Aug 24, 2017

31 Days of Gratitude: Day 24

Day 24: Meg and Dr. M

When I was in my late 20s I was hit with a major depression. For me, major depression meant a physical pain and tiredness that never went away, coupled with a dark empty psychic pain. It's not having a bad day or feeling sad or tired. It's so much more.

My world got smaller and smaller. I went to work, put gas in the car, shopped for groceries, and went to the laundromat. Except for my dear coworkers, I lost my friends as I had no interest in doing anything. When I got home from work, I sat in the car trying to get the energy to walk from the curb to the front door of my apartment. The sidewalk seemed endless. After a quick meal, I'd sleep from 6 at night until 7 the following morning, only to repeat the cycle every day. I didn't listen to music, read, or watch tv. I just sat. It wasn't easy working, but I managed.

I got really sick one day with some type of virus and went to the doctor. This woman spent 5 minutes with me and urged me to see a shrink. So I did.

I saw Dr. B twice a week and took so many antidepressants and other drugs that I could barely function. At one point I was taking 7 drugs at a time. My family and coworkers were worried. Eventually I was hospitalized, over and over -- 18 times I opened the door to the local hospital's psych ward. Opening that door was scary and beyond sad. My job suffered -- my coworkers had to pick up the slack, and that's asking a lot of already overburdened staff.

Something was really wrong and whatever "treatment" I was getting was making me worse. So I kept at it because when you are that depressed and on that many drugs, you lose yourself and all ability to make decisions. Some friends urged me to see a different doctor and I just looked at them as if they were suggesting I float up to the sky.

Eventually I couldn't work, so I went on disability. After one lengthy hospitalization, Dr. B said I shouldn't live alone, and that's why my mom moved from Connecticut to Virginia to live with me. I went back to work, but things remained tough.

After 4 or so disastrous years, Dr. B fired me, telling me that I was too difficult to manage. He provided no recommendations for another doctor. I remember leaving his office and looking up at the sky wondering if I was walking on the ground or dreaming. After a couple of weeks, as my prescriptions ran out, I went into physical withdrawal.

I was a mess and at the lowest point of my life.

During the many hospitalizations, I had met a nurse, Meg. Against all rules, she gave me her home number and told me to call when things got really bad. And when Dr. B fired me, she had me call her every day for 2 weeks. Her anger at Dr. B made me realize that maybe this wasn't all me. Maybe he was part of the problem. She recommended that I see Dr. M. And I did.

Dr. M was different. He was younger and had an attitude. I handed him a list of all the drugs I had taken, expecting him to write a prescription. He looked at the list, shook his head, and ripped it up. His theory was that I was overmedicated and needed to "feel" the pain so I could identify it and address it. He came right out and said that I had never really been in therapy and had not received proper treatment.

Wow, a doctor telling a lawyer that another doctor had screwed up. Maybe I could trust this guy.

Turns out that I had the type of depression that was not chemical -- it was based on my reaction to some life stuff. I'm not being coy leaving things out here, but the reasons for my depression don't really matter. It's the ending that counts.

It was a tough 3 years, but we did it. We beat the depression. No drugs, no hospitals, just talk. At my last appointment, we chatted about my boyfriend Mike, the travel I was doing, my hopes of getting a new job, and my new life. And then we sat there in silence for a good 20 minutes, just basking in the victory. I had never felt such joy.

A couple of months later, I was back in the psych ward, but this time as a lawyer. A patient had requested that someone from legal aid come talk to her about something. I bumped into Dr. B. He expressed concern that I was back in the hospital. Frankly, I looked fantastic and was thrilled to see him. I showed him my engagement ring and said "Nope, just here as a lawyer."  "Wow," he said, "you made a lot of progress." "Yes," I said, "I finally saw a good doctor."

The look in his eyes. Bam!

Dr. M wasn't able to attend my wedding as he was out of town, but Meg was there. When our wedding mass was over, Mike and I turned to walk down the long aisle of the church. I had plenty of energy to make that walk. But, I stood there and caught Meg's eye. She was crying. I looked away, refusing to ruin all that makeup! Later, I introduced her to Mike and he gave her a quick hug and said: "I've heard so much about you. Thank you, Meg. Just thank you."

Today both Dr. M and Meg are quite ill. I wish I had magic and could cure them both, but all I have is my gratitude. Thank you, Meg. Thank you, Dr. M. Just thank you.


If I had a choice between my heart thing and depression I'd choose the heart thing in well, a heart beat! Depression is the worst thing I've ever experienced and my heart goes out to anyone who is suffering from it.

