Down, down, down

Do you ever feel like you’re living inside a dark, locked closet with no way out and no help in sight? Do you ever feel like your life is one big mistake, that you’ve always been a failure? All of these thoughts churned round and round inside my head during the fall of 1984. I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia. My internship at XXX Elementary School found me working in a resource class for children with emotional and behavior concerns. How perfectly ironic that my first significant, extended depressive episode developed while I was supposed to be learning how to work with children who had emotional and behavioral issues

I did not know what had been happening to me over the course of approximately a year. Things that I had enjoyed – going out dancing with friends, painting, reading and even completing coursework I’d once been so excited about became nearly impossible to finish or enjoy. My emotions consisted of crushing despair and hopelessness, with no future that I cold imagine, good or bad. (But, in this instance, always bad.) Professionals call this “foreshortened future”. Physical sensations, “brain fog”, leaden legs and arms, migraines, took the place of energy I’d once kept up with by working out and eating fairly well. My concentration plummeted. My ability to maintain focus on anything, pleasurable or not, ground to a near halt while my motivation completely disappeared. I often felt like an automaton, walking, breathing, eating, sleeping and repeat, repeat, repeat. I didn’t know it then, but I was walking on a tight rope, while the rope and I were coming unraveled. Somehow, I found the energy to drag myself to class, complete assignments, and keep myself “physically together”. By that I mean eat, sleep, shower, and get some exercise. All along I tried my utmost to mask my sense of drowning in a bottomless black hole of clinical depression. Sleep became the only activity I looked forward to as it was the only time I wasn’t crying, staring at the ceiling for hours or imagining that I had some malignant, undiscovered disease.

My recall of the exact time that I finally called my parents and told them how I felt has faded from my memory. But, I still remember the phone call home. I sobbed throughout and described what was going on with me. I could find no particular reason which prompted this episode, no death in the family, loss of a boyfriend or failing a class. So, I decided that there was something wrong with me. It had to be my way of thinking, my thought patterns. If I could just change the way I thought, (my perspective) then things would look better again, my life would “go back to normal.” All I knew of therapy was what I’d seen on television. The patient lies on a couch, face up, while an omnipotent, mental sort of Sherlock Holmes interprets the patient’s words. The patient then accepted the therapist’s analysis and his thinking magically reverted to a positive outlook on life. I realize that this is a compressed description, but television didn’t go into an in-depth version of psychoanalysis.

Back to the phone call with my parents – First, I talked with my mom. As I described what was happening to me, how thoroughly miserable I felt, I could hear the mounting concern in her voice. It was as if I had called and described a cancer that was growing inside of me. For reasons I did not fully understand at the time, I “pulled some punches” when talking to my mom. I guess I thought at the time, that I did not want to hurt her further when describing my symptoms. Was it guilt? Shame? Not wanting to disappoint her? Next my dad took the phone. He listened as I choked out my description again. (I guess we didn’t have multiple phones at the time??) My dad was hit with the full force of my nightmare which, at that time, included suicidal thoughts. When I was done and drained of words, my father spoke the words that would change my life, “Molly, you are depressed. You have to make an appointment with a doctor.”

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