Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts


And There Is No Shame

My ongoing battle with major depressive disorder began around the age of 14. It began to rear its ugly head shortly after the onset of what would later be diagnosed as seronegative juvenile idiopathic arthritis and has now become seronegative rheumatoid arthritis. The nature of this autoimmune condition is still idiopathic, meaning we have no idea what is causing the inflammation.

All that to say-- because not a lot is known regarding the nature/progression of idiopathic autoimmune diseases from a juvenile perspective, I went misdiagnosed for a period of almost 2 years. During those 2 years, I struggled intensely. I was passed around from doctor to doctor-- many of whom refused to acknowledge a single physical symptom I was experiencing. Because I was a young woman in pain, it was believed that I was clinically depressed and there was no more to the story. But for me, there was.

If I wasn't occupied wishing that death would soon come, I found myself wishing that I could at least find a way out. I figured that 'way out' had to come through one of two things: suicide, or finding a purpose in the pain. I am grateful still today that the latter won out.

Although I was diagnosed with both primary and secondary physical conditions, my mind remained in the dark. All the while I thought "Kenzie, what the hell is wrong with you? Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it. No one else your age feels this way. You have a physical diagnosis at last-- your mind has no reason to be in the depths of despair anymore."

But that's just it. Depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder have no rhyme or reason. They don't signal warning signs before they take over your life and they are far from predictable. They ravage your life and take all that they can; whether that consists of your energy, your passions, your spirit, or your ability to do something as 'simple' as taking a shower.

And that's precisely where I found myself. In the depths of despair day in and day out...constantly looking for a way to draw attention elsewhere. I got into unhealthy relationships, attempted to ignore my mind's cry for help, and eventually became convinced that this bleak life would never improve.

For 4 long years, I continued attempting to ignore the pain of both my mental health and physical state. And finally...halfway through my freshman year of college, I recognized that I really needed help. Really needed it.

I saw a free counselor on campus. Our styles didn't "jive," per se, so I decided to try someone new. I saw that new counselor for a few months and soon found myself sending her e-mails filled with excuses about how I'd have to miss our next session due to this and due to that. In reality, all I did was pull the covers over my head for another two hours and mope around when it was time to go to class.

Pretty soon, I wasn't even seeing a counselor anymore. Then the summer came, and I was referred back to a pain psychologist I'd seen several years prior as part of a pain management program. I was honest with her and began writing-- and I mean really writing-- again. Journal entries were dark during that time, but oh how therapeutic they proved to be.

"Waking up is hard. Getting out of bed is hard. Showering is hard. Pretending it's going to be a good day is hard. Starting things is hard. Finishing them is even harder. I noticed something awhile ago...I'm not excited to get dressed in the morning anymore. I used to practically run from my morning shower to my closet -- brimming with outfit possibilities and clothes that I adore. Now, I limp over to the cabinet I keep my t-shirts in, pull on a stretched out sports bra, and try to gauge how long it will take for my neck pain to kick in, radiate down my arms, and give me a migraine.  It's almost as if it has become some kind of sick game..."

That summer-- two summers ago-- became a massive game of trial and error. I was put on some of my very first anti-depressants and I saw a licensed psychologist 3 times a week. I was referred to a psychiatrist in the area and we continued to find the med combination that would work for me. We burnt through Cymbalta, Savella, Effexor, Prozac, and a list of PTSD inhibitors to help me sleep at night. Things certainly got worse before they got better.

But then, we found somewhat of a medication match. Even, I still find myself somewhere between "stable" and "unstable." I am able to currently work part time, study full time, and participate in college life. For the most part, I am able to socialize, complete tasks, motivate myself, and LIVE. It's refreshing, but it's not the reality everyday for someone who is mentally ill. To advocate for that truth, I've made it my mission to acknowledge the beauty, the pain, and everything in between...most often, publicly.

Whether it's an Instagram caption turned mini blog post, a simple 140 character tweet, or an extensive post like this one that I've poured tears and so much more into...I have found that the sharing of our own realities and perceptions not only empowers us, but it breaks down the barrier that says conversations surrounding mental health are 'uncomfortable' or 'wrong' in the context of community...especially the religious/spiritual community.

I made a decision when I was first placed on anti-depressants and given a prescription for sedatives to calm me down during a panic attack or PTSD episode. That decision was this: there can be questions, there can be uncertainty, there can even be fear...but one thing you will never, ever find dwelling here is shame.

Let me tell you something, friends. Mental illness does not discriminate. That is unfortunate. Even tragic for some. But what we must also remember is that neither does the ability of HOPE to carry us through. There is always hope.

Physically, this has been the most painful year I've experienced yet. Mentally (though there were certainly moments of great triumph), I would have to say the same. It has been painful and so so heavy to carry this pain around and it's been even harder to the ignore the stigma that is associated with such struggles.

