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Living in the Darkness

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By Jamila Harris

Every day I felt the same. It did not matter what the weather was. The sun could be shining brightly or it could be storming. It could be summer or the winter. I could live in the South Pole or under the wonderful skies of Miami, but internally I felt the same way all the time.  I couldn't seem to find any joy. I was living under continued darkness.

I was a prisoner of my mind, and my days all seemed to be bleak. I am suffering from depression caused by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Until my diagnosis I assumed depression was just a temporary state of mind that people could overcome with positive thoughts and an uplifting life. I have a great life. My children are healthy. My home is beautiful. I have a wonderful marriage. Yet, I am a victim of this illness.

I was first diagnosed in 2004. I was working as a customer-service representative for one of the top 10 companies in America. I started to feel very down, stressed and pessimistic. One day I started to have an anxiety attack. I felt my arms perspire profusely, and the room started to spin. I felt lightheaded and the floor seemed to be rising up closer to my head; I was about to crash onto the floor. Luckily, one of my colleagues saw me getting ready to fall and escorted me to a chair. I assumed that I was just working too hard. I decided to take some time off.  Even after I was able to relax at home, my mood did not change. Every day I fell deeper and deeper into a dark abyss. I decided to see my doctor. He asked me to give him some history on my current feeling and moods and also to go back into time. His feeling was that there may have been some traumatic events in my childhood that I had sworn I had gotten past but had not.

My mother was a victim of domestic violence. My father was very abusive and a tyrant. Whenever he decided to beat up on my mother, he would slap me around also. I was terrified of him to the degree where I would urinate on myself the moment he would call my name. This abuse occurred until I was 16. My mother eventually left my father, but the wounds never healed.  Yet, I felt I had lived a happy, fulfilling childhood and got through high school as a popular and successful student.  After explaining my mood and my story, my physician diagnosed me with PTSD at the age of 27. So, how could something that I seemed to have gotten through suddenly affect me in my adult life?

The answer is that I'd managed to suppress some of my childhood trauma by remaining active and covering up issues that were unresolved. It was only a matter of time before it surfaced, and it surfaced when I became an adult. Millions of people are in the same position as I am. They go about their daily lives undetected with severe depression or PTSD until it hits them upside of their head.

I started treatment immediately with a low dosage of antidepressants and psychotherapy. After a couple of weeks I decided that I was cured and that the therapy was just a waste of my time so I stopped taking my medicine and stopped going to see the psychologist. I was again convinced that depression was just a state of mind and not a real disease. I did well for a while and went back to work. I never felt great, but at least I didn't have any more anxiety attacks. It was a bad decision. After a couple of weeks I was about to hit the floor again. My depression came back with a vengeance. There were days that I could not function and all I did was cry. I stayed in my bed under the covers for weeks at a time, getting up only if absolutely necessary. Nothing was wrong in my present life, but I was near suicidal. I say that my depression came back, but the fact is that it never left. I was able to function successfully those first few weeks of my diagnosis because the medicine was in my system. Once I stopped taking it, I was right back where I started -- in that deep, dark hole. I finally accepted that I was sick and that the only way I was going to be happy and functioning throughout the rest of my life was to continue therapy and take antidepressants.

There was a time when it was taboo to discuss mental illness. Today it is discussed as openly as any other disease, and you can watch TV commercials informing you of the symptoms and medicines that treat it.  I am here to tell you that depression is very real and it does exist.  I don't promote taking a bunch of pills to live a happy, normal life, but if you felt like me and live in a dark hole despite your happy circumstances, then maybe you need to see your doctor as well.

I confused normal stress with major mental issues. I don't want to hit the floor again, so today I take my diagnosis seriously and make sure I stay in therapy and on my prescribed medicines so that I can enjoy my life.

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