Thursday, January 26, 2012

What A Smile Hides

Sometimes life gives us fortune cookie wisdom.  Short, well-intentioned, and memorable one-liners like:

"A smile is the most beautiful curve on a woman's body."

"When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life you've got a thousand reasons to smile."

"Your day generally goes the same direction as the corners of your mouth."

We all love to see pictures of happy smiling people.  They look happy.  Happy is attractive.  So we all want to be happy, and therefore attractive, too.  But what about days when you don't feel like smiling?  Or times when you wonder if your smile is permanently lost?  Or even days when you paste a smile on your face just to keep people from asking what's wrong?  It's hard to explain to anyone else how you are ill on the inside when you look just fine on the outside...  Sometimes what you truly want, but are afraid to show, is for another person to see through the mask of your smile and reach out with a helping hand because no matter how it looks, or what you say, you're not ok.

I invited some friends who've found the courage to talk openly about their battle with depression to share their stories, thoughts and wishes for the future.  Two of them, Jodi and Jeanne, took me up on it.

Jodi is 47, a wife and mother.  She loves her family and loves taking care of them.  She was officially diagnosed with depression following the birth of her third child and it has persisted since 1991.  Jodi was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism at the same time and that could be a contributory factor.  I know her as kind, thoughtful, open and compassionate... and someone who loves to laugh.  When she revealed her depression, I was very surprised.  She's hidden it well.

Jeanne says this about herself, "I suffer from clinical depression. I am 68 years old, a daughter and granddaughter of alcoholics. I believe the reason my father and grandfather were alcoholics is they also suffered from clinical depression. However, I have never drunk alcoholic beverages, and since it seems to run in families, I wouldn’t dare try. I have a younger brother who was an alcoholic and suffered clinical depression; his son is also an alcoholic and I know his daughter suffers from clinical depression."  Jeanne was diagnosed 30 years ago.  She and I are cousins, though with a 20 year age difference we didn't really know each other well growing up and I had no idea how prevalent depression and alcoholism was in her history.

I've been through short periods of feeling blue and lonely and even hopeless but it's never persisted to the point I've felt the need to seek medical attention, so I asked what true depression feels like.  Jodi says, it "feels like you just lost your best friend and your love for life. It takes away your joy and excitement that you get from daily living."   Sometimes it doesn't take a lot of words to describe something... the grief, the loss of zest, the inability to cope with even the smallest challenges of daily life can feel like you are living in a dark cloud all of the time.  I also asked about their experiences with medication and both have used a variety of prescriptions with varying degrees of success.  Jeanne had an early good result with Prozac.  After resisting for a time, she says "I finally agreed to try Prozac. It was several weeks before I felt any effect, and when I did feel it, it made me feel like I had come out of the "dark clouds into the sunshine!” I took Prozac for several years until my doctor suggested I try to get off of it, which I did. After that, I felt I was in those dark clouds again." Sadly, a later try with this medication didn't yield the same results.

And so I wondered... what does help?  Jodi responded, "It can be a lot of things... doing something fun with family and friends... getting outside myself to think of someones else's needs... putting someone else's need in front of mine... And meds have helped me a lot.  I think you have to try everything your doctor says first.  Blood tests, exercise, socializing with friends, and talking about your feelings."  Jeanne made a similar comment about enjoying travel and social gatherings but noted that she finds it difficult to be the one organizing these activities and is so very thankful her husband, Brad, plans lots of little trips for them.

When asked what they'd most like for others to know about depression, Jeanne summed it up like this:  "I want people to know that clinical depression cannot be cured by being more religious, reading the scriptures more, praying more, fasting more, and helping others more. Yes, these things can temporarily help, but are not a cure."  She went on to observe, "Clinical Depression is not something I would wish on anyone! Having a mental illness is not as socially acceptable as having a disease like cancer."

That last sentence is really a punch in the gut... Having a mental illness is not as socially acceptable as having a disease like cancer.  It should be.  Just because it's hidden by a smile doesn't mean it's not real.

1 comment:

Emch2b said...

Awwww, this is a moving blog. It's a good thing to talk about.