It seems that I suffered from depression as long as I can remember; I just did not realize how severe it was until I was 25 years old.
I had lived my whole life being told that I was no good, would never amount to anything, that I was a failure. I quickly turned to drinking at age 11 and found that I could drown my sadness in booze. I also discovered that I could make friends because I always had booze on hand. As I got older, the only thing that mattered to me was drinking. As long as I was drunk, I was numb to the harsh words from my family that hurt so much.
At age 25, I fell into a deep depression after a visit from my sister-in-law. She criticized everything I did and everything I was. That evening, after my sister-in-law had gone home and the boys were in bed, I lay on the sofa in such despair, my eyes burning from all the tears I had shed. I decided that my family and the world would be better off without me in it.
My depression was so deep that I could not move, and that is probably a key to what saved me – that and a very caring neighbor who had just stopped by the building to pick something up from her apartment. I later learned that something told this neighbor to check in on me. When she saw the condition that I was in, she got her friend out of the car to sit with me while she went to her apartment and called for help. I was taken to the hospital where I was admitted to the psychiatric floor. After three weeks I was able to go home equipped with an understanding of my depression and ways for me to combat depression by being open to others, building a support system, and always remembering that I am never alone and that I am worthwhile.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I was the parent of an only child. I felt as parents, that we had provided all that was needed to ensure that his future possibilities were infinite (one of his favorite words). Gun violence took that away.
One minute I was preparing to visit my family for the thanksgiving holiday, and the next minute someone was banging on my door telling me that my son had been shot. This was one of the most traumatic and significant events in my life. This incident changed my whole being. It is very interesting that, at this point in my life, I was spiritually grounded, focused, and on a good path to leading a healthy life. Everything appeared to be in order. The violence took all of that away within seconds.
When my son was assaulted, I was told that he had a one in 1,000 chance of surviving. I told the doctor that I would accept the latter. My son was in a coma for two days. I prayed constantly. When a tear fell from his right, I was told that could be expected in his condition. I told the doctors that no, he could hear my prayers. He came out of the coma. My son survived for two months. I was told that he would not be able to think, speak or see because he was injured in four quadrants of his brain. None of the proposed or expected prognoses came to past.
The two months that my son lived, I witnessed everything imaginable that you can expect from someone suffering a brain injury. This is what led me to a diagnosis of PTSD. After my son’s death, I immediately started group counseling and individual therapy. These tools worked for a period, but could no longer keep in me in a good mental and spiritual state because of the flashbacks, crying spontaneously, loneliness, and just plain old hurt. After many years and many sessions, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As mentioned before, I had had group therapy and individual therapy. One thing was missing, spiritual therapy/counseling. Yes, it took all of these modalities to assist me in living a functional and semi-happy life.
I held fast to my constant prayer vigil knowing that God has the last word and is the beginning and the end. Although I had the opportunity to spend additional time with my son, this opportunity gave me time to focus on what is really important and what we want to impart to our loved ones: spirituality, love, being wanted, believing in your higher power, knowing that there is something out there other than yourself that you cannot see or touch, but feel and know for sure; and that never fails you.
It was the summer of 2006. For some unknown reason, I raised my hand and touched my right temple. When I did, I noticed a small, hard lump. It didn’t seem like anything significant, but I still wanted to know what it was, so I called for an appointment with my internist, Dr. Martha Saavedra. I was diagnosed with Temporal Arthritis and given two prescriptions, one of which was for 60 milligram pills of prednisone that was to be started immediately. The other was an early morning appointment the next day for a biopsy at the Washington Hospital Center. I took my first dose of prednisone that same evening.
The next morning Robin, my daughter, and I arrived at the hospital at the appointed time. I had been prepared for surgery. I received only light anesthesia, so the doctor was able to explain the procedure to me as he removed a tiny sample of tissue from my right temporal artery. The tissue sample was analyzed and my doctor’s suspicions were confirmed: I did have temporal arthritis.
At that point, I needed to stay on prednisone and be monitored very closely by a doctor familiar with the drug. The goal however was to get me off the drug safely, because prednisone weakens the bones by pulling calcium out of them. As this was happening, I had the need for more and more rest, so I was spending more and more time in bed.
My daughters became alarmed and asked Dr. Saavedra to hospitalize me immediately. I was at Holy Cross Hospital for about one week. I was unable to think clearly. One thing that I remember is that the heart monitor was on a pole close to my left shoulder and that I would check it often to see if I were still alive. I guess that says it all. It explains the extent to which the rapid reduction of prednisone had affected my brain. There were many visits to my doctor’s office with the assistance of Bob, my husband, and Robin: I was very weak.
