Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression: It's Real, It's Horrible, It Can Be a Consequence of Betrayal. But It Doesn't Have to Be Fatal

I recently read a Goodreads interview with The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho about his latest novel  Adultery. Asked why he chose this particular topic, he responded that he was planning to write about depression because so many of his social media followers dealt with it. But when he asked his followers to talk to him about their depression, he discovered that, for many, the depression was a consequence of betrayal.
And then news came that Robin Williams died. His battle with depression was well disguised by his infectious energy and the beauty of that Cheshire cat grin, but it was there. Hungry.
And while Williams' depression was mental illness – presumably the result of out-of-balance brain chemistry – depression triggered by a painful life event is as real, as devastating and as deserving of our compassion. For self and others.
As so many Facebook posts and Tweets are reminding us today, depression lies. Depression tells us we don't matter. But we do. Depression tells us things will never get better. But things do get better. Sometimes they get worse first...but every day we have proof that things get better. Illnesses are healed. Friends reach out. The clouds part and the sun shines down, literally. Things don't always get better as quickly as we'd like. And depression relies on us not having the patience to wait it out.
Depression insists that we're to blame for our problems. If we were smarter, if we were prettier, if we were thinner/kinder/more fun...then he wouldn't reject us. He wouldn't choose someone else over us.
That, too, is a lie. And a dangerous one.
But depression's biggest lie is that life isn't worth living. 
I believed that. I believed it so much that I thought about ways to kill myself. After swimming my entire childhood in emotional neglect and shame, I thought I'd built my adult life on solid shore. So when that turned out to be an illusion, I wanted to give up. I didn't think I had the strength to get back up again. I told my therapist I was just too tired. Too tired of getting knocked down and picking myself up. Too tired of being hurt. Too tired to convince myself that life wasn't just a slog to the end.
She urged me to try anti-depressants. I resisted. My mother had spent decades on lithium and years trying to get off it. She had mixed her prescription meds with plenty of booze and gone, literally, crazy. I would visit her in the psych hospital, extend my hand and say, "I'm Elle. Your daughter." It hurt like hell that she remembered my brother but not me. More proof, I figured, that I didn't count for much.
So, given that the only other viable alternative for me seemed to be swerving my bike into the path of an oncoming truck (I figured it would be considered an accident and my kids would not suffer the stigma of a mother who killed herself, as my own had attempted more than once), I caved in to the meds.
Within a few days, the clouds seemed to lift slightly. Within a couple of weeks, I had the energy to put some effort into getting dressed.
And slowly, with therapy and time and those detested meds, the depression lifted. I also revisited those old childhood wounds, ripped open and bleeding from my husband's betrayal, and challenged many of my deeply entrenched beliefs. That I never quite measured up no matter how perfect my life appeared on the outside. That people only cared about me because they didn't know the "real" me. I can see now that I vastly overestimated my ability to fool people and vastly underestimated the love and compassion that exists in this world. People prefer the imperfect me to the "perfect" one, hands down.
But I'm also aware, as I write this, that I've relegated that dark chapter of depression to my "past" and that I wonder how effectively I respond to those of you who still are there.
I wonder if my rah-rah brand of betrayal support doesn't acknowledge enough just how debilitating depression can be.
If I've ever seemed dismissive of your pain, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't remember how horrible it was to feel nothing but blackness. It's that I now know it's possible to move forward from that.
But I want to take this opportunity to say that I'm aware that depression sucks the marrow from our bones. It turns us into shadows.
But the you – that beautiful, divine you that the world needs – is still there. And you need to fight like hell to find your way into the sunlight again. Maybe it's with the help of meds. Maybe it's with the help of a therapist or two or three. It takes a village, after all. Maybe it's with the support of a remorseful spouse or with the absence of one who never deserved you in the first place. Maybe it's posting like a madwoman on this site or any other that feeds your soul.
Let us be your army in this battle. Let us remind you as often as you need it that we have fought and, in so many cases, triumphed.
Depression is real, it's horrible, and it can absolutely be brought on the deep wound of betrayal.
But it doesn't have to be fatal.

