I was supposed to write this yesterday, since March 14 is the actual anniversary of my first day of Crazy Camp. But at the end of the day I was tired, and this is a hard post to write when you're tired.
March 2008 was possibly the worst month of my life. I'd been battling depression for a couple of months by then, but had held off on getting a prescription for antidepressants because I was nursing Nathan. Finally the last week of February I went to the doctor to ask for a prescription for Prozac, which I would begin taking on Nathan's 1st birthday, the day I would stop nursing him.
The whole idea of cutting a kid off from the boob abruptly on his first birthday still guts me a little. I'm hardly all La Leche League, but I enjoyed nursing him and imagined his weaning would be a little more gradual, a little more "when it's mutually beneficial for mother and baby" as all the attachment parenting people always say.
Anyway, two days before Nathan's birthday I went to the doctor and requested a prescription for 40 mg of Prozac. The doctor suggested I might start at 20 mg, but I swore I was taking 40 mg before (3 years or so earlier). I didn't want an inadequate dosage that would need to be upped, thus taking me months and months to feel normal again.
I filled the prescription. The pharmacist, Lisa (who becomes an important player in this story), told me 40 mg was too high to start on. I told her I swore I was on 40 mg before. "Okay," she said dubiously.
The next day I nursed Nathan for the last time, cried, and swallowed the first pill.
The day after that was Nathan's birthday. I more-or-less spent it feeling like I was in an alternate reality. And it was pretty much like that for two days. I sobbed and sobbed. I didn't want to live. I apologized to Nathan profusely for getting stuck with me as a mother.
And then one night I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep, unable to go on in general. That's when I remembered something:
I had only been on 20 mg of Prozac before. And I had built up to it from 10 mg.
I quit the Prozac cold-turkey. I went to another doctor later that week, hoping he would help me. He gave me Lexapro. I still wanted to die. I don't mean I actually had a plan to end my life, just that every minute of the day and night was painful. I called the second doctor. He told me to go off Lexapro and see a psychiatrist to "get analyzed." You know, analyzed, like I should make an appointment with Sigmund Freud himself.
I felt so let down by the medical community. I didn't know what to do. Somehow I was making it through life, caring for my child and (God knows how) going to work. At one point Nathan and I were shopping in Target, and I casually mentioned to pharmacist Lisa that I was having some trouble with meds. Well, it turns out Lisa later phoned my doctor and expressed her concern about me, and the nurse from the doctor called and told me she would call a local psychiatrist and get me on the fast-track to an appointment. (The guy has like a two-month wait otherwise, which seems like a bad thing when people are severely depressed.)
The doctor suggested that rather than see him in his office, I enroll in an outpatient program at the hospital's psychiatric unit. He would come and see me there. And that's how I ended up going to Crazy Camp.
It was, of course, not actually called Crazy Camp. It was actually called the Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, but I called it crazy camp because it felt like a camp. A day camp, at least. I'd go every day from 8:00 to 2:00, and we had various activities like group therapy, workbooks, movies, recreational therapy (umm, yeah), and lunch in the cafeteria.
The first day of Crazy Camp, I tried extra hard to make myself look presentable and not crazy. I was concerned that because Camp was in a very bad area, all the other people there would be deranged transients who the court ordered to be there.
But, it turns out that depression hits people from all walks of life. And the other campers at Crazy Camp were diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, but all were rational, intelligent, thoughtful people. We were just all experiencing a temporary bad patch in our lives.
There were two social workers who came to Crazy Camp to talk to us, no-nonsense Betty, and Lauren, who was like Social Worker Barbie. We spent the days talking and doing little workbooks about mental health. Sometimes Cassie the Rec Therapist came to do little worksheets and games with us.
One thing that made me stand out at Crazy Camp was that I was the only person who hadn't been hospitalized in the inpatient psychiatric ward. All of the other people had spent some time "upstairs," having been admitted through the ER after suicide attempts. That's heavy. That feels like something that you could never get over. Every happy moment of your life from there on out, you'd have to deal with the guilt and shame that you almost weren't there.
There was the young mother who was sleeping on a friend's couch after leaving her children's abusive father. Another young mother who was addicted to prescription drugs, and whose husband left with their child during the course of Crazy Camp. (At one point I was outside with her during a break, and I swear I thought she was going to step in front of an oncoming car.) There was an older lady who had just somehow lost her way, and whose adult children were worried sick about her. A teacher whose final undoing was a battle with her principal. A mother of two special-needs children. A woman who lives very near me, who I couldn't possibly talk into seeing the point of going on. (I still worry about her every time I drive by her neighborhood.)
And so, as the week wore on, we talked. I learned not to feel ashamed about depression. It's a medical illness. It happens to a lot of people. Betty called it "the common cold of mental illness."
I was forced to question a lot of relationships in my life and a lot of my beliefs. I realized there was a lot of guilt I needed to give up. I discovered I was being kind of a martyr about motherhood and wifehood, and that there were some responsibilities I needed to delegate to others. I got angry about the stigma of depression and about society's attitude toward mental illness. The doctor visited and put me on a new medication.
You know, just your typical week in an outpatient psychiatric facility.
At the end of the week, I graduated from Crazy Camp. I got a certificate and a handshake. I wasn't even close to better. But at least I was pointed in the right direction.
It took a long time for me to feel normal again. It took exercise and talk therapy and a medication change. And even now, as you all know, I have some relapses. But nothing along the lines of what I felt when I went to Crazy Camp.
And I still have the certificate and the workbooks from Crazy Camp on a shelf in my closet. I'm afraid to throw them away, afraid to jinx myself by the implication that I'm all better now.
But today is a different life than three years ago.
I am going to have a hard time hitting "Publish" for this post. But I have to do it for other people fighting depression. There's a sort of brother/sisterhood on the part of depression sufferers. We have to be there for other people who are fighting depression. Depression is so pervasive in your mind, that not only do you feel overwhelmingly sad, you feel sad that you are sad, and guilty for feeling sad, and guilty about everything, and ashamed at your own weakness, and unable to see how it could ever get better. And it is the responsibility of all of us on The Other Side to assure those in the trenches that it does get better. It will get better.
I shouldn't feel afraid to publish this. Depression is a medical illness, caused by a lack certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Sure there are lifestyle triggers to depression, and those of us who have tendencies toward depression might be sent over the edge by these triggers. But it does not mean that there needs to be something sad in your life that makes you depressed. You can have a perfectly good life and still feel depressed.
And if you do feel depressed, please get help. Tell a doctor or pharmacist or friend or family member or someone. Heck, tell me. I know it is scary to admit that you are depressed, but it's better than going on this way. I saw too many people at Crazy Camp who were too embarrassed to admit to depression, and who figured in their compromised mental states that the better option would be to take themselves off the planet. Don't be one of those people. Get help.
I love you guys.