Of the many cool perks blogging has brought me, my friendship with Therese is near the top. Who is she? She's the author of a dozen books and a blogger for Beliefnet, PsychCentral and the Huffington Post for the past few years. But that only scratches the surface. In her words:
I'm a manic depressive, alcoholic, and adult child of an alcoholic; a codependent, boundaries violator, and stage-four people pleaser; an information hoarder or clutter magnet, Internet abuser, and obsessive-compulsive or ritual-performing weirdo; a sugar addict, caffeine junkie, reformed binge smoker, and exercise fanatic; a hormonally-imbalanced female, PMS-prone time bomb, and sexually dysfunctional or neutered creature; a workaholic, HSP (highly-sensitive person), and, of course, I'm Catholic. Which could possibly explain some of the above.
She's also one of the most painfully honest, hilarious, insightful and self-effacing writers you'll ever read. Her new book artfully weaves together memoir, research, blog comments and practical wisdom like nothing I've ever seen. And it's funny. So funny I questioned whether it was okay to laugh out loud reading a book about depression. If you've suffered from depression or anxiety, or know someone who has, I highly recommend it.
My biased blather aside, take a look at what Therese has to say:
So what actually is beyond blue? Indigo? Violet?
Ironically, I launched the blog Beyond Blue in December (of 2006), the season of Advent, and the color for the season is purple, which is right next to blue on the rainbow. Purple means hope ... and royalty. At 39 years old, I'm still white trash (no royalty), but hope is the basic purpose and message of the blog, and the one word readers use the most to describe it. My intention with the blog, and with the book, is simply to be an instrument of hope in any way I can, because I know that as long as a person suffering from a mood disorder has hope, he/she will not give up. So it's hope that I want most to provide.
Writing a book this extensive and vulnerable must be challenging. Did you ever get the Beyond Blue blues?
Ah yes. The answer would definitely be yes. Especially the early chapters. I think I had disassociated myself from the pain of my younger years for so long because I just was so scared to re-experience that pain on any level. In writing the book, I went back through some of my journals, especially in junior high, and cried for several weeks. It was very healing. I did some inner child work, and treated the young girl I was with tenderness and love, trying to accept her and love her as I never have. I even got an inner child doll. Eric (my husband) almost took her to Goodwill one day, as if I didn't have enough abandonment and rejection issues! In fact, here is a video link of my inner child and the pain I felt.
Spirituality clearly plays a major role in your life. How does your faith contribute to mental health?
Spirituality and mental illness have an interesting relationship. From the research I've read, those with strong religious beliefs are more prone to depression, and yet their faith is one of the most important elements of recovery or ways to stay resilient. Confusing, right?
I wrote in the first chapter of Beyond Blue that I was both blessed and cursed by my Catholic faith. Blessed because I had so many beautiful traditions and rituals and stories and things to cling on to. For a person prone to OCD, Catholicism is a goldmine for that repetitive weird ritual stuff that gives you some kind of comfort. And, as I said in the book, there is a saint for everything: for panic, for alcoholism, for hopeless causes. Yah! But it was because of my scrupulosity as a young girl that the adults in my life failed to recognize my mood disorder. They thought I just had a peculiar and intense faith life.
During my suicidal two years, my faith kept me alive. I remember sitting in the car after I drove home from the last day of my intensive outpatient program-after the nurses basically told me I was out of luck-if you weren't fixed in 8 weeks, they couldn't do anything else for you. I had tried absolutely everything, but I still wanted to die.
So I issued God an ultimatum in the car. I sat there, with a bag of about 20 bottles of prescription drugs next to me (which was my exit out of this life), and told him I was getting the hell out of this place because I had tried everything, EVERYTHING, and nothing was working. Obviously He didn't give a damn. I shouted, "Give me a sign I'm supposed to hang on, or else I am out of here. I am so out of here if you don't let me know you are with me!"
After about 20 minutes of wailing, I decided to go inside and, on the way into my house, checked the mailbox. There was a letter written by a woman I had met at a conference, and she sent me a medal of St. Therese that was an exact copy to the one that I had been carrying in my pocket ever since the depression set in.
I knew from that point on that, even though I didn't always feel God's helping hand, that I must somehow try to have faith in him.
Chances are, someone reading this struggles with depression. Do you have any advice?
I want folks to know what I wish I would have known when I was in the Black Hole, and that message is articulated beautifully by William Styron in his classic, "Darkness Visible":
If depression had no termination, then suicide would, indeed, be the only remedy. But one need not sound the false or inspirational note to stress the truth that depression is not the soul's annihilation; men and women who have recovered from the disease-and they are countless-bear witness to what is probably its only saving grace: it is conquerable.
Man, I love that paragraph. And I have to remind myself of it every time I hit a low cycle and am fretting that I'll never be able to hold down a job or being a suitable parent. Depression IS conquerable. Even if you never find the right medication combination, or fitting therapist, or good support group. It WILL pass.
My other piece of advice is to expect people NOT to understand. Because the stigma around mental illness is still so very thick. Even people who think they understand it seldom can appreciate the nuances and complexities that mood disorders bring to a life. It's not about you. So don't get your feelings hurt. It's simply a lack of awareness and education. I still only have about five people in my life who really get it. I wish it were more, but that's enough. And as long as you own your health philosophy, you can't get lost.