Had you met my mother, you would have noticed a vibrant woman who shared recipes, cooked farm to table meals, dressed fashionably, and decorated her home in a style worthy of a Better Homes and Gardens’ photo shoot. She had a joie de vivre that blended sassy spiritedness with dry humor, and a work ethic that inspired us to persevere until we reached our goals. Yet, this wasn’t how she had always lived her life…
While in her early twenties, she experienced periods of time when she couldn’t rouse herself out of bed. Just speaking was an effort, her barely audible sentences coming out in slow, stretched clusters of words. She likened it to falling down a wormhole where dark thoughts, hopelessness, and lethargy replaced fun, family and friends. Life lost its luster and no matter how hard she tried she could not will the constant negative feelings away. Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness followed. It would take several years before she could muster the courage and the motivation to visit a psychiatrist’s office and be diagnosed with clinical depression. It was the beginning of an educational and healing journey that she and our family traveled together.
What is Clinical Depression?
Major depressive disorder or clinical depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. Unlike feelings of sadness that occur after an injury, illness, or death of a loved one, depression strikes on a deeper level and persists over long periods of time.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, clinical depression affects more than 17 million American men and women a year. While common, it often goes unrecognized and untreated. Yet with the correct diagnosis, clinical depression can be treated. Determining the right treatment plan is key. Since no two people with the disorder are the same, research shows that there is no one remedy that is effective for all.
Medication combined with psychotherapy have produced positive results. If these treatments prove ineffective, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies could be options to explore. Professional help, patience and trial and error methods were needed before my mother found the right intervention that helped her get well again. The process wasn’t problem free, but she was determined to fight the effects of her illness.
After meeting with several doctors and therapists, she chose a regiment of medication under the care of a psychiatrist and weekly psychotherapy sessions with a therapist who specialized in depression. Gradually, she clawed her way back to a fuller life. It took time, effort and a support network of trusted family, friends and professionals to help her get healthy and stay healthy. She claimed a significant turning point was when she realized that depression need not be an insular illness. With the right help, the negative patterns of depression can be broken and a pathway to health illuminated.
Dealing with her illness was only the beginning of the arduous path she traveled. She worried how her condition would effect future employment opportunities, what long term effects the medication would have on her body, and how others might judge her by her diagnosis and not her merits. Aware of the stigma that’s often attached to mental illness, she fought through repercussions of shame, fear, and guilt that’s often associated with depression. She continued her treatment even when she was seized by pessimism because it didn’t seem to be working fast enough.
As the psychotherapist Janice Altman, author of Being Naked: A Nine Week Journey Towards Self-Awareness, stresses, “She put on her boots and waded through the mud.” Eventually, understanding herself and her condition better motivated her to make changes in her life. She got a part time job at our local school district and volunteered to be a den mother for my brother’s cub scout group. With the help of medication and therapy, she found ways to reframe the pattern of her depression so the disease no longer defined who she was.
Now, I carry her torch in my romance writing, creating characters who suffer from and conquer depression. In Captive of a Commoner, the main character’s mother grapples with depression. I draw from first hand experiences to depict how Alicia is affected by her mother’s illness. Alicia’s concern, need to help others and longing for her mother’s recovery are ingrained in pieces of her character that deepen her empathy and understanding. Caught up in a passionate love affair with a troubled man, she uses these aspects of her character to cope with problems and issues that surface.
In the sequel, Apart, Alicia speaks openly to her mother about how her depression heightened Alicia’s self doubts and guilt. Of course, as in most pieces of fiction, dramatic and dangerous off shoots veer from real events. In both books her lover, Chase’s dark past threatens her life. She must reach into her heart to find the compassion and courage to fight loneliness and fear. To accomplish these, she borrows from her mother’s strength the ability to persevere and survive. Alicia’s beliefs in renewal, positive thinking and unconditional love are expanded as she matures.
As my books and articles depict, help is waiting if you suffer from depression. As Altman states, “Just when you feel you can’t hold on anymore, remember that the sun is just around the corner waiting to shine on you.” I believe this because I witnessed firsthand how the right treatment for depression turned a life around. I use it now to create characters who do the same.
C.J. Pastore lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. When not pounding the keyboard and writing, she enjoys teaching, jogging, and reading. The enjoyment of travel is a necessity for C.J. Immersing herself in other cultures, laughing, eating, and drinking with the local populace are favorite pastimes. Intrigued by the cornerstones of love, C.J. often records people’s answers to its essence and the hurdles that must be overcome to ensure that second chances spell success. She holds true to Anne Frank’s belief that “people are really good at heart,” and deems that whether walking in your own neighborhood or traversing the globe, the kindness and well-meaning wishes of others can be absorbed and reflected.
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