Things are about to get real. Terrifyingly real. I’ve written about suicide, grief, infertility, pregnancy loss, rape and my struggles with my weight. But this has been the hardest thing I have ever written. It’s amazing how you can think you have done the hardest thing and then BAM! life shows you there are plenty of hard things to process. So, this is terrifying to write. But, I knew that I had to. Being who I am, it didn’t seem right to stay silent anymore.
Recently I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Major depressive disorder. I know, it took me by surprise too. I have been an advocate for mental health and speaking out and removing the stigma and coming out of the shadows, yet I couldn’t be, and didn’t want to be, open about what has been going on with me.
When I lost my first husband to suicide in 2002, my life was devastated. I had some really, really hard days, weeks, years. I had days where I cried all day. I had days where I didn’t want to get out of bed. But, having never dealt with depression before (anxiety, yes, but not depression), I truly didn’t (and still don’t) believe I was depressed. I was suffering from grief. Life altering grief. Unless you have also been punched in the gut by life altering grief, it’s hard to understand what it does to you physically and emotionally. Grief is what was making me want to stay in my pajamas all day and watch mindless TV. Grief is why I couldn’t eat or I binged on ice cream. Grief was normal. And with time, it got better. I always knew I would carry my grief forever, and I do carry it with me to this day. It was manageable. I was working. Training for a marathon. Seeing friends and family. It was HARD. But it was grief, and not clinical depression. I am very clear on that.
Fast forward to 2009 after remarrying and working and managing a successful solo law practice and living a life I never imagined I would have, the rug was again pulled out from under me when I couldn’t get pregnant. So began our journey with infertility. Blood tests and ultrasounds and IUIs and failed pregnancy tests and then IVF and a pregnancy. Hallelujah. Then, 10 weeks in being told the pregnancy wasn’t viable and waiting another week for a miscarriage that didn’t come and a D&C two days before my birthday, which also fell on Mother’s Day that year. Yes, that was a lovely timing by the universe. Grief. Questioning the universe. Not wanting to leave the house. Crying so much I thought the tears would never stop. Wondering if I could ever even undergo another procedure. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom. Maybe my husband and I should just spend our years traveling and seeing the world. Deciding that because we still had embryos available for IVF, that we wouldn’t stop until those were gone.
Becoming pregnant with twin boys and feeling like everything I had gone through was worth it just to see those two little fluttering bleeps on the ultrasound monitor. Loving every second (after I stopped vomiting and getting the most horrific migraines I have ever experienced during the first trimester) of my pregnancy. Feeling them flip and turn and kick and watching my huge alien belly move in bed at night as they both decided to stay awake from 2 am – 7 am and keep me awake with them. Delivering them both April 30, 2011 and looking at both of them and knowing that yes, I was meant to be a mother.
Then, when the boys were just two week old, while trying to survive on little to no sleep and struggling with breast-feeding and realizing that as much as I loved babies and was a star babysitter in my youth, motherhood was a whole different level, I was served with a multi million dollar lawsuit. Everything I had worked for – professionally and personally – was at risk of being destroyed – all because of a bitter ex client.
At 8 weeks post partum, I was exhausted beyond belief, so exhausted I was convinced the breast pump was speaking to me at night, and I was still bleeding heavily and due to sleep deprivation and stress, didn’t even realize how NOT normal that was. My husband drove the babies and I to the doctor, where another ultrasound showed I had retained placenta, growing in my uterus, tricking my body into thinking it was still pregnant. So, all the emotions I was feeling – all the tears I had shed – all the feelings of being totally overwhelmed – well, they sort of seemed to have a medical answer. So, a D&C was performed and I was sent home – with my husband, my twin babies, one with severe reflux, and a multi million dollar lawsuit hanging over my head (11 million to be exact).
I fought the lawsuit and it was a thorn in my side and a dark cloud over our home for two years. The first two years my sons spent on this Earth. I missed so much. Moments I will never get back. Moments where I was dealing with my lawyers or totally distracted. I thank the Good Lord every day that we had our very own Mary Poppins with us during that time. She was the magic and love and presence that our children needed. When mama was just stressed to the maximum. Everything about my career was being examined. Everything I did was being analyzed. My entire career was on the line. I was mad. I was mad at the person suing me; I was mad at the attorney who took the case; I was mad at the people I worked with. It took me a long time to realize just how much that lawsuit destroyed me. Destroyed my belief in the universe keeping a balance. Destroyed my belief in the field that I had been enmeshed with for over a decade. It made me question everything. But throughout, I knew that I did nothing wrong. I knew that my ethics and integrity in my field, if anything, were more of a hindrance in terms of referrals and other things, but in the long run would speak for themselves. I had an attorney who knew that this was incredibly wrong. She knew the pressure I was under, and she fought hard for me. The way I always fought for my clients. After two year and buckets of tears and missed moments, a Judge found the lawsuit completely without merit and it was dismissed. Vindication. And relief. But, I was a completely different person and my career would never be the same.