I have had 3 intense scares with my mental health in the past month where the idea of hurting myself became more than a distant thought. I spent several nights in hospital psych wards not knowing how I got there or if I would get to go home that day.

3 weeks later, I am much more stable. We have adjusted medications and I am being followed closely by multiple competent physicians. While I'm "okay," I'm also still struggling. That in and of itself (as previously mentioned) is a pretty freakin' weird limbo to be in.

A quote I read once says "it is necessary to let things go, very simply for the reason that they are heavy." That couldn't be more true, especially right now. I don't think I've ever resonated with something so strongly.

I have been given the opportunity to embark on a European study abroad adventure on January 4th and will be away until the 26th. I am very, very much looking forward to the respite and perspective this trip has the potential to provide and cannot wait to share those adventures through writing and pictures with many of you. For now, though, I need to (and am going to) step away.

Social media (and this blog in particular) is an instrumental part of my life and journey any way you hash it, but sometimes we need space -- even from the things that make us feel most alive and ourselves.

And there is no shame.


When I Feel Like I Can't Anymore

When you are first diagnosed with a chronic health condition, there are things that you are absolutely sure of and there are things that you are so cluelessly and desperately unsure of. There is no in between, usually.

The way you feel and think about things becomes pretty black and white. It's one or the other. It's yes-- you're going to follow through with your commitments, or it's no-- your pain level is far too high to stick to the original plan(s). It's yes-- you're going to class and work today, or it's no-- you'll be staying in bed resting and attempting to *maybe* save up just enough energy to take a hot shower at some point.

You are sure you are in pain. You are unsure how long said pain is going to last. You are sure there was a point in your life when you were not in pain. You are unsure how that painlessness felt. You are sure you are "okay." You are unsure of how much longer you will be "okay" for.

Though I do it on a daily basis and dealing with the pain has become that of a second nature to me, there are times when I feel like I can't anymore.

On Tuesday, I had spinal injections for the first time in about 10 weeks. My neck pain and migraines had been coming back with a vengeance the week and a half before. I was excited for relief, but I knew that (as is the case with any procedure)... relief is not instantaneous. In fact, the 48 hours following a procedure of this nature usually suck a good amount.

As I awoke Wednesday morning I quickly noticed I could hardly hold my head up. It was in the exact moment that I let my head fall back onto the pillow that the words "I just can't" echoed through my mind. As pain shot back and forth from my head to my neck and then back to my head again, I reached for my iPhone, turned the brightness all the way down, and started drafting an email to the professor of my morning class.
"I won't be in class this morning due to pain following a spinal procedure I had yesterday. I can't..."
I wrote what I needed to. Attempted to keep it short and to the point. And though it killed me to type out those last two words... the very two words that make me feel beyond useless, helpless, and just plain angry... I accepted them.

Call it hopelessness. Call it settling. Call it depression, even. You can call it whatever you'd like to... but for me, it is simply reality and arriving at the awareness of feeling like I can't helps me to eventually arrive at the conclusion that I can... and that I already am.

When we feel as if we can't (in any circumstance), we need to remind ourselves of who we are. I'll start. Friends, I'm Kenzie. No diagnosis, no level of pain, no medication, and no lab test or scan result will change the fact that I am alive and human in this moment. Remind yourself of that fact daily. I would even go as far as challenging to remind yourself of that fact MOMENTARILY. We each have a life to life and a choice in how to live it. And we aren't living our own, individual lives... no one will.

I got out of bed for my next class on Wednesday. Though the pain was still running rampant between my head and neck, I managed to remind myself who I am and the strength that came from doing so got me to the shower, into some clothes, and on my way to class. The strength I found in remembering (plus a little help from pain meds) carried me through until I could finally lay down to rest again that evening.

And all that remembering led me to some more remembering. Remembering that when I feel like I can't anymore... I can stop, take a few deep breaths, and pray. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can reach out and utilize my incredible support system. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can choose positivity, joy, hope... even worship. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can allow myself to rest. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can reflect on all of the times that I did...

...and suddenly, when I feel like I can't anymore... I CAN.


I Am Not a Hazardous Weapon

I don't know how many of you who read these diminutive posts suffer from chronic illness, but I do know that there are a few.

To begin this post, I'd just like to say thank you to those few in particular. Thank you for being the reason why I want to share my struggles with chronic pain caused by autoimmune disease. You are the reason I don't settle for the semblance of labeling myself insane. The support system I've found through YOU, others who experience this pain, has become such an essential weapon in my fight against this disease. There is just no possible way I could do it alone.

Today, I want to talk about the way I've been feeling in a way that I never have before. I don't know if I'll be able to find the adequate words to describe it, but I know there's a significant part of me that feels someone, somewhere out there, feels this way too...

I feel like a grenade, I guess. A ticking time bomb. As the possibility of inflammation spreading to my organs, joint replacement surgeries, and medications that'll make me lose my hair creep their way into conversations with my doctors... This feeling grows. It multiplies until it becomes overbearing. Now, I sit here typing, bruised, battered, and swollen from injections this week feeling trapped. Cornered. Completely ambushed.