This scenario went on for a number of weeks until I concluded that the doctor was doing me more harm than good. He agreed with me that the prednisone was being reduced too quickly but never changed the dosing procedure. With the help of my other doctor, I reduced the prednisone levels more gradually. Within a matter of weeks, or perhaps months, I was completely off the prednisone. My stamina gradually returned, my need for excessive amounts of sleep diminished, and I could lead a more normal life style
One day the bright red dust jacket of my Merck Manual caught my eye. This is a book that you see sometimes in a doctor’s office. I flipped to the information about withdrawal from prednisone. It read as follows:
“The adrenal glands are also suppressed in people who take corticosteroids such as prednisone. Ordinarily, the dose of corticosteroids is tapered slowly before the drug is stopped completely. When corticosteroids are stopped suddenly after being taken for a month or more, the adrenal glands may be unable to produce corticosteroids in sufficient amounts for several weeks or even months, depending on the dose of corticosteroids and the duration of treatment.”
An ambulance arrived. Initially, I refused to get out of bed. Then I got out of bed, but refused to go downstairs. By this time, my sister from Beltsville and my children, Scott and Joy, had arrived. Suddenly for some reason I stood up, walked downstairs, out the front door, and toward the ambulance that was waiting for me. To this day what made me change my mind is something I do not understand.
"Be Blessed Not Stressed"
When I was growing up, I always thought that mental health pertained to mentally ill patients in white straightjackets. I did not know that depression is a mental illness.
I watched my mom go through episodes of nervous breakdowns due to stress-related factors. It was so bad at one point that she had to be hospitalized in a mental institution. I remember visiting her and observing the other patients battling more severe illnesses.
In the early 1980's, my mom was placed on two medications I'll never forget, Haldol and Cogentin. When she took these drugs, she became sleepy, lethargic, incoherent, and disconnected from us at times.
My mom met with her psychologist regularly to talk about her problems. It hurt me so much to see the pain she endured. I vowed to myself that I did not want to go through the same thing. As things started getting better in her life, her mental health improved. Through her faith in God, she was able to get off the medications and to stop seeing her psychologist.
Now that I am older, I battle with my own issues and stress – whether it’s my health, my job, my kids, my finances, or my house. Stress leads to depression which triggers different parts of the body. Nowadays more people are developing heart issues, high blood pressure, and strokes due to stress.
I handle my stress by staying in prayer, clinging to my faith in God, surrounding myself with positive people, and keeping a positive attitude. I have also learned to remove negative people from my life. I embrace and enjoy the beauty of the world God created for us.
I started having mental health problems at an early age (11 years). My parents found me in the corner of my room hurting myself. They took me to my family doctor. He thought it might be anxiety. He gave me some medicine. It didn’t work.
I was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital. They ran a lot of tests, but couldn’t find anything physically wrong. I also had a neurologist and psychologist. I ended up going to NIH. They could not do anything to help me.
I was scared and so were my parents. I stopped talking, eating, and going to school. I was paranoid and anxious. As I got older, I started hallucinating and having mood swings. I also had anger problems. My psychologist told my parents I needed to be hospitalized right away. I have been in several hospitals that caused me to be institutionalized. I also at times felt suicidal.
I feel so much better now. The hospitals and others have really helped me. There are a lot of new medicines that also help me. My parents never gave up on me. As long as I take my medicine and see my psychiatrist and social worker, I continue to learn and grow every day.
It is a very scary, terrible disease. I thank God. He has been with me and my parents. We are moving forward but we need more research on this disease and other mental health problems.
Mary Louise Richardson Gregg, known to her family as Sister, died two months and two weeks short of her 66th birthday in June 1994. Her death caused a lot of anger because she died just when she was beginning to show who she really was, and if she had gotten over the stigma of mental illness sooner, she could have had a happier life.
In 1992, after years of bizarre behavior stemming from the fear that others would break into her apartment because she believed it had the ability to change brass into gold, she drank some ammonia. Based upon participation at a National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) support group, one of her daughters called the police to get her admitted involuntarily, instead of begging her to go voluntarily as before.
In the ER, she suffered from imaginary labor pains all night. Between contractions, she said she was having three of her children again so she could do a better job with them. In the morning, she was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where she remained until she became stabilized. Her siblings, who had always denied her illness, were furious.
In spite of that, with her children’s support, she began to face the situation. As a result, she took lithium, which stabilized her manic episodes. Finally, she interacted with family members without accusations, acrimony, delusions, illogical comments, power struggles, etc.