Fighting Depression

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When it began. That’s me on the left.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t go to sleep unless I completed a very specific set of nightly routines. I was inexplicably terrified of water dripping from the bathroom tap, so I worked at tightening the faucet until I was sure I was safe. The bathroom light switch had to be flicked on and off exactly 10 times. Each item on my shelves and desk needed to be perfectly aligned and I felt compelled to yell, “Goodnight Ma!”, from my bed at least a dozen times.

School was difficult. I loved to use black crayons when I coloured, pressed hard, black-magic style, because a perfectly uniform, velvety black surface was infinitely preferable to visible streaks of colour. Erasing was unacceptable. I hated seeing faint traces of mistakes on my papers. I cried a lot.

Overcome by a puzzling sadness, I would sit at my desk, tears streaming down my face, until my teacher sent me to the nurse who would take my temperature and then send me back to class.

Play dates away from home were challenging, and sleep-overs impossible. Once in a while I would try, only to sneak to a phone in the middle of the night, begging my parents to pick me up. Sleep away camp was out of the question. Even traveling with my family threw me off. Away from the comfort and security of my routines, I was an anxious, sleepless mess.

As I got older, the storm in my head subsided. Distracted by boys and a new-found social life, high school was easier. My anxiety’s focus was academic. Tests and exams sent me into a tailspin. Despite being an A student, I was always sure I’d failed. University was worse and exam periods and deadlines meant no sleep, no appetite, and endless crying jags.

At 24, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I got engaged. When initial joy and excitement wore off, I started to feel the descent of that familiar puzzling sadness. I couldn’t eat. I would lie awake in the middle of the night, my heart and mind racing. I could barely get myself out of bed to go to work. All of this was compounded by crushing guilt.

Old friends make a great support system.

Old friends make a great support system.

How could could I feel so miserable when I had everything – a loving fiancé, a supportive family, a job I loved and a new house? I felt like a terrible person.

My father, who knew that I was in a particularly dark place, finally pushed me to see a doctor, a colleague of his, to rule out any underlying medical issues. When my blood tests came back perfectly normal, I was devastated. I was hoping for a quick answer and a quicker fix. A thyroid issue, maybe. A hormonal imbalance would have been great. I burst into tears in the doctor’s office. Then she gently suggested that I was suffering from chronic depression and anxiety and explained that a combination of medication, therapy and exercise could be enormously helpful.

After three weeks on a SSRI, a medication designed to treat depression by changing the balance of serotonin in the brain, I was a new person. I was sleeping and eating. The persistent feeling of impending doom diminished. I also found a therapist who used cognitive behavioral therapy and gave me techniques to use when my anxiety threatened to get out of control. And while I always loved to exercise, it became an essential and non-negotiable part of my routine.

There have been setbacks over the years. I was afraid to have babies born with withdrawal effects from my medication, so I gradually weaned off during my two pregnancies. The postpartum periods were consequently rough, especially after my youngest was born when I seriously contemplated packing a bag and leaving. My father’s illness and death was another challenging period, one that required a visit to a psychiatrist and a medication adjustment. September is always a bad month. The drastic change in routine, the return to school and work and the anniversary of my father’s death weigh heavily on me, every year, without fail.

By now, I’ve accepted, that for genetic, chemical or situational reasons, I’m at a predisposition for anxiety and depression.

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Tough early baby days.

I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life and I’m ok with that. I will also chase the endorphins of exercise because they make a huge difference in how I feel, both physically and mentally.

Above all, and most importantly, I’ve learned that I have control over how I feel.

I don’t have to be held hostage by depression and anxiety because I have the tools to help me put one foot in front of the other when things seems bleak.

Feeling sad and down in the dumps once in a while is a normal reaction to life’s ups and downs. But if a sense of emptiness and despair become persistent and begin to interfere with your daily functioning, then it’s time to be proactive. Similarly, If you see signs or symptoms of depression in a friend or family member, encourage them to get help:

  • Start by seeing your family doctor to rule out any medical issues.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Gather support from the people around you.
  • Be active! Regular exercise has been proven to ward off feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • See a therapist.

Our news feeds are regularly flooded with devastating stories about depression. Kurt Cobain, Alexander McQueen and Robin William’s suicides, among so many others, are heartbreaking reminders that depression is an illness that can be as devastating as cancer.

But not every depression story ends tragically.

With the right treatment, medication and support, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the opportunity to lead a healthy, happy life – which may or may not include a few too many bootcamp classes.

24 Comments
  • Stephanie
    Posted at 09:57h, 22 October Reply

    This is a very honest look at depression/anxiety. Thanks for sharing ! Your courage to tell your story is appreciated !!

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 14:19h, 22 October Reply

      Thank you for reading, Stephanie!

