Elaine Pages

My life with Depression

I don’t really remember when I started suffering from depression but I do know I was still a child. The years I danced ballet though, where some of the best, even when I was struggling I believed the physical and emotional outlet that dancing offered me kept me sane. During high school though, I decided to quit ballet. Despite, leaving that dream behind, I always did well at school and I know from the outside I looked like a totally normal child/teenager but on the inside I was in agony. I had issues with body image, binge eating and depression but I was unable to verbalize and put a name to what was going on with me.

I suffered from severe bouts of depression during my college and medical school years but never asked for help. I would isolate myself and use food and later on alcohol, as a comfort measure not knowing what else to do. I went through friendly and romantic relationships, innumerable amounts of exams, interviews, parties and trips and all those moments were blurred by the shadow of the depression that was there all the time torturing me. I don’t know how much of me was really present at that time because a lot of me was just trying to survive it all.

I finally got help when I moved to Miami to start residency. At this point I had been suffering from depression for about 15 yrs and my reserves were empty. I could not keep putting myself through all these exceedingly stressful events without breaking. So I broke…. I started getting physically ill and I think it was all coming from my mental health issues. So at last I took the first step and started therapy and psychiatric treatment. Accepting that I had depression was a very difficult step. Opening up to strangers about it an even more difficult one and breaking my own taboos about taking antidepressants was also one of the most challenging things I had to do. Pills did not cure me and I went from therapist to therapist, trying to find someone who I felt comfortable with but at the same time challenged from. I found myself constantly fighting with my own inadequate thoughts about how taking medications for a mental problem was wrong. I would miss days at work and stay at home paralyzed. At times I wanted to disappear, with occasional thoughts of hurting myself but thankfully I never acted on them. I would feel better for a few months and then fell down again. Life was a rollercoaster.

I guess I had tremendous ways of coping since despite suffering from depression all my life I was still able to become a successful professional and I think a decent human being. I had the unconditional support of my mom and friends that despite not necessarily understanding were always there for me. I graduated residency in 2012 which is one of my biggest accomplishments and decided to continue training in Boston. Subsequently, I moved to New Orleans for my first official job. During these years I realized how difficult finding help for a mental health problem could be. How hard it was to figure out where to start, especially when moving to a new place. How frustrating it could be, how you might find yourself without any professional help for long periods of time and how expensive it all can be. When I was finally able to find help here in New Orleans, I started an emotional journey that has not ended and it’s being the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’m still fighting to find the “perfect” balance to live a “happy” life. I’ve done a lot of therapy, multiple antidepressant drugs (with their horrible side effects and withdrawal symptoms), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), new diets, all sorts of exercise regimes (yoga, pure barre, running, spinning, and weight lifting), meditation, taken time off from work etc. etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the life I’ve had. I’ve being blessed to have family, friends, a house, food, a career, a husband, my dogs, so many trips and fun times…but I’ve missed on wonderful things and people because of my depression. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, I really truly don’t know how to. Days I wonder how I’ll take care of patients when I am not taking care of myself. There are times when I get drunk to forget and “feel better”, times when I don’t eat or when I overeat, many times when I lie about how I feel just to please people and fit better in this society where mental health issues are so misunderstood. You just feel like a huge burden even to your loved ones.

I am not sharing this to make anyone feel uncomfortable, to overshare or to make me look like a victim. I am sharing because I cannot keep it inside anymore. I need to help create awareness and understanding. I need to fight the stigma. People need to know that mental health problems are as real as physical health problems. That it’s not a sign of weakness or something that you can just forget about. If a patient told me he is diabetic but it’s not taking any medication, I would disapprove and recommend getting treatment to control the disease and its horrific side effects. The same accounts for depression and any other mental health disease. It’s not just someone being too emotional, overreacting or lazy.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why I have this disease but I believe it has made me a better person; a more compassionate and sensible human being. I’ve being able to help others because I can actually put myself in their shoes. I’ve learnt a lot about the disease and what can make it better but mostly I’ve learned that you have to live one day at a time, focus on the present moment and above all look for human connection. I’ve learned that depression doesn’t make me less deserving of success, friendship or love and that it is an everlasting fight. So I will keep fighting.

Doug Leddin