I've given a lot of thought about sharing this story, but ultimately decided that if it helps one person, it is worth it. The stigma of mental illness adds to the difficulty in getting good treatment and it is way past time to end it. If anyone in my life thinks less of me, then think less of me. I'm happy to do my very small part to end the stigma. And, it just seemed like this month couldn't go by without acknowledging these two angels in my life.

If you are suffering from depression, there is help. See someone. Drugs might help or might not. Ditto with therapy. Maybe a combination would be best. Maybe you tried and didn't get relief. Try again. Maybe you did and are still suffering. Try again. Find someone else. My theory on successful treatment is "whatever works for you."

There is real hope. If I could beat it, so can you.


Anonymous said...

seriously joan. i'm sharing this with a friend in the hopes it helps her. thank YOU

Tricia T said...

I think it was me that needed this Joan. I am just coming out of that type of depression with the help of a fabulous doctor. I actually applied for a job last week and feel hope (which is such a blessing!) that I just might be well enough to start to resume normal life. Thanks for sharing your story and for living your life with joy. And thanks for the comment about the heart thing in comparison. I struggle with fear of the future and that really helps me to know that perhaps I'm stronger than I think I am. You are such an encouragement to me!

Joan B said...

Tricia, thanks for taking the time to say this. No fear!!! Well, ok, fear is normal, but you can do this. So happy you got good help. Good luck with the job!!

Joan B said...

thanks. I hope it helps.

jenni1st said...

This story touches me with your vulnerability. Thank you, just thank you.

Samantha said...

thank God for people like Dr M and Meg in your life. so glad for a happy ending

vdoyle8 said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I have a similar story myself. And now my husband, who is a cancer survivor, is suffering with depression but won't address it.

I Card Everyone said...

You're a brave one, Magee ... bravo, Joan. I like you even more. I've walked that endless sidewalk, and found the road back again - bless you, and Meg, and Dr. M.

Lezlee said...

Wow. You're a great storyteller and this one is one of your best. Congratulations on beating the odds and making it in spite of Dr. B! Thank heaven for Dr. M & Meg! And thank you for being so brave to put it all out there. Tough stuff.

Ginger said...

Thank you for your courage in sharing your story. There are many people hiding their pain so that they "look good " and are "accepted". I am so very glad that you persevered. You are a blessing. Thank you.

Jeanne H said...

The only thing I can think of to say is THANK YOU, Joan. Your story is a wonderful way to help others. Blessings from a higher power to you.

Trish said...

Dear Joan, If anyone thinks less of you for sharing your story then they need therapy and lots of it. We have to get past stigmas placed on any form of mental illness and treat it in whatever way that is needed. Your story is important and will help many feel empowered to seek healing. I admire and appreciate you so much and wish you the peace and joy you so richly deserve

Leslie Miller said...

Who can explain depression and why does it snowball the way it does? You've painted a pretty clear picture of its effects, but one can never truly understand unless they've been there. I've never been that far into its murky depths and I'm sorry to hear you went through it for so long. It sounds like the meds possibly kept you there longer than you might have been otherwise, but again, who knows? Thank goodness for Dr. M and Meg. Thank goodness for you for sharing your story and giving hope to others.

Bev K said...

don't know how to respond to such a story. everytime i come to your blog i get something different. cards, jokes, stories that make me cry. you NEED TO WRITE A BOOK. just do it. I bet you have some amazing stories in there. thank you for writing this

luvhymns said...

You could write my name in this story. I too was drugged beyond recognition to the point where I have lasting effects on my body to this day. But Dr K came to the rescue for me and said, "you have a coping problem. Do the homework or I won't see you. If you do your homework I'll get you off all the meds and you'll be fine." The other dr and hospital said, "don't take your meds and you'll be back in here." 30 yrs later, I've not seen that part of the hospital. Glad there was a Dr M in your life and Dr K in mine. Pray there are more Dr's out there for those that need them. And you're right, keep trying till you find the Dr that will help you.

cards by cara said...

Oh, Joan ... what a heart wrenchingly beautiful post. Your courage to share this story helps to tear down those walls of stigma towards mental illness. The more people share their experiences and what has helped them crawl out to the other side, the easier it will be for others to find their way to help. I am so very glad that you found Meg and Dr. M and that you 'beat it', as you said. <3

Diana K said...

Thank you for writing this. You are one very amazingly wonderful woman.

SmilynStef said...

Thank you for sharing ... I have no doubt it will help someone ... and thanks for being you.

Hannelie said...

Thanks for sharing this Joan. I got goosebumps all over my body reading this. We have a family member who suffered a long time of severe depression, he is fine now, and it feels like a miracle that he is, when I look back at just how ill he was. You have such an amazing ability to communicate. Love reading your thoughts. Hugs ♥