A couple of years ago, I was spending my Friday night watching “20/20,” drinking a glass of wine, eating dark chocolate, and perusing through Pinterest – enjoying all of my favorite guilty pleasures and celebrating the end of the work week.
I listened to the familiar, ominous voiceover, “She had the perfect home, the perfect children, and the perfect marriage. Life, was indeed, perfect. Or was it? A closer look revealed that she had a penchant for drinking red wine while taking antidepressants…”
“Are you freaking kidding me?!” I screamed at the TV. I immediately called my best friend. “Just so you know, if I ever die a suspicious death, it was definitely my husband. Don’t let those assholes on “20/20” spin it like I killed myself because of red wine and antidepressants. If anything, I haven’t killed myself because of antidepressants and red wine.”
Not that my husband is capable of murder, but let’s face it, it’s always the husband. (Sorry honey.)
I am the face of Zoloft. The wine-drinking face of Zoloft. (I mean, not officially or anything, unless Pfizer is looking for a new paid spokesperson for the drug, in which case I would be happy to talk numbers.)
Among the many turns I never saw my life taking – three children, small town living, complete lack of travel itinerary – this is the one that blindsided me the most.
After all, I lost my taste for wine during a trip to Europe sophomore year, when a late night of drinking hot mulled wine resulted in five of us getting a tad bit lost in London and missing our train to Wales the next morning.
And as far as antidepressants went, well, I was naturally and chronically optimistic. My glass was never just half full, it was half full on Two-For-Tuesday and the cute guy at the bar had just sent over another round. Boom!
Plus, I eat well, exercise regularly, have a career that I love, supportive family, loving spouse, healthy children, close friends, and spend at least 10 minutes a day petting a dog, so I knew depression couldn’t happen to me. Until, of course, I realized that it already had.
It started with my first pregnancy. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” details all the signs of postpartum depression, but doesn’t mention that the onslaught of hormones at the beginning of pregnancy might be capable of causing the same symptoms. It took us two years to notice.
Not that we didn’t notice changes in mood before that. I was hardly a joy to come home to during that period, but there was always something else to pin it on, to explain away the feelings of detachment, of loneliness, anger, sadness, and frustration. A big move, career changes, new baby, buying and selling of houses, adjusting to parenthood…
Without citing any research, I would guess that this is one of the biggest challenges facing the diagnosis and treatment of depression – the idea that it can’t happen to me. Or that it can’t happen to that young professional because of her great education and impressive job, or to the outgoing college student who is adored by his family and friends, or to a multitude of others who just seem to have it all together, who have lives that many of us would envy.
Depression is also surrounded by silence that continues to push the illness further away, making it again something that happens to “other people.” This is the first time I have shared my story publicly and it’s long overdue. A story shared can do so much. It can result in a diagnosis, as it did for me as I listened to my own life being told in the words of a friend describing the symptoms of her depression and her path to seeking treatment.
A story shared can offer support to the family and friends of loved ones suffering from the disease. It offers hope, reassurance that you are not alone, not crazy, not destined to end up on the wrong side of the twisted plot on a prime-time real life crime show. Most importantly, a story shared starts the conversation about mental illness.
Within days of starting treatment, I felt more like myself than I had in two years. I don’t know that I can begin to explain what a relief that was – to be me again: my husband’s partner, children’s mother, a true friend to my friends. I now consider myself depressed in the same way that I am asthmatic: I rarely think about it, but would no sooner give up Zoloft than I would the steroid inhaler that allows my lungs to function properly.
My hope in writing this piece is that you’ll either love it or hate it. That you found it beautifully written, or horribly distasteful. Or have decided that, upon further review, I am a mentally ill, borderline alcoholic whose life will someday make an intriguing 20/20 episode.
Mostly, I hope this column struck a chord in you that makes you want to share it, or to share your own story, or the story of a loved one. Because until we break the silence of depression, there will continue to be far too many of our friends, family, coworkers, and loved ones who never have the chance to realize that what they are going through is treatable.