    • Rhoda Weitzman
      Posted at 10:58h, 24 October Reply

      My Darling Wonderful Liz…….You are an amazing person!!!..I love you so much and I am so proud of what you do and the way you do it…Danny too had a difficult time with depression…We spoke of it often and at a time when feeling anxious,sad, for no apparent reason was not a subject most people discussed or even dealt with medically…You have the ability,caring and wisdom to help so many people!!! Write a book!!!! Become a clinical therapist …You can do EVERYTHING!!!!

      • Wise Women Montreal
        Posted at 18:36h, 25 October Reply

        Thank you so much, Auntie Rhoda! I always appreciate your support and encouragement!! xoxo

  • Caroline BH
    Posted at 12:44h, 22 October Reply

    What an honest recount of a very personal issue. Thank you for your courage to put this out there. Mental health is as important as physical health and can be as/more debilitating if not treated. Kudos to you for telling your story and for encouraging all that are affected by depression (whether yourself or someone you know) to get help. I am glad that you have found your solution to your issues and power to you.

    PS. Your dad delivered my babies. I miss him terribly. 🙁

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 14:18h, 22 October Reply

      Thank YOU, Caroline, for taking the time to read and comment. I’m hoping this blog helps break the stigma of mental illness. My dad was awesome :). I love hearing about the babies he delivered.

  • Robyn
    Posted at 18:25h, 22 October Reply

    What a brave and amazing thing you just did. I had a very terrible run with PPD after having my youngest. It was awful and I was only diagnosed 9 months in…Like you I tried self diagnosing myself (google md)… Awareness is key. Sharing erases the shame and for that thank you. Now I think you are even MORE amazing!!!

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 13:19h, 23 October Reply

      Thank YOU, Robyn, for reading and taking the time to comment. Awareness IS key and I hope this post makes a difference to someone. Big hugs to you! xo

  • Rabbi fishman
    Posted at 00:00h, 23 October Reply

    Liz, a very honest and deeply personal exploration of some of the issues many people struggle with. Demystifying the illness of depression by simply talking about it and sharing your feelings on your blog takes away some (not all) of the stigmas associated with depression. You are both brave and a source of strength. You should be blessed to continue your journey with such courage.

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 13:18h, 23 October Reply

      Thank you for this, Rabbi Fishman. I’m hoping this post helps remove a little bit of the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Your support is much appreciated!

  • Robin
    Posted at 22:09h, 23 October Reply

    You are very courageous and honest for sharing your experiences. I am sure your story will help
    so many others to seek out help and feel hopeful that they too will overcome similar obstacles.
    Thank you

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 08:19h, 24 October Reply

      Thank you for reading, Robin! That’s my hope too..

  • Melissa
    Posted at 09:36h, 24 October Reply

    Liz – your honesty is so admirable and courageous. I have also used CBT for anxiety and it has helped me through so many difficult situations. And above all having friends who understand and support is key. Thank you for sharing a difficult topic 🙂

  • Sari
    Posted at 17:38h, 24 October Reply

    As always, I am touched by reading your personal encounter. You are honest and real. Thank you for sharing.

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 18:35h, 25 October Reply

      Thank you Sari!!

  • Arleen Solomon Rotchin
    Posted at 14:47h, 27 October Reply

    Elizabeth, had lunch with Aunty Rhoda today who passed around a print-out of your very brave and honest article dealing with such a difficult subject which everyone I know, including myself, seem to have endured most of their lives. Bravo to you for sharing! You are helping so many. I am now a fan of Wise Women Montreal. Kudos to you girls. I love your blog.

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 10:49h, 28 October Reply

      Thank you so much, Arleen! Your support is much appreciated (and how lovely that Aunty Rhoda passed out my article!).

  • Pingback:Fighting Depression | WomenOnTheFence.com
    Posted at 09:45h, 03 November Reply

    […] post was previously published on Wise Women Montreal. We received permission from Wise Women Montreal and Liz Wiener to re-publish it on […]

  • Carolyn
    Posted at 10:50h, 12 December Reply

    All I can say is “thank you!”

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 20:45h, 12 December Reply

      You’re welcome, Carolyn!

  • Lesley-Anne
    Posted at 18:25h, 12 December Reply

    Wow reminder to give you a big hug next time I see you at yoga, you are quite amazing. It’s funny how we make judgements of people based on appearance (such as how gorgeous and perfect you are :)) and don’t know the first thing about what’s really underneath. Good for you this was brave. A big sweaty hug to you!

    • Wise Women Montreal
      Posted at 20:49h, 12 December Reply

      Thank you so much! I will take your big sweaty hug happily!

  • Pingback:Montreal Diary: Wise women share their stories | Montreal Gazette
    Posted at 13:00h, 18 June Reply

    […] learned about the power of sharing personal experiences that resonate. For instance, Wiener says her post about her battle with depression has garnered 25,000 hits thus […]

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