Resources:
Suicide hotlines -- international list
National Association of Mental Illness/Depression
Mind Your Mind/Canada

13 comments:

  1. We have lost so many people to depression and I thank you Elle for this timely post today. There are so many survivors of betrayal/ depression out there who have lived, breathed depression that have come through the dark into the light. So many people cope in different ways I cried, listened to sad songs, physically and emotionally wore myself till I fought my way back this site was vital to my recovery I know I've mentioned this time and time again but you have to take the credit for my healing if not many more Elle. If others out there who are struggling only knew about this site it was by chance I stumbled across it and thank god I did. I'm nearly a year out now and continuing to work at my marriage which is probably the best it's been in 12 years I know now we must try everyday to keep our marriage healthy, happy and worthwhile. I'm one step close to happiness. Thank you Elle and all the btw on this site x x x x

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  2. Thank you Elle. You have such a way with words. I always appreciate your views. You just really seem to understand what I am going though. You just "get it". I am still very much in the 'dark', but I hope that someday I won't be. That I won't cry at the drop of a hat or have a panic attack out of nowhere. I hope i can forgive even if i can't forget. I hope I can pick up the pieces of my shattered soul and find peace and happiness. You give me hope. Thanks again.

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  3. Thank you so much for your post. Sharing your personal vulnerabilities is such a generous gift to those of us who share the pain of adultery. I had also read that interview with Paul Coelho and found it very interesting. I am beginning to think that there is depression in every aspect of adultery for everyone involved. The problem is recognising it and not self-medicating with adulterous relationships.

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  4. Thank you for a really insightful post, Elle. I am an adult survior of a mentally ill parent. My father was a violent paranoid schizophrenic with full blown episodes of hallucinations that would would take him to the psych hospital for electric shock therapy over many years of his life. Awful doesn't describe this disease and no one signs up for it anymore than they would for MS. Because of my mother's own horrible father, she stayed with my father for the first twelve years of my life letting her beat her up and raping her. As a young child, I literally hid under the bed or in the closet trying to stay out of danger. Those memories of my father slashing his wrists and my mother taking an overdose of sleeping pills have stayed with me forever despite the years of therapy. I was the poster child for fear, so when I met my husband I thought I had found safety. Not so. Like you said, betrayal opens up old wounds.
    I did try Prosac for a few years but felt it left me numb. I wanted to feel my life. On Prosac I felt like I was treading water. In my experience, depression is like these dark sticky cobwebs. Just hard to make it let go and my therapist has said that with each period of depression the next episode maybe worse. For me being marginalized at a young age made me accept a lot of my husband's behavior that was so very wrong. I've learned to not be as passive but it's really hard to let go of the victim role I was taught in childhood. Maybe the best part of your site is realizing that women need to see that others have survived the betrayal and not let it define them.

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  5. Beautiful post Elle - and I agree that sadly betrayal and depression go together like a hand in a glove.

    I came across this today which seemed to fit ....

    "We all feel lost from time to time. Life sometimes takes unexpected turns and we find ourselves navigating circumstances not of our choosing. If you are experiencing such a passage, we send you love. Life has a way of working out. Even when we cannot imagine how. Trust the resiliency of your soul to help you find your way into the sunshine again. We love you."

    Ladies, I send you all love as we each walk our paths back to the sunshine.

    xM

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  6. Thank you for this post Elle. Three weeks without you writing is too long! So many in my life have made me feel dismissed or pathetic or week. You have never ever given that impression. Your blog has been a lifeline to me. My DDay was 9/30/2013. The affair ended when he was caught and we worked very very hard to recover but in May he decided it was just too hard for him to heal while living with me. He was in the pit of depression, filled with shame for his choices and the wake of destruction behind him. I had been struggling with depression before this but now it is suffocating me some days. I feel crazy!! Any recovery from DDay feels erased and I don't know which way is up. I moved closer to family and am looking for a job-I haven't worked full time in 25 years. I read my Bible and pray a lot; I walk my dog and breathe ocean air. I make myself eat. I feel dead inside. Do you ever legitimately smile from your soul again? Belly laugh? I don't even remember what it feels like! I started blogging to myself hahaha just so I could talk about my feelings without judgement from team me or team husband (no one gets we are the same team). When I read what I have written, I have about decided I am going crazy!! Again I say, this blog has been a lifeline. Any advice??

