Dear Scared and Confused,
Thank you so much for writing to me. I’m deeply grateful to hear that my words touched you enough to reach out to me. I know how you are feeling because I was once in your shoes, although was only hiding it from my friends and extended family as my husband and parents all knew how desolate I was at the time. I was living in the deep, dark hole of depression for a year. It sounds to me like you’ve hit the place I was at when I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. It was my rock bottom. I would cry at anything and everything (even at work), my anxiety was suffocating and paralyzing at times and I felt it every single day, and I had similar thoughts to yours in terms of wanting to just end it all. I was so tired of fighting.
Here’s what I want you to know. The fact that you’re recognizing all this is a good thing. It says to me that there is that fire in your belly that I had which told me that this wasn’t how I wanted my life to pan out. I wanted more. I wanted true happiness, not a fake smile on the outside even though inside I was miserable and the world was painted only in gray. I wanted to wake up excited about my life, not feeling anxiety crawling up my skin. I wanted a future that included a family and at the time I couldn’t even fathom taking care of another life when I could barely take care of myself.
You can do this. You are strong – I can tell this from your email. You’re raising two kids! And at a young age, too. I know that you’ve tried a handful of different meds already, but you’ve said yourself: they’re obviously not working. You need to keep trying. I tried probably ten different meds until I found the one that works for me. It takes time. It takes trial and error. It takes persistence and teamwork. I’ll explain more in a second, but here’s the first thing I want you to do.
Call your health insurance provider. I know this sounds daunting. But trust me, they have trained individuals who you can talk with who can help you. When you get on the call, navigate your way to mental health. If there isn’t a specific menu option that gets you directly there, just speak with the first representative you get and ask to be connected to a mental health rep.
From there, tell them you need to find a new doctor. Now, when you said you know you need to find a new doctor and therapist, I’m not sure whether you were seeing your OB-GYN for your depression, or your primary care doc or a psychiatrist. You NEED a psychiatrist. There are good ones and there are not so good ones. Ask the mental health rep to recommend an in-network psychiatrist. (Side note: I apologize if this is all stuff you already know, please don’t think I’m being condescending, I just want to give you the best advice I have.) One of the biggest problems in our country with mental healthcare is that there is a shortage of psychiatrists.
Find one that’s relatively close to your house or work, and make an appointment for as soon as possible. In fact, when you’re on the phone with the mental health insurance rep, as them for a list of the 10 closest psychiatrists to your location (home or work), and work your way through the list. You can even check out their websites as most these days have them and it may give you an idea of their practice. You’ll want more than one or two to call because sometimes they won’t be able to see you for a month and you need help now. I don’t want you to wait.
Finding a therapist is secondary, but also very important. The new psychiatrist you see may even have a recommendation for a therapist, which is another reason to see the psychiatrist first. Please make time for this as soon as possible. Your life is so important and I know you can do this.
If you feel it’s too much to do all this, maybe your husband could help you. He sounds like my husband. I was so lucky to find and marry him. He stood by my side and never once wavered, even though I would sob in his arms practically every day. I felt so disconnected from him, even though looking back I remember every night of that year I fell asleep in his arms because they made me feel safe and protected from what I was going through. We’re really lucky to have these guys.
Okay, my other advice. Once you start seeing your new psychiatrist, start a tiny journal just for your recovery. This is something my dad recommended to me, and I now know how valuable my five little journals of that time (and beyond, as I kept it up) are. Here’s what it’s for. Every night before you go to bed (I kept mine on my nightstand so I’d always remember, and in the beginning since I was adjusting my meds, I’d use it during the day), write down three things: The meds and dosages you took that day, any side effects you experienced, and how you are feeling. It’s like a mood journal, but easier. You could also google “mood chart” and there are lots of printables you could use instead, but I like the journal. Probably because I’m a writer. :)
Then, you can take your journal with you to your psychiatrist and therapist appointments and if you forget something you want to share with them, it’s all in there.
The other thing I’d suggest is a possible change in your diet and exercise regimen. When I was sick I wasn’t eating the healthiest foods, but I didn’t know any better at the time. Over the past three years I’ve converted to a mostly vegetarian diet (whole foods) and have eliminated almost all processed foods (think: doritos, cookies in snack packs, even Goldfish that I used to feed my kids), I don’t drink soda anymore (except on special occasions), and I exercise 4-5 times a week. Now I know this may seem like a lot if you’re eating the typical American diet. But think about it: what we put into our body is the fuel we’re giving it to function. If we’re feeding it junk, we’re going to feel like crap most of the time. You don’t have to change things all at once, maybe just try cutting one or two things out at a time to make it a slow transition. I promise you’ll feel so much better.
Lastly, protect your sleep. Bad sleep can do damage to our mental health. For me, broken sleep or no sleep can leave me hypomanic or worse, manic. I have to force myself to go to bed by midnight at the latest, and I usually aim for 10/11pm to ensure I’ll get enough sleep. It’s really important and I know when we’re depressed sometimes the only thing we want to do is sleep, but if we can try to stay on a typical schedule and not nap longer than 30 minutes, it’s best for our brains.
I’m so sorry if this all sounds preachy. I just wanted to be able to send you all my best advice in one email. I want you to know I had another woman email me this week and she was in a similar boat, although we had a much shorter email exchange. She sent me a follow up email that she made an appointment with her new doc. You are most certainly not alone.
I also want you to know that I know from the outside my life may look like I’ve got it all together, and I haven’t had a manic or depressive episode in over four years, that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing. I have my bad days like everyone. I have to manage my illness every single day. I think about the fact that I live with bipolar disorder every single day. And I have a feeling that once you begin on your recovery journey, you may be like me and want to talk about your story to help others. I couldn’t talk about it back then, but now it’s become my career and I am so proud to be an advocate because I get to help people.
I’m not sure if you’ve read this yet, but I have this short little e-book that talks about my journey and I’d love for you to read it when you have time. I want you to have it in case it might help, so it’s attached to this email.*
You can do this. It will get better. I promise you this. You have the support in your husband and you’ve got my support. Please keep me posted. I’ll be thinking about you and sending positive energy your way.