With the lawsuit dismissed, I could refocus on our precious boys and my husband who was having some health issues. Life could get back to normal. We could breathe again. Until we couldn’t.
A few short weeks after the lawsuit was dismissed, a dear friend who was family, not by blood but by love and affection, died by suicide. And we were shattered. So again, our sweet boys had parents who were either crying or distracted. We didn’t think our hearts could break any more. Until they did.
About 7 weeks after we said goodbye to our dear friend, we had to say goodbye to my father in law, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. My husband lost his two best friends within weeks of each other. Sometimes I don’t even know how we were mildly functional. The truth is that with two year old twin boys we had to be. They deserved as normal a life as possible.
The last almost 5 years have been a complete blur – and what has occurred during that time – sometimes I don’t believe it myself. In a nutshell, my husband endured over 12 surgeries in a 3 year period – the first a spinal fusion – I actually created this blog and wrote my very first piece in the hospital waiting room – typing instead of emotionally eating during that 9 hour procedure. That surgery unfortunately caused a three month loss of his voice. 3 year old twins who can’t read and a husband who couldn’t speak. Then, one of my sons took a freak fall down the stairs at my sister’s house and suffered a moderate concussion, which became severe when on day 3 he lost virtually all his language skills. Changed his life in ways I am still discovering. My other son dealt for two years with chronic strep until we finally decided to go ahead with the surgery to remove his tonsils when he was just 4. My career was in the toilet. We moved to a new neighborhood, which in Los Angeles terms is the equivalent of moving to Siberia – Angelenos get very tied to their geography and having to cross large intersections or freeways mean you won’t see your friends as often. We had to put our beloved 16 year old dog down. All the unresolved grief of all the years before came surging back as we cried buckets of tears for our sweet Roxy the Wonder Dog. The boys started kindergarten. We all tried to make new friends. I fantasized about moving to Ireland daily.
When the boy were about two, shortly after the deaths of our friend and my father in law, I hit a pretty low point. Crying a lot. Zero patience. It’s hard to be raising two year old twin boys with zero patience. I wasn’t sleeping. At the time, I was sure it was unchecked post partum, and I started making sure I was taking care of myself – running, exercising, and even seeing a therapist again. Luckily, I have never had any shame in seeing a therapist. Frankly, if we were ever considering making anything compulsory in this country, I would vote for therapy. And my therapist acknowledged how much stress there was in my life and what I had been dealing with and told me to put on my oxygen mask first. So I did, and for a while I started to feel better. It passed. So yes, definitely post partum, now controlled and explained and processed.
Fast forward to the last almost two years. If I am being really honest with myself, the foundation started to shake and crumble when we decided to change neighborhoods before the boys started kindergarten. So much had happened since my father in law’s death. It shook so many things to the core. Deep grief alters life – I know this. Yet, it still knocked me totally off balance watching life unfold in those years after. I was anxious. All the time. People irritated me on a level that they didn’t before. My boys would engage in normal, age appropriate shenanigans and I would be SO IRRITATED. I yelled. Then I felt guilty for yelling. I was convinced I was the worst mother on the planet. My husband and I argued over the DUMBEST things. I gained more weight. I stopped exercising. I engaged in zero self care. Because, honestly, I didn’t think I deserved it. My career was in the toilet. I was trying to work, but honestly I couldn’t sustain a career in the field. It’s a book for another day, but the lawsuit just showed me way too much. Things I couldn’t stuff into the trunk and lock up. As a result, I could no longer support myself. My husband wasn’t even asking me to support myself – he just wanted me to be happy – but the fact I was no longer bringing home 6 figures seriously destroyed my self esteem. I couldn’t pay for nights out, or the groceries or even for clothes for the kids on my own anymore. I used to save for retirement and vacations and then it was nothing. I couldn’t just say we were going to Disneyland for the day and not think twice about it. And, I realize, to many, these are luxuries and it sounds like I am whining. But it was hard to not have that means to support myself and my family anymore. When my first husband died, he left me an avalanche of financial mess to dig through. And I did. I worked my ass off and paid off the debt he left and made a life and career for myself. And I swore that even if I remarried, I would NEVER be dependent on another person again, because my life taught me you just never know. But there I was. My credit shot (so many people don’t understand how a lawsuit, even one that is dismissed, can destroy your credit), my income a pittance of what it was, and completely miserable. In my career. As a wife. As a mom. Completely miserable. And guilt ridden. I waited years for these babies and I wasn’t even happy as a mother? How dare I?
Sure, I was great at pretending. I smiled and I showed up and I played the role of a lifetime. Social media showed a completely different life than the one I was living. I’d like to thank the Academy………..
