"Just went to the Doc to renew depression meds. Makes me feel..."

My Friday, which is sure to be full of text messages between family members, friends and work colleagues began with this:

I had just dropped my kids off for their school day. Oliver rode the tram to school in a Star Wars storm trooper costume. His hair stood frazzled above the white mask he wore across a hidden, proud face. He loved the extra glances and somehow felt more confident baring his neon green and orange nerf gun in hand. I kissed him goodbye, and he entered his turn-of-the century school building somehow inappropriately dressed with orange and black balloons for Halloween.

I walked up Toompea hill to Ava's Estonian kindergarten. She smiled as she showed me the pumpkin she had just carved in her image- a huge smile with just one tooth.

"I love it, Ava. Better go now. I have a doctor's appointment to get to." She blew a kiss and ran into her class's group of six year olds, nestled together on the carpet for their morning circle time.

My pace slowed and my feet seemed to dread the path to my appointment. It was cold and grey. The trees had lost their leaves and looked as if they had somehow chosen to become sinister for the Halloween holiday.

"Puccini." The Estonian accent that clouded the pronunciation of my last name had not caught my attention.

"Puccini!" Her more stern and loud voice made my name undeniable. I hurried through the waiting area and followed her to a back, corner office sparsely decorated in white, body diagrams and a few blue chairs.

"How can I help you?"

"I am here to renew my depression medication." The words left my mouth, and I felt shame.

I was telling a secret to a stranger. And I knew she suddenly saw me differently.

I had felt somewhat pretty today. I wore a nice denim dress with black tights. My hair was down (somewhat of a rare occurrence) and wavy. My eyes seemed bright and rested. I looked like a sharp professional- a woman with a good head on her shoulders.

Then I sat down and said the word "depression," and I suddenly became someone else. Sad. Weak. The doctor's eyes tried to be kind, but they were veiled in a curtain of pity.

"So how long have you been on this med?"

"Two years." The excuses began to roll effortlessly off my tongue.

"Well, I moved to Estonia three years ago, and it was so dark here. I am from a place with more sunlight. My work is very stressful, and I'm trying to manage a family outside of my home culture..." and yada, yada, yada.

How could I even begin to explain to her the truth - my story?

Depression runs deep in my family. I am the third generation to wrestle with it. Others have tried to do so, without medication, and have seen decades of their lives and dreams dissipate under its constant cloud cover.

I have seen counselors. I have successfully retrained my thinking through the pain-staking steps of cognitive therapy. And yet, depression was still shadowing me every where I went.

In my mid-20s, I sat in a chilled, hotel conference room in Chang Mai, Thailand and thought I had finally found the key to overcoming depression. Our organization's main psychologist presented a seminar billed: "Seven lifestyle habits to overcome depression and burn-out."

Nick and I sat together and anxiously took notes. The doctor quoted well-researched studies that proved that we could take real, actual steps to combat depression. He passed out a sheet of paper with the following advice (and one that we have kept safely filed away for the past decade):

  1. Do cardio exercise for sixty minutes every day. After approximately 25 minutes of heightened heart-rate levels, our body starts to produce serotonin- the happy hormone.
  2. Take Omega-3 supplements daily. Omega-3 is the building block for serotonin.
  3. Expose yourself to sunlight {or a sunlamp} 20 - 30 minutes a day (without sunglasses on).
  4. Reduce the amount of bad animal fat in your diet. Be sure your diet is filled with healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts, fish, lean meats.
  5. Do not ruminate. Rumination is when you allow yourself to constantly think and worry over disturbing thoughts or past occurrences. Every time we think about these things, our body relives the same stress response. A way to stop rumination is to find a hobby that keeps your mind busy and can give your mind time to rest.
  6. Sleep eight to nine hours a night. Try not to have any light on in your bedroom- nothing from TVs, phone, computers - as they disturb deep sleep cycles.
  7. Have intimate conversation with at least one person daily. This kind of conversation is not merely small talk or recounting the day's activities. You must share something deeper- your feelings, fears, joys.

We returned to Armenia equipped, and I did EVERYTHING prescribed on the list {and still do}. A year trickled past, and my long companion of sadness still stood closely by, watching my every move.

Often in life, we do everything possible to fight for our future, our families, our lives. But eventually we get to a point when we have exerted everything we have- sweat dripping, exhausted muscles aching from the constant fight. And just as we feel we can no longer stand, a new path opens and we can finally find rest.

By chance, a year later, that same staff psychologist sat at our dining room table in Yerevan. We chatted over a hot bowl of chicken chili. I told him everything, and concluded with a simple question. 

"What do I do now?"

Grace often waits for us in the most unexpected places.

"Olivia. I can see that you have tried everything. For most people, those lifestyle changes are enough. But there are those who have a very strong genetic component of chemical imbalance. And, no matter how much they try, it will be a life-long battle. I think this could be you. Why don't you give medicine a try?"

I took his advice and began to take a medicine I didn't want to take for a depression I believed I could have been good enough to beat.

That medicine changed my life. Within a few weeks, the change was noticeable. But, I am a stubborn person.

After eighteen months of happiness, I decided I was healed and now strong enough to live life without the "happy drug." I stopped taking the medication, and slowly... unnoticed... over the course of a year, I found myself inwardly begging, once again, to just leave it all.  

People often think depressed people are egocentric- all they do is think about their own problems and self.  But, many of them are some of the most beautiful, self-sacrificing humans I have ever encountered. 

Sometimes they even give too much away. They don't follow their dreams, but give everything to the dreams of others. And once they can't even imagine a day without the despondency, they begin to believe they would be giving their partners, children, friends and co-workers a gift by simply no longer being in their lives. To them, it is the ultimate gift of loving sacrifice.  

The last time I visited a psychiatrist in America, he really challenged me.

"Look. You have a strong genetic history of depression. You don't have any big side-effects to anti-depressants. You have a husband, wonderful children and a great career. You are beautiful woman. Why even mess around and let depression eat away years of a great life? Stay on the medicine. Let it help you. You deserve it, and your family deserves you."

I cry when I even remember those words. He sat in front of a large wooden desk. He was an older Indian gentlemen who swiveled back and forth in his high-back leather chair. I may not have a doctor's diploma on my wall, and I certainly can't fit that huge leather chair behind my tiny corner desk, but I have my fingers to type and my journey to share.

Don't give up. Don't feel shame. Do whatever you HAVE to in order to remain the treasure you are - to yourself, to your family, and to the world that surrounds you. 

Every evening I fill my favorite green glass with water and take three pills - one for a slow thyroid that haunts all the women in my family, one for the PCOS I inherited from my European Jewish ancestors, and the little white anti-depressant I take to reclaim my life. 

If you are dealing with depression, know that you are very far from being alone. For many, the seven lifestyle changes are revolutionary. Please do everything possible to instill them into everything you do. Rearrange your life to make room for these habits and then hold on tight- never let them go!

And once you've given it time, walked through every open door possible, and

still 

find the future dark, do whatever necessary to find the light. We all need you. 

Seconds after I wrote my husband, Nick, that text message, he responded without hesitancy:

I take an anti-depressant because that 10 year old boy in the Stormtrooper costume deserves a mom who can get out of bed every day. 

I take it for that front-toothless six year old girl who will hopefully always blow me sweet, bright-eyed kisses. 

I swallow it down for my husband- so I can continue to make every day of his life better. 

I take it for God. He created me with a gift and a purpose. And, no matter the stigma or shame associated with the little white pill, I will let absolutely nothing take that beauty away from me. 

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