12.30.2016

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 so...today, 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.

"I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing."
- Jeremiah 31:13

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.


7 comments:

Rick said...

As a young boy, I often prayed those same two prayers. The good thing is that today I feel better than ever.

For years I was so depressed it make me angry. I do not know how to make it better; time? age? love? beats me. What I do know is that today feel better than ever.

I wish the same for you every day. I use therapy and an anti-depressant. I can not suggest those for everyone or really anyone. All I can say is that I got better as I got older. I hope you find your way sooner than later. having depression is tough. many positive thoughts from Sheryl and myself.

Lisa @ Naptime Chai said...

You're so brave (always!) for writing such honest words. I hope your 2017 starts off super, super well and that you feel great all around. <3

katielookingforward said...

Love to you. Enjoy your trip! I admire your strength.

Kate Mitchell said...

Thank you for sharing this; I know how hard it can be! I've dealt with depression off and on for the past 10 years, and it started in the period of several years when no one knew what was wrong and I saw many, many doctors who said, in a variety of terms, that there was no physical reason for my pain. Obviously, they were very, very wrong. It's so hard to admit to mental health problems at all, but that's especially so when the problem is to the extent that you've dealt with. As always, thank you for sharing your story! You're in my prayers.

Allie said...

This is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing - I'm sure it was really hard. There's a lot of power in being this real.

CL59 said...

Trust that your words have deeply touched the souls of many. You're a brave warrior, Kenzie. And yes, even the bravest of warriors need a time of solitude. I have always admired your honesty. Your courage is unmeasurable. May you find joy in the simplest places. Wishing you a peace that surpasses all understanding. Carry on, warrior - carry on. #WeAllHaveAStory #ChronicLife #TeamKenzie

Mmilne said...

As I read your words I passed from goosebumps to tears until ending with a large exhalation. I don't know at what point I started holding my breath. Only that my ribs froze in that familiar space of fear while whispering 'thank you' at the same time.

I have always wanted to blog about living with chronic pain, illness and the depression it causes, but I have not wanted to add weight to the shoulders of an already overburdened society in support of the disabled. That and there is, of course the base fear of baring my innermost thoughts to a collective unknown where trolls wait to pounce.

You make me want to take pen to paper though to share the depths and exaltations of this life and lessons learned through this path.

Now I only need to find the energy, strength and time to do it. Thank you for making this enough of a priority so that i can learn from you. There is strength in admitting struggles.Thank you for helping me feel the weakness (my perception for myself only) during my most painful moment is not weakness but strength instead. When I can come out on the other side still intact with all the fissures of my being still together, i can exhale. Though some connections scrambled, muted or buried, but still mine, may I find the absence of shame as you have.

Please Keep speaking your truth. In these connections may we all learn to lift the curtains on our own as well.