When I was in the hospital, I spent some time learning about Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief: isolation and denial, anger, bargaining, depression (ironically) and acceptance. My therapy team brought this to my attention because I started there exhibiting serious signs of denial. Despite having identified the depression to my own therapist and seeking help prior to my hospital admission, I struggled through doubts about my diagnosis. I KNEW it was the right diagnosis, but I really struggled to accept it.
I kept thinking I should just be able to do all of the things I was struggling to do. I mean, seriously, how hard is it to stay awake past 8:30 p.m.? And how hard is it to decide what to eat for dinner? Why is it hard to get up and get dressed in the morning? What kind of person can't step into their own office without having a panic attack?
The answer to all of those questions? It's hard because you have a mental illness. It's hard because you suffer from generalized panic disorder and severe depression. It's hard because you are sick. Those were very difficult answers for me to come to terms with. I heard them over and over, although less often than I asked those questions in my head.
I had a tearful session with the staff psychiatrist about medication. I was terrified to start them. I was afraid of the side effects. I was afraid I'd be a "different" me. I was afraid my children would notice the change. I was so far gone that I couldn't recognize the changes my sweet babies were already living with. More than once Kaia had come to me, to tell me something she had done or wanted, and prefaced a simple discussion with her mother with, "Are you going to be mad, Mommy?" Too often I watched my three and four year olds cover their ears when I got angry and began yelling. I apologized frequently for losing my patience. Thankfully, my doctor was not living inside my head and told me, point blank, that my children probably miss the me that had been hiding inside me during this depression. The real me. I didn't even know who the real me was anymore. I had been slipping so slowly and then hopelessly into the depression that I believed that the ugliness that I embodied was just who I was now.
During my follow-up with the doc a few days later, we discussed my original diagnosis in an effort to rule out bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that I ironically feel would have been easier for me to accept because I am of the opinion that it is a "real" mental illness. Then I got mad. Which was it? Was I depressed? Was I bipolar? Does anyone even know? How can I get better if they don't even know what is wrong with me?
Bargaining came in the form of trying to regain control. I'll just do better. I'll get up two hours before I need to be up for therapy and I'll work through my emails. I'll work through the night. I'll just make a schedule and stick to it: 5:00 a.m. wake up, 5:15 shower, 5:35 coffee....it was almost a joke considering I couldn't do the simplest things. I'll go back to school and do something different. I'll set up the home office and be able to work there. I would never have been capable of making so many changes without changing my mindset.
Depression. It speaks for itself. I was depressed that I was depressed. I was grieving the life I wanted, that I felt like maybe, just maybe I was entitled to. I was grieving the mother and person I wanted to be that I was failing so miserably to embody. I was sad that I was like this.
I am still sad that I am like this. I haven't quite mastered acceptance yet. I take my medication now. They were right about that - I needed it. It has made unimaginable differences and while I hope that it will serve as a temporary solution until I'm back to who I believe I am, I will take it as long as I have to. I say out loud that I have depression and anxiety. I admit to people my shortcomings. I cry in front of my husband. When life feels too hard, I forgive myself if I can't seem to muster more than PB&J for my kids' dinner. I accept that they'll survive if I don't bathe them every other night.
I have come a long way on my journey to acceptance. My acceptance, however, will never go as far as complacency. I will continue to learn and struggle and fight to be the person I ever so vaguely remember being before I found myself here.