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    1. Ella,
      Sorry for my absence. Kids home, holidays, sick mother-in-law...the usual stuff that gets in the way. But I agree -- three weeks is too long!
      I have no advice. I think you're doing everything you need to be doing. But the human brain hates uncertainty. It hates pain. Which is the reason why so many self-medicate -- with booze, drugs, shopping, gambling, video gaming, sex. But living with that pain -- trusting that it won't last forever -- is what this is about. Learning that it won't swallow you whole. Learning that the pain is strong, but you are stronger. Anyone in your life who is dismissing you as pathetic or weak simply doesn't know you. You are a warrior. You are fighting a battle for your heart and your soul. The fact that you are able to walk out the door with your dog, that you are praying, that you are breathing ocean air is a testament to your strength. I'm completely serious here. You are winning this battle. Whatever your husband decides to do with his life, you are going to be fine. That's not the same as saying you won't be sad. That you won't still have pain to get through. It's saying that you are capable of feeling sadness and pain...but that you will also come to a place where you feel joy and experience belly laughs. That your soul smiles again.
      You're getting there, Ella. I know you are.

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  7. Again I say you are a lifeline. Thank you Elle for the encouragement. I needed that pep talk! <3

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  8. Thank you for writing on this. I heard of Robin Williams passing on the way to my therapist office. I was hit hard. And then I realized "why." Because I also understand the soul sinking of depression. It calls to you and your conscious brain can't always keep you from getting sucked into the vortex or as you aptly stated, the shadows. My only answer is to keep on going be remembering the moments when I didnt feel like a sunken ship, when I felt buoyed by joy and my very existence. Even it I can't feel those moments, I remind myself that they existed.
    I imagine that Robin Williams felt this his whole life and I imagine that 63 years of it can destroy your ability to be resilient and not feel dead when circumstance brings you pain.

    -MBS

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  9. Another late night and still trying to find answers. I am so glad I came across to this blog. I have so many questions that I don't know where to begin. My emotions are a roller coaster. I go from hating every fiber in his being to momentarily being hopeful that together we can get through this. It is precisely when I want to work things out that I feel overwhelmed with shame and self looting. That voice that says: What's wrong with you? Don't you love yourself? What are you doing still here?. DDay was a year ago, postpartum depression didn't help things. I thought I could be strong until panic attacks and suicidal thoughts ran through my head. That's when I got help (meds) they helped because just a week ago out of nowhere he came out with a "full disclosure". I don't know what to make of it other than my stubbornness to be true to my gut feelings finally paid off. Never believed his "story" 100%. Here I am feeling like these 8 years have been nothing but a lie. The nice shy guy turned out to be a sex addict (Internet porn, massage parlors, and escorts). I feel disgusted but as much as they say it is not your fault. I can't feel nothing but disappointment in myself. I was sexually abused when I was 4 years old and I thought all those years of keeping my guard up and avoiding long term relationship like plague would help me stay safe. Why? There were signs that something was off but I couldn't put my finger on it. The mood swings, the nervousness, the temper, the inability to express feelings at times. Could I have saved myself heartache and walk out then? I assumed he struggle with something but never thought it would be SA. Is there hope for a SA once in recovery? I am so afraid of going to therapy and being labeled a codependent. It will be a pill hard to swallow. Any suggestions to start moving away from hurt, fear, and anger?

    First time I can really say how I feel. Thank you for creating this place Elle! You have a great way with words and your writing is just beautiful.

