Lost & Found: Anxiety, Depression & Mental Illness 

Here is my personal essay about mental illness. ellensue

Lost & Found: Anxiety, Depression & Mental Illness

I put my heart & soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.

—Vincent Van Gogh

Remember that ad on TV about helping people of color get into college with the tag line: “The mind is a terrible thing to waste”?  Well, I have altered it slightly to read:

“The mind is a terrible thing to lose…” which I did at one point in my life, or at least misplace, after the birth of my second child. My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in 1962 on Christmas Day, my son was born in November of 1963, and my daughter was born April 20th, 1965, and I had moved at least twice because of my husband’s jobs, so I was exhausted!

I ended up with severe postpartum depression in the hospital and was treated with anti-depressants and therapy. My thoughts raced, but went nowhere. I felt like I was living in a void, and to be honest, I think I did lose my mind, or at least misplace it during those months of deep depression. Because depression seems to run in my family, with suicide on both my mother’s side and father’s side of the family, I believe that depression is a combination of  environment as well as inheritance.

If you’ve never lost your mind, or perhaps in my case, misplaced my mind, there is no way to describe the experience. I compare it to soldiers in a foxhole with bullets whizzing over their heads and coming home unable to speak about it or explain it. You had to be there.

Words to describe the anxiety and feelings when one is clinically depressed is almost impossible. Losing touch with my day-to-day reality put me in a limbo state that felt like Hell. It’s as though my mind was in a holding tank waiting for someone to unlock the door, when only you can do that. Meds do help as does talk therapy, but the road back is all uphill.

One of the reasons that I eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly is that I believe mental health and physical health are linked, so by being vigilant with my diet and exercise regimes, I feel I am helping to offset some of the negative DNA I inherited. There are also books and articles on the link between mind and body which I have read. I am also very sympathetic to hear about others experiencing depression, because I know it is not something you can “snap out of,” as people used to advise me. Of course, they never experienced severe depression, so their advice fell through the hole in the wall of my brain.

Finally, I read somewhere that depression is, first of all, an attempt to survive by depressing all the other functions to keep a person alive, that is, shutting down lesser functions to keep the body functioning. By misplacing/ losing my mind while I was exhausted from three pregnancies in less than two years, my body was able to survive.

Having my mind in the Lost and Found part of my brain for a few months may have been my body’s way of shutting down to save me. Eventually, I did get well and even had a third child, 14 years after my older daughter was born. I felt I was strong enough to survive post-partum and took the risk of another pregnancy and now have three grown beautiful children. I regained my equilibrium, but stay vigilant!

Books I found helpful:

Silencing the Self: Women and Depression by Dana Crowley Jack

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by (Author. William Styron)

Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry by Carl C. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are By Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.

 Dealing With Depression Naturally: The Drugless Approach to the Condition that Darkens Millions of Lives by Syd Baumel

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan, M.D. with Kristin Loberg

 The Secret Strength of Depression by (Psychiatrist) Frederick F. Flack, M.D.

P.S.  I hope to post a short piece for Healthy Bytes on Exercise and Mental Health, which I promised some time ago. es

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