April 12, 2016

Breaking Through Depression: How a Trip to the Laundromat Saved My Life.

laundrette, laundromat

I want to tell you a truth. There is hope.

I suffered from major depressive disorder, insomnia and anxiety most of my life. I’ve been medicated (with a cocktail of scripts) for over 20 years.

I’ve tried to go off my meds at least ten times. It’s never pretty. Last time I tried it—against doctor’s order—the only reason I didn’t end up in the psych ward was because it was homecoming week during my son’s senior year.

I finally accepted that meds were a lifetime gig for me. I accepted that my mental battles are chemical imbalances that require medication, just like diabetics need insulin.

I spent at least the seven years in bed. Literally. I went to work, came home and went to bed. Every moment that I was awake and not at work, I was in bed. The best way to illustrate how bad my depression was is to describe the lowest of the low point for me.

I have two dogs that I adore. They are always in bed with me. One day, one of them threw up in my bed. As dogs sometimes do, the other dog ate the vomit. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I did not bother to change my sheets—for weeks.

I quit wearing underwear years ago because I stopped doing laundry and didn’t have any clean ones to wear. Then my therapist had a brilliant idea. She suggested I take all of my laundry to the laundromat and get it all done at the same time.

There’s life before the laundromat—and life after the laundromat.

My beautiful sister took me there one fall day in 2013. We took everything that could be washed (rugs, mattress pads and comforters). We did 44 loads of laundry that day. It was a turning point for me.

Without having the piles of laundry staring at me in the face and the seemingly unsurmountable mountain to tackle, life suddenly seemed so much more manageable. I got involved in some groups on Facebook, connected with others and actually started getting out of the house.

I connected with another mom of a senior at my son’s high school and we went thrifting on Saturdays. I later found out that my son offered to pay her gas money just to get me out of the house. I was both horrified and touched by his gesture.

A few months after that, my son left for college and I finally felt free to take care of myself. I was the only one left and there was no one to take care of but me. When my parents were alive and my son was here, it was easy to put them first. But when I was the only one around, it was hard to look myself in the mirror and not take care of myself.

I hadn’t cut my hair in five years—not since my mom died. Many days I went to work without even showering. I simply pulled my hair back in a clip or threw it in a ponytail. That was no longer acceptable.

I had no choice but to love myself. I learned to have compassion for myself. I made new friends. They loved me, so it seemed okay for me to love me.

I met one of my best new friends in a Facebook group for Empty Nest Moms. Even though she lives out of town, we learned that we both used to dance at the same club “back in the day.”

So we started going there again. It became a weekly thing. I became addicted to dancing. I’ve never had a runner’s high, but there’s a dancing high, and I love it.

We invited friends along and soon we had a large group that went dancing weekly. Even after the dance group fell apart, I still kept on dancing. Alone. It’s a release for me and something I cherish and look forward to every week.

Then some unexpected surprises came along.

At the same time my son left for college, I also got very sick with an undiagnosed digestive disease.  The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. Every time I ate, food went right through me. I ended up losing 110 pounds over the course of a year from this illness, dancing the whole time.

I also began having terrible periods. Twice monthly with horrendous cramping, which was so far from my typical half day that it really threw me for a loop.

While I was managing these two illnesses, I was working for the CEO of a large insurance company.  Suddenly, I was let go from my job of 10 years (after spending 25 years in the industry.)

I had surgery the day after my last day of employment to fix my menstrual problem and not-surprisingly, because I was no longer going to my toxic work environment, my digestive problems vanished as well.  My job elimination was truly a blessing— not even in disguise.

I realized through this process that I had been living unconsciously for a long time. Probably my whole life (except the last year and a half.)

I’m also thinking that I wasn’t depressed at all. My self was repressed and suppressed.

I was never allowed to be who I am. From the time I could talk, I was told, “Don’t be so sensitive.” “You’re so dramatic.” “Don’t take things so personally.”

My best characteristic, my superpower, was shut down and insulted. My sensitivity makes me the compassionate, caring thoughtful woman I am. So I retreated, became small on the inside and larger on the outside while I literally ate my anger and other feelings I wasn’t allowed to express.

Once I started being myself, instead of who other people wanted me to be, the more authentic  and happier I was. It’s odd to finally be “waking up” to yourself at nearly 45 years old. I’m now living my life my way. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I don’t give a fu*k what anybody else thinks.

When I saw my med doctor earlier this summer, she said, “Hello butterfly! I think it’s time we back off your meds.” 

Wow. What a difference a year makes.

I am now med-free. I have successfully weaned off of four psych meds, including a benzodiazepine, which is one of the most difficult meds to discontinue. It wasn’t the easiest process and I’ve had many sleepless nights, but it is very freeing to not be controlled by medication anymore.

You never know what’s around the corner. Don’t give up. You also never know what reaching out to someone can do to help them in ways you’d never imagine.

I’m so grateful.


Author:  Melissa Drake

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo: Sara Kärpänen

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