After a few months of talk therapy, I still struggled with crying, frustration, constantly feeling overwhelmed and a strong desire to control things around me. I knew what it was like for everything in my life to change in a heartbeat so that created a need for stability and control. I’m not saying it’s the healthiest response but it’s what happened.
My moods ebbed and flowed and after a few months, Ilan and I decided to get a puppy. I absolutely love animals and we talked about this for months prior. I was nervous about the responsibility with how I had been feeling lately but in the end, we decided to go for it.
Let me tell you, as much as I LOVE our Ivy girl and wouldn’t give her up for the world, I do not recommend getting a puppy during uncontrolled depression. I didn’t know I was clinically depressed at the time, honestly, and I’m not sure it really matters. I just thought I was struggling and maybe a puppy could help lift me out of that.
A puppy comes with chaos and stress and responsibility, with little control. That, plus her having a lot of medical issues the first year, was a recipe for disaster for me. She was cute as can be and the moments where I could enjoy her snuggles were wonderful, but it was HARD. I had many, many breakdowns.
Between medical issues, work stress, utter exhaustion and my general decline in mental health, I started having passive suicidal ideations. It became so difficult to simply get through each day that I started thinking how much easier it would be for my cancer to come back and for it to be terminal. I felt like I had been struggling for years at this point and I didn’t see an end in sight, so I imagined the relief I would feel if I didn’t have to keep fighting. Not only did I recognize how disturbing it was for me to be nearly wishing I got cancer again, but it scared me that I was feeling so low I didn’t necessarily want to keep fighting. I never had any plans and would never go through with anything intentional, but at that point in time, I was almost hoping that something would take the pain and struggle away and that it would be out of my control.
I remember vividly when I finally spoke those words aloud and shared my innermost thoughts with Ilan. We decided to go on a bike ride with puppy Ivy in tow, from our place in DC to the Georgetown waterfront. It was meant to be a beautiful day out but turned sour, as many days did with my depression. I can’t remember what triggered me but when we got to the waterfront, the tears came flowing. We were standing under a tree and I just wept. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to share my passive suicidal ideations but it all came out.
I can’t imagine what it was like for Ilan to hear that, but it was necessary for him to truly understand the depths of my despair and struggles. If nothing else, it provided context as to why I was regularly reacting to situations irrationally and completely driven by emotions. It helped to share it and felt like a huge, shameful secret was finally out. To be clear, suicidal ideations are not shameful, nor are any mental health struggles, but it felt that way to me at the time. Sharing with Ilan, the most wonderful partner I could ever imagine, helped me take action and eliminated any perceived stigma I may have felt then. I highly recommend anyone having these types of thoughts or feelings to confide in a trusted loved one and accept their support/help.
Anyway, it was at this point that I started considering medication. I realized that therapy alone wasn’t doing enough for me and I was scared of feeling any lower than I already was. The trigger for me to start medication was a combination of those thoughts and my fear of going on a two-week work trip because I didn’t trust myself not to have a breakdown while I was abroad, like I did the time before. Last time while I was away, I felt a level of despair that I had never felt before and I couldn’t explain it. It was intense and scary and I certainly didn’t want to feel that way again, especially away from my support system.
I reached out to my therapist right before the trip and while I won’t go into the details of my medications, I will say that I made it through the trip just fine and started antidepressants the week that I returned home. I think I just got lucky because the first medication I tried was actually a good fit.
After just a few weeks, I felt like the rain had lifted and I wasn’t drowning anymore. Was I particularly happy? No. Did I still feel overwhelmed sometimes? Of course. But I could handle it. That was a huge difference. I wasn’t getting frustrated or snapping at insignificant things anymore. I wasn’t letting one small mishap ruin my entire day. I wasn’t thinking myself in circles and mentally beating myself up over how I felt or behaved in a given situation. And soon enough I wasn’t having passive suicidal ideations anymore. I was able to get a little more control over my mental health and that felt like utter relief. It gave me the clarity I needed to keep fighting.
Ever since then, I’ve been an advocate for antidepressants if a doctor recommends them. I truly wish I had started them sooner and while I don’t think everyone needs them, I also wish there wasn’t stigma surrounding mental health treatment. Medication can really make a huge difference with depression and there is absolutely no shame in getting that type of support in conjunction with talk therapy and/or other help.
If you or a loved one are in need of some extra support, here are some resources that may help:
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/Support-Education