Depression is brutal.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been through broken bones and open-heart surgery.
Mental health challenges and suicidal thoughts top all of the other struggles I’ve had.
And, several years ago, when I was really struggling, I desperately wanted help. I tried to allude to it at work, but I was met with blank stares and, “Well, once you finish this task you’ll be fine.”
Then, I’d come back for another meeting, and I’d get disappointed looks and comments that suggested, “You’re still not ok? Stop being so stressed out.”
I know that part of this was my own depression talking. Because I was so sleep-deprived, I wasn’t able to think straight. I thought that everyone was disappointed with me. I thought that I was being a burden to everyone I was around.
It’s this mindset that’s so common with depression that makes it so hard to ask for help. Depression symptoms can take all shapes and forms, but the most common ones are feelings of intense sadness, being overwhelmed, not sleeping, and seeing everything through a negative light.
And it doesn’t only apply to confusion and impatience coming from work colleagues. Family members, partners, and other loved ones can easily get drained by a person’s depression. It’s hard work to time and time again show your support for a loved one who’s never happy and never seems to get better.
This is why mental health professionals exist. The sad and tragic problem is that it’s often impossibly difficult to get the care you need from qualified mental health professionals.
That was certainly the case when I was trying to get help with my depression.
Trying to Find Proper Treatment and an Effective Treatment Plan
It’s not like I wasn’t trying. I was a state employee at the time, so I had access to the state health clinic.
I went in for a regular appointment. Before this particular appointment, I was instructed to fill out a questionnaire to describe the reason for my visit. I believe the reason for this appointment was a typical check up to get a heart medication filled. There, on the form, I saw two questions that are now, fortunately, becoming more common in the health care world.
They had to do with my mood over the last two months. Even though I was scared, I answered them both with a “YES,” that I had been seriously struggling with not feeling happy for a long time.
Phew, I thought. A doctor will finally be able to help me with this.
Prior to that appointment, I had not had success with a psychiatrist in the area. She behaved in rude, abrupt ways and had made comments like, “This is why you’re here with me. Because you’re sick. I know best.”
And her comments came when I was trying to share about the horrible side effects I was getting from whatever pills she was prescribing for me. They were making the situation so much worse, but the psychiatrist kept blaming it on me, no matter what.
I’ve since realized, now that I’m a social worker, that the best health care treatment involves an empathic, client-centered focus. That psychiatrist didn’t have that approach, so I turned to the state clinic doctor that I got along with.
Turns out, I was striking out there as well.
I tried to mention how unhappy I had been over the last few months, about how I struggled to keep it all together at work. I tried to tell the doctor that I was feeling depressed.
“You’re just tired. You just need to sleep.”
He prescribed me low-dose sleeping pills and a random med that’s typically used for children who have trouble focusing. It seemed bizarre at the time, but I did what he told.
And this was when it all got so much worse. The medicine he gave me amplified suicidal thoughts that I was starting to have. It made them at least 10 times worse.
Alongside all of that, I had been passed off from my therapist of several years to a new, much less experienced one.
My first therapist was great with relational issues, and he helped me figure out how attachment theory explained many of my relationship issues. He helped me understand how my family environment affected how I acted in other relationships, especially intimate ones. For that, he was great.
But when I started telling him that I was tired all the time, that I couldn’t sleep, and that I couldn’t stop being anxious and picking at my skin, he didn’t know what to do.
“Oh, you know that’s just checking behavior. You know better than that.” He was referring to my skin-picking. “What else is going on?”
I kept coming back to the same issues. I was ruminating, another symptom of depression.
He didn’t want to hear it anymore, and he referred me to someone who had no business being a therapist and practicing “talk therapy.”
She was an older woman who went back to school for counseling later in life as a “hobby.”
I only had a few sessions with her, but what it boiled down to is that she tried to make me do some visualization techniques that involved me being in pink room.
Never mind that I’m physically unable to visualize and so it’s never been effective for me. Some people literally can’t see images in their heads, and I’m one of them. That didn’t deter her, and she seemed to take it personally when I said I just didn’t want to work with her anymore.
So many things were going wrong, and I didn’t have the energy to keep advocating for myself on top of a demanding workload and trying to balance being a good partner, friend, and son.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what happened. Obviously, I made it through and I’m here to write three issues a week for this mental health newsletter.
But, and I’m going to apologize right now, I’m going to finish this story on Monday, for the next issue of The Mental Health Update.
This is a long story that deserves some extra thought because I think it really matters.
I learned a lot of tough lessons in the year or so that I struggled with depression, and I’m sharing them so others can know how to confidently ask for help.
I want to be thoughtful about how I share my lessons with you, and that requires more time than I currently have.