If I have any regret in my life, it’s that I didn’t get a diagnosis for my depression and anxiety until I was about 30 years old. For years, I lived only a fraction of my life. My deep depressions rendered me completely incapacitated at times and impacted not only me, but my family. My anxiety kept me from connecting with people, making friends and having meaningful relationships. I only wish that awareness, help and support had been available to me earlier.
The first time I had a severe “depressive episode” was when I was 18. It was as if someone flipped a switch in me and I just couldn’t get out of my own way. I was chronically tired. When I was awake I had an insatiable appetite and couldn’t stop eating. As a result, I gained a lot of weight. My mother took me to our family doctor who ran some blood tests. The results came back normal. When my mom asked the doctor what could be wrong with me, he replied, “Well, Andrea is a little on the heavy side. Maybe if she lost a little weight she wouldn’t be so tired.” Wow! Back in 1989 the doctor didn’t even think about depression as potential diagnosis when all the symptoms where right there! Sadly, it wasn’t even part of the conversation.
Over the next twelve years I had the same experience a number of times. The switch would get flipped and the sadness, fatigue, insatiable appetite and subsequent weight gain would follow. It was so frustrating that this kept happening to me but I had no explanation why. That was until it happened again in 2002. I fell into such a deep depression that I was barely able to function. My husband physically had to pull me out of bed in the morning to get me to go to work. I would go days without showering. All I wanted to do was eat, sleep and cry. I knew this wasn’t right. My job was suffering and my family was falling apart. I needed to do something. So I went to my family doctor and she diagnosed me with depression and prescribed medication. That was a bittersweet day. Finally I had an explanation for what had been happening to me all my life and a way to fix the problem. But I now had a label. Depression. I felt broken and inferior. I was embarrassed when I went to pick up my prescription. I didn’t want anyone to know about my diagnosis.
It took a long time for me to reach a point where I accepted the fact that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and I had nothing to be embarrassed about. Years later someone put it into perspective for me. They asked me if I would be embarrassed if I had diabetes. When I said no, they reminded me that depression is no different; my body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to and simply needs medication to help. Viewing it from that perspective has helped me accept who I am and let go of the label and the shroud of embarrassment.