Depression is an invisible handicap that I can’t just ‘overcome’

It’s hard to say when I started suffering from depression. It’s not like there’s an X-ray or a blood test telling you that your grief has turned into depression. But in my early twenties, I started having bouts of crying that I couldn’t control. I didn’t quite get it, but I would go to bed and stay there until I was able to compose myself, which often took several hours.

In my mid-twenties, I went through a lot of upheaval. My mother passed away, my fiancé and I separated, and I started studying in a new city. I was in transition and was having a hard time adjusting to it all, and my bouts of crying went from consuming several hours at a time to consuming days at a time. But I thought it made sense that I was upset then – I was suffering a lot – and thought that when things became more stable, I would be fine.

But I continued to feel the underlying sadness in my 30s, so when I got good health care benefits through my job as a county mental health professional assistant, I went to see a therapist right away. I’ve also tried a bunch of antidepressants in hopes of finding one that would work well for me. But this process put me in an emotional bind. I found the therapy helped and eventually found medication that reduced my depression, but I still had episodes of time in which I felt hopeless, lonely, and physically and emotionally exhausted. My body would feel so heavy, it was an attempt to do the simplest things, like go into another room – and I couldn’t muster the energy to care about anything. Although I knew intellectually that there were things that were important to me, there was a huge disconnect from what I felt emotionally. Then I started to have suicidal thoughts, and I could almost hear her say, “Everything would be better without you. It would be easier for you and others if you weren’t here.”

A terrifying turning point in my depression

By the time I was in my mid to late thirties, things got worse and my bouts of depression lasted for months on end, often causing me to miss work. But I kept it mostly to myself. I hid it from my boss and colleagues and didn’t even rely on my sister or my father. Then one day, I just got to a point where I gave up. I’m tired of being in that awful emotional state. Even if I could get a moment or a few months off, depression always overwhelmed me, so I collected all my pills and tossed them on the kitchen counter. I picked up my dog ​​and told her I was so sorry, and then I went to take the pills. I remember crying so hard I could barely see them through my tears, and then hearing something inside me say, ‘Call the hospital’. As someone who works in mental health care, I knew the protocol, and somehow I was able to call the hospital and drive there myself. I hardly remember what happened when I arrived. I was almost nonverbal at that point. But she saved my life.

I stayed in the hospital for three days, then took a disabled leave from work to attend intensive therapy programs. Finally, I ran to my family, and extended my work leave for about a year.

It was one of the hardest times of my life and I was terrified that I would never be good enough to work again and support myself. I also felt the stigma of depression when people who didn’t understand it tell me things like “It’s not that bad, you’re making too much of nothing” or “Why can’t you get over it?” even when I finally returned to work in a mental health clinic My boss and colleagues seemed to have lost their patience and did not realize that I was recovering from a serious illness. I requested accommodation which I work in QA because it did not include direct customer contact, and they let me do it at first. But my supervisor soon became very frustrated that I wasn’t ready to work with clients again. Every month, I had to fight to keep my place, and at one point, the department manager told me he didn’t care what I was doing because I was crying so much that he just wanted me out of his office. That was a manager in a mental health clinic!

Martha Aguilar is outside smiling while touching her brightly colored scarf

With permission from the topic

Living with depression

Outside of work, I was open to trying anything and everything that might help. I went to a therapist, took a new medicine, started attending Buddhist meditation sessions, went to spiritual retreats, tried different training techniques, and saw a naturopath, among other things.

One day, I was out for a walk with a friend, and she mentioned some of the things I was doing in my attempts to get better, and she said, “You really love yourself—because you look at all you do for you.” And it turns out she was right. I didn’t realize all the things I was doing were trying to take care of me. Looking at my recovery from this perspective was transformative and helped me recognize that I valued myself and wanted to live.

Eventually, I found a new job that I liked, started seeing a great psychotherapist, and decided to go back to school for a counseling and licensing degree. I felt like I had a lot more room under my feet, and after completing my studies in my early forties, I went back to work in the county as a therapist.

Today, I have a private clinic, which gives me more flexibility to take care of myself, and live with my sympathetic and understanding partner. Of course, the pandemic has turned things upside down and I still struggle with depression. I still worry that if things go wrong I won’t be able to work – and the financial pressure weighs on me. But what’s different now is that I’ve learned to allow myself time, comfort, and support when I’m feeling depressed. I almost treat it like I would treat the first signs of a cold: When you feel a sore throat or stuffy nose, you stay in bed, eat soup, and rest until you feel better. So I do the same with my chronic depression, and take a step back until it passes. Surely she always does.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 988 or texting “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text line at 741-741, or going to 988Lifeline.org

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