In the past 6 months, I have felt and watched myself withdrawing from people who have been nothing but supportive since the day of my diagnosis. I have watched myself say "no" to hanging out with my best friends and hit the snooze button ten times because I am actually unsure if I can make it through another day without breaking down. I have watched myself neglect digging into God's word, singing worship songs, and even praying. My attitude has become one that says "save it." Don't save me, save it. Save yourself the hurt, because this disease...this is going to be the death of me one day.

I guess I feel wounded. Like I'm truly some sort of bomb waiting to explode. I can't help but imagine that when that happens, everyone around me is going to be left hurting and picking up the pieces. Blaming themselves for the tragic flaws within myself; things that were never fixable...and that devastates me to no end. That makes me want to unexist, if that makes any sense at all. It makes me want to minimize the casualties, per say.

I'm not depressed. I'm not suicidal. I just don't want to hurt people anymore. I want to lay in bed, listen to music, and read books. Occasionally, I want to go for a nice, long run. I want to pray and know that God will accept me into Heaven when the time comes. I don't want to be normal. I can't be normal when I feel like I'm some sort of hazardous weapon.

Truthfully, I know that no one else sees me this way. I know my friends would do anything at any hour of the day to make sure I'm comfortable. I know my team of specialists will do whatever they can to keep me comfortable. I know my teachers will sit and listen to me cry for a solid two hours afterschool if I need it. I know my family tries their hardest to understand the way I feel. I know all of that. But I don't feel it, I guess.

What I feel is as if there are constantly waves are washing over me and I'm left breathing...miraculously. Somehow. All the while, I'm watching everyone else go in and out of the water. They can walk. It almost appears as if they have received a choice while my feet are stuck in the submerged sand and the waves continue to rise and fall all around me.

I don't know when I started feeling this way, exactly. And I know it's a season that will pass. An insecurity the devil is feeding off of. My pain levels have been quite elevated and that always has a lot to do with my desire to step back from things. I'm trying so formidably to focus on the big picture. Thankfully, God gave me some vivid, definite hope last night when He spoke to me through a friend and said, "When you are suffering, child, you are so much closer to Me on the cross."

That reassurance is all I needed. I'm not some character in a book who suffers from a tragic flaw. I am not an unlovable or complicated teenage girl who comes with too much baggage. I am not a death sentence or someone who unpretentiously inflicts pain. I am not a hazardous weapon. I am a work of Christ, a work in progress, and He is far from finished with me yet.


I Struggled

About three years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and was put on an anti-depressant that (in my opinion) seemed to make everything worse. My anxiety was at an all time high because I was in so much pain and hadn't been diagnosed with a specific condition. Therefore, treatment was nonexistent.

To this day, I'm not sure if I really struggled with depression or if the doctor's just needed something to "blame" the pain on as juvenile arthritis wasn't mentioned until about six months after my depression "diagnosis." To say the least, there were a lot of unanswered doctor's were helpless. I was helpless.

I remember so many occasions where I walked into school, threw my books in my locker, and went straight to the bathroom to cry...and I remember doing it all without anyone noticing me.  It wasn't until I said, "Enough is enough - I don't want to live like this" that things got any better. No anti-depressant can give you a piece of mind that says, "This life IS worth living. I have a purpose." I truly believe that can only come from God.

Finally, I told my parents and my doctor that this medication wasn't for me. I quit taking it cold turkey and ended up staying wide awake for nearly 72 hours straight. The side effects were horrible, but I didn't want my body being hindered by the medication that took away my energy and feelings of purpose any longer.

I didn't get my smile back magically by any means, but I started to realize that a medication was not going to make me feel alive...I needed to push myself to stay social, to stay active, to stay ME...even while I was in a significant amount of pain, I realized the importance of remaining myself.

I know there were days that it didn't look like I was fact, I'm sure I cried MORE after I made the decision to ditch the medication...because it was HARD. But, in hindsight, I can say it was my best decision to date. I learned to cherish the good days more than ever during that period of time because I realized that they were often few and far between. I also learned to appreciate the bad days for what they were.

I don't think my smile ever really went away, but it was hidden for a long, long time. I wasn't happy with my life, myself, or my circumstances, but there was a hope that kept me going and believing for better days...and His name is Jesus.

That same hope is what I still hold onto today and I know I'll be holding onto tomorrow. I'm so thankful that He is so much stronger than anything that we will ever have to face here on earth.

When I meet Jesus face to face, I highly, highly doubt that I will be looking back on my circumstances/struggles and say to Him with a frown... "Look what you made me endure." I imagine the only thing I'll be able to mutter out will be something along the lines of, "Thank You. Thank You for carrying me through."

I struggled, and there are days I still do...but the battle over my heart and happiness here on earth has already been Jesus.