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    1. Everything you're feeling is so "normal", under the circumstances. The up and down, the self-blame, especially when you've overcome abuse in childhood.
      To answer your question -- yes, there's absolutely hope to overcome SA. My husband was (is, according to 12-step parlance) a sex addict but has had no slips since the day he confessed to me. He sought counselling from someone who specializes in SA. What's more, he was so disgusted with himself that he couldn't stand it any longer. He's done a lot of work around his shame and anxiety and is a happier, more loving and more supportive partner.
      That said, not all do recover and not all recover without relapses. It's like any addiction and takes incredible commitment and support to move through.
      In the meantime, however, it's important that you get counselling for everything you're going through. As you noted, this is triggering a lot of feelings about your past abuse and concerns that you should have avoided any relationships rather than be hurt again. That might work...but is really no way to live. I'm so sorry that you've been betrayed by important people in your life -- people who betrayed your trust. But it's so important that you deal with this recent trauma so that you can understand, deeply, that the betrayal -- then and now -- had nothing to do with you. It affected you absolutely. But it was never because there way anything wrong with you. Quite the contrary -- you are whole and worthy and needed in this world.
      I understand your fear of being labelled co-dependent. I fought like hell against that and still resist it. I did concede, however, to recognizing that it was unhealed stuff from my own childhood that allowed me to overlook behaviour that might have signalled alarm in someone else. Because I had absolutely NO clue that my husband was engaging in this behaviour (he was masterful at keeping it separate), I simply wasn't co-dependent in that sense. BUT...I did tolerate other behaviours (emotional disconnect, for example) that made it easier for my husband to act out.
      I hope you'll keep an open mind and hear out what a counsellor might have to say. Just because he/she thinks something doesn't make it true for you. You have every right to accept/reject their assessment. But an open mind makes it more likely that you'll accept or reject their point of view based on analysis and not some knee-jerk response.
      That's a long way of saying, I hope you'll seek help in order to get support. And please continue to share here. We've been where you are. And we can guide you toward healing.

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  10. Thankyou Elle for bringing light to the strangling effect that depression can have on people post affair, I have shared my journey on here, a few times, each post was in different stages since we started recovering from all the trauma and destruction his betrayal caused in our lives at the time.
    I've evolved through different 'seasons' of grieving since my d'day, 19th April '13, I am definitely in a better place now, on the outside, I am better physically, with that has come more confidence, and I search for the positive forces in my life rather than wait and expect for them to fall in my lap. However, there's a part of me that still struggles with teary anxiety attacks, crying episodes that take 1 or 2 days to shake off, and its not the one tear rolling down the cheek kind of thing, it's the painful, from the soul kind of crying. All it takes is a single thought, a drive through a location where I know 'things' occured, or just taking a parallel view of a long timeline of hurts and emotional trauma that I suffered throughout this journey of discovering his affair, and wondering if this is the way it's going to impact me for the rest of my life? My worst enemy is the inner voice that says to me.."she was skinnier than you, she was prettier, she doesnt come with all the stress and kids, if he really loved you he would've worked through his issues with YOU rather than indulge in HER, you'll never be good enough". I was having coffee with my friend the other day, and I described to her how I see my depression in a visual sense, and I called it layers. The surface layer includes all the humdrums of daily life, good/bad, then below the surface layer is the next layer, a constant underlying current of emotions, many facets left by the impact of his recent cheating, still patiently waiting to be processed and filed away.... pain, anxiety, fears, sadness. Then theres the bottom layer of much earlier issues not properly dealt with, parents rocky marriage, divorce, my fathers infidelities, my mothers depression, sexual abuse as a child. And when things boil over on the top layer, spills down to the second, and then third, that is when I feel like I'm drowning. So despite having done everything I can do to fight this in the best way possible, I am finally off to see tge doc next week, and will start with talking....:)

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    1. I'm glad you're seeking counselling to help you fight back. The voice of that critic can be deafening. As your counsellor with help you understand, however, that voice -- the critic -- isn't truth. It's everything you've ever been told about yourself...and that you've chosen to believe. I suspect you have many people in your life who would be shocked at what you say to yourself. And I suspect as well you would never speak to your friends as cruelly as you speak to yourself.
      Betrayal triggers so many of our deepest fears -- primarily that we're not enough. Healing from betrayal, however, gives us the chance to reject that deep belief. To excavate it once and for all and recognize that we are enough, we've always been enough.
      You'll get there. It's a long journey but you're well on your way.

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