Do I feel like crap because I am depressed? Or, am I depressed because I feel like crap? Is it the chicken or the egg?
I cannot pinpoint the exact date or even the exact year I started to have chronic joint pain and anxiety attacks. A gnawing pain, mostly in my hips, that would radiate down my legs and up my back into my neck. Any sudden movement in my sleep would throw me into muscle spasms that would wake me up several times a night. Then the anxiety attacks. I was afraid to go to sleep, so I would lie there and silently weep with my heart racing and my breathing erratic, just praying for a restful night.
Coming from a “buck up” and get your shit together background, no one really knew how much I was suffering. Not my husband, my children, not even my closest friends. Every morning, I dragged my ass out of bed, grabbed the coffee and some ibuprofen and made sure my children were set for a successful day. I went to work, I did my job, my volunteer activities, cooked dinner, completed the chores and again made sure my children were set for a successful night. Sex was on the weekly “to do” list. Not something that was initiated out of love and a need to feel close to my husband. It became another chore or duty to keep the peace and our household running. Hell yes I was depressed!
About 5 years ago, I went to see my doctor. I talked to her about how I was feeling. After about 10 vials of blood and a lecture about my weight (at this point I needed to lose about 20 pounds) she sent me away with an all clear letter and a prescription for antidepressants. What the fuck? I am not depressed I am in pain! I took them for about 6 months and guess what? I was still in pain, still gaining weight, but now I just didn’t give a shit.
2 ½ years later I did the same thing, went to the doctor, vials of blood, all clear letter and another prescription for antidepressants, a newer better version, that was sure to cure all that ails me. Only now I am 40 pounds overweight and presenting signs of borderline hypertension.
There is a history of mental illness in my family, my oldest brother has bipolar disorder. Of course, I dutifully reported this on my intake forms. The doctor had me convinced that my depression was manifesting itself as physical pain and this was completely normal. So again I took the pills. A year in, 60 pounds overweight, pain and fatigue so unbearable I found myself pushing my children and husband away both physically and emotionally. I looked at the clock desperately waiting for the appropriate time to crawl in bed. It became my nightly routine, 8:30 p.m., go into my room, shut the door, cry uncontrollably inducing a panic attack, and then finally fall asleep.
At 44, I was at such a low point and in so much pain, I considered suicide. I thought no one should have to live like this. I am not being a good mom, I am a horrible wife and I hurt all the time. It was no longer just my body but my heart ached also, for my family, for myself, for the person I used to be.
Some people say that there is a moment of clarity that happens when you finally find the strength and fortitude to climb out of the depths of despair. Not so glamourous for me. We changed medical insurance. Simple as that. I had more options on who I could see and better coverage. So I sat down at the computer to research doctors in our area that I thought could help me.
My criteria were a bit unusual: Yelp reviews, medical grade sites, of course I looked at those…. However, in my mind, I wanted a chunky, 50 something, lesbian family practitioner that had a passion for women’s issues and the issues of adolescent children. Yeah, I’m stereotyping, but so what, get over it. At this point I either want to die or I needed to find a doctor that is going to finally help me and I thought that because I had teenage children, someone who understood their stresses and the stress of parenting them would only be icing on the cake. To some, this may seem like finding a needle in a haystack but I live in Seattle, not as hard as you might think.
I will call her Dr. Rachel, 50 something lesbian family practitioner. Married to her wife for decades, a high school aged daughter and a very tender heart. She was quirky, funny, understanding and not afraid to put her own issues out there to help me understand mine. She walked in the room, me in my gown waiting for my yearly pap, we start chatting, honestly I was bawling before she entered the room, she finished the “medical’ procedure helped me up, gently putting her hand on my shoulder and said, “get dressed, I will be back in a few minutes and we can talk”.
For an hour we talked, stress, depression, my climbing weight and pain, during which she listened to my heart, checked my reflexes, eyes, ears and throat. We discussed my family history, our kids, our dog, anything and everything was laid out. Still crying, I kept saying “I’m not crazy, I am just done. I can’t take it anymore”. She laughed and said “well you are acting a little nuts, but has anyone ever referred you to have a sleep study?”.