serious side effects, but not the least bit compared to the state I was in. I still get angry about my condition from time to time, but I manage to make peace with it eventually. Depressed people who seek therapy are stronger than you think.
I know very successful adults, who are clearly suffering from the most severe sorts of depression, but haven’t the guts to face it! Those of you, who opened the closet and let the skeletons out, keep your head up high; you are more special than you know.
www.afsp.org – The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
www.suicidology.org – American Association Of Suicidology
www.nimh.nih.gov – National Institute Of Mental Health