But I cried whenever I shut myself in the bathroom. I looked at social media feeds of friends and their supposed perfection of marriage and motherhood and career and fitness and travel and I felt completely less than. People saw it. My family noticed it. They saw how I withdrew. Didn’t answer the phone. Was distant. Never wanted to go to in depth with anything. Here and there I would reach out to my therapist and psychiatrist friends and ask for referrals or their opinions. But the truth is, I felt deep shame. Shame that I couldn’t pick myself up by bootstraps like I had been able to do my entire life and fix things. Improve things. I worried what people would think of me. I worried about losing credibility in the advocacy world. I know. It’s not rational. But it’s how I felt.
For over a year, I’ve known I needed help. I’ve known I was depressed. I tried homeopathic herbs. I tried walking. I tried praying. I tried taking 15 minutes after school drop off and meditating (and never was successful at quieting my head). Until it simply didn’t work anymore, and I knew that if I wanted to get back to the woman I wanted to be for myself and my husband and my kids, especially our kids, I needed to get my shit together and ask for some help. Some serious help.
The funny thing is, I have co-facilitated grief groups a survivor of suicide loss for over 15 years. I have seen when group just isn’t enough support for someone. I have had ZERO problem talking to them about seeking additional help. I have told countless people there is NO SHAME in asking for professional help. NO SHAME in taking medication. Yet, there I was. Afraid to ask. Afraid to look weak. Afraid to look like a person dealing with a mental health issue. Afraid of all those things and feeling like a huge hypocrite.
If you came to me today and said “Kate, I am really struggling. I don’t know what to do, but I know I need help. I feel like I am slipping into the abyss” I would take your hands and hug you and tell you that we will find help together. But I couldn’t do it for myself.
And then, one day, I was so low, that I was truly and legitimately scared. I finally knew what it meant to be depressed. I realized what people meant when they said they couldn’t muster the energy for basic things. Sure, I got the kids fed and to school. And on a majority of days, when I wasn’t volunteering or teaching or pretending that life was awesome, I came home and while pretending to work at a new venture I wanted SO DESPERATELY to be successful, I crawled into bed and set the alarm for 30 minutes before school pickup so I could throw clean clothes on and add some mascara and lipstick to my face so I wouldn’t look how I felt. I knew that exercise would help but I couldn’t even muster the energy to walk a around the block. My husband would come home to huge messes and laundry piles and mail piles and piles of piles and dishes in the sink (a total and utter deviation from my previous Type A, everything has its place personality), nothing prepared for dinner, and ask me how I was, knowing the answer, but seeing if today was the day I would finally say it.
Finally, I did. When the kids were finally in bed, I broke down and cried and told him how I didn’t feel any worth anymore. I felt like a horrible wife and a horrible mother and I had no passion for anything, and I couldn’t see a way to dig myself out. That the only thing keeping me alive was knowing how devastating suicide is to those left behind.
So we asked for a referral from our therapist. I actually called him. I set an appointment and I cried the entire hour and a half I met with him. He was kind and considerate and told me that we would get through it. He told me that everybody has a breaking point and I had been through a lot over the years. He told me it was ok to be angry. It was ok to be sad. He asked me what I wanted. I wanted to have the drive and the dreams to make our dreams a reality. I wanted to be a better wife and mom. I wanted to look in the mirror and love the person I saw looking back at me. I wanted to be the girl that didn’t make goals but surpassed them. Most of all, I wanted to believe in myself again. The worst part of all of this is that depression has stolen my belief in myself. He told me I probably need medication to get me through the hardest part. He asked me if I would be ok with that. I told him I would.
So, I left his office with a prescription for an anti depressant and an appointment scheduled for two weeks later. For the first time in a very long time, I felt hopeful. Hopeful that I would get back to me. Hopeful that my husband would start to see the woman he fell in love with – the woman with big dreams and the drive to make them a reality. Hopeful that my children would grow up with memories of a happy and joyful and present mama who made amazing memories with them and for them. Hopeful that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
After 15 plus years in the mental health advocacy community, I have talked a lot about what I have seen depression do to my late husband and friends and family. I have read and researched a lot and have talked a lot about what it might mean to be depressed.
Now, I know exactly how it feels. I understand the darkness on a level I never have before. In an odd way, I feel closer to the loved ones we have lost to suicide, because I now understand how our brains can trick us into thinking that is an option. Now I understand how important it is that I be honest with myself, my family, my friends and all of you, so that I might be able to help you understand that this is more than “get on with it” or “just be happy” or any one of the other platitudes we throw at those suffering in a way we don’t understand.
My name is Kate and I have just been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It’s something I have. Not something I am. I will let this be a defining moment in my life experience, and I will learn from it and hopefully be able to help others with my own experience and understanding. I am lucky that I have the support of my spouse, my family and my friends. I am grateful for that. So very grateful.
But most of all, I am hopeful. And that feels so very good.