Sarah R. Callender


In Body Stuff on August 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

We are in Sunriver, Oregon right now . . . but by the time you read this, we will be back home so please, if you are a robber, don’t bother breaking into our house.

It’s been two years since we were last here. Two years ago, Buddy was five; Sweetie was three, el husbandio was as amazing as ever. And I was severely depressed.

I just didn’t realize it.

In spite of my crying-for-no-reason, my anxiety, my everywhere-but-nowhere pain, my inability to sleep well, and then, my inability to get out of bed, my trouble processing more than one simple thought at a time, my feeling that it would feel really good to drive my car into something concrete (I know; it’s awful to admit), I didn’t realize I was depressed.

How is that possible?  After all, I had been through it before. I should have remembered, oh yes, here’s the depression again.

The first time (at least the first time I gave it a label), I was six months postpartum after the birth of Sweetie.

But I thought that was postpartum depression. Something hormonal and temporary. Temporary or no, it was so debilitating that I stumbled around, forming Team Sarah, a combo of mi husbandio, a close friend, my doctor, and my therapist. And yes, medication.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Zoloft, the first SSRI I tried, eventually worked like a charm. It allowed me to feel the opposite of an incapable, despondent, suicidal, insomniac. Zoloft didn’t make me feel happy; it made me feel normal. Functional. Present. Not constantly crying.Like it was a better idea to steer clear of concrete.

But after two and a half years, I figured I should wean myself off of it. After all, I felt great again, AND, if it was “just” postpartum depression, there would be no need to stay on meds. Aren’t we an over-medicated nation as it is?

Of course, that’s one of the sneaky, terrible things about depression: sometimes, when it’s more than “just” post-partum depression, it comes back. Dressed in an invisible cloak and soft-soled shoes. As my dear friend Janna Cawrse Esarey says in her memoir, (and I’ll paraphrase) “that’s the thing about being depressed, the depressed person is often the last to know.”

So I called my lovely doctor who saw me THAT VERY DAY and who also explained my depression perfectly: “Sarah, your brain doesn’t make the right about of serotonin. That’s all it is.”

I loved that.

Actually, I didn’t love that. Being who I am, I don’t appreciate slacker organs. Slacker anything is unacceptable. But I loved that she reminded me depression is a medical issue. Not some issue a wack-job creates out of air and cotton candy. Not something that can be willed away.

Still though, it was embarrassing. Postpartum depression was OK. Chronic, clinical depression? Well that’s not necessarily something to chit-chat about at parties. Not really something to highlight on the old resume.

But (speaking of resumes) as I reminded myself,  I was a writer. And weren’t writers always dying of depression or alcoholism? Given the choice, I’d definitely rather be mentally ill. Mentally ill writers are allowed to have a glass of wine now and then and not get dirty looks from their friends.

Only I was not in the mood to die from anything other than really old age or excessive laughter. Or eating too much watermelon (which I almost did today). So I re-formed Team Sarah, added a Dr. Marty Hoiness, Psychiatrist (AKA, His Royal Hoiness) to the team, embraced my underperforming brain, and got myself back on Zoloft.

Of course, getting rosy again wasn’t easy. Beyond the medical team, I had to rely heavily on my husbandio, who, thank God, is the tallest, most solid piece of concrete I’ve ever run into. I also leaned hard into friends like Schmidtie who developed a score system for me, knowing that someone who is depressed has a hard time articulating how she’s feeling. If I told Schmidtie I was at a Two, she’d be over in a heartbeat. Anything between Three and Five was rough but not desperate. Anything above a five? Well, that never happened. Until the Zoloft eventually kicked in.

I have had people tell me (people who don’t know I struggle with depression) that meds are unnecessary and silly, that Americans should be OK feeling sad now and then, that we pop pills to make us feel happy. I have had friends (who do know about my depression) tell me I should just buck up, change my attitude. I have had someone jokingly compare my depression to her problematic overabundance of ear wax. Yup.

Whatever. I understand people say silly things because they are uncomfortable with mental illness. I also know it’s easy to have opinions on something when a person’s never had first-hand experience. But frankly, I’m a little tired of the stigma (which is, of course, the main reason I share in this very public venue). Why should I have ever been embarrassed?

I guess I also think people who don’t deal with depression or bipolar disorder or OCD or paranoia or schizophrenia should consider themselves lucky that their brains make the right stuff each day and zip it already.

Because being here this year makes me remember how I felt two years ago, and I know this (plus, my concrete-solid husbandio will back me up): summer 2010 in Sunriver is a heckofalot sunnier than it was in 2008. Thank goodness.

Even my poor, slacker brain knows that’s a fact.

  1. Without those “pills” Team Kasey would function at a 3 at best and those people out there who have told you to buck up …. they are the ones who should be driving straight into something concrete.

  2. Sarah, I’ll keep this comment simple. Thank you for this post.

  3. Love you Sarah! This should be published in every mental health journal in existence!

  4. Sarah, this comes at the perfect moment. I just got together with 2 of my closest college girlfriends – one a Navy doctor who just returned from Afghanistan, the other a quiet high school librarian. Both are on anti-depressants. I am so thankful that something is out there to help these lovely women feel close to normal.

  5. Sarah, I would either be dead or living in Canada (as I threatened while I was “postpartum depressed” after child #1) had it not been for anti-depressants. I am also, as you know, one of those people who realized that my postpartum depression was probably just a symptom of the depression and anxiety I had suffered from most of my life. Thank you for being so real and honest and accepting of the fellow druggies in your life. I heart you.

  6. You are awesome, Sarah. Seriously awesome. I love this post. Some of my very favorite people deal with or have dealt with depression. I certainly have (and still sometimes do). By the way, this is my very favorite line of all your blog posts so far: “my husbandio… is the tallest, most solid piece of concrete I’ve ever run into.”

  7. To this day what troubles me the most, is that I missed it. That even with regular, almost daily interactions I was unable to recognize the depression until you had the courage to tell me. What is even sadder to me is that you, with your confidence, honesty, and amazing ability to self-regulate are a very very unique individual. I truly feel for those who attempt to battle this alone. As always, I applaud your candor- the world needs more Sarah Callenders.

  8. Amen. If I was a better writer, I might have written this first… gald you had the courage to! oxoxo

  9. You just continue to amaze me!

  10. Sarah, you are brave, wise, and funny in equal parts. Hats off to you!

  11. Gawd, I hate sounding like a broken record, but, brava Amiga. I admire your courage. My own story isn’t as sassily told as yours, but what I found most amazing, was that when I told other people what I was dealing with, I was shocked to learn how many other people were feeling something similiar. It made me feel, well, a little better.

  12. My daughter had to go on meds for ADD this month. When her doctor asked her (at age 8) if she knew why she’d be taking meds she said very matter-of-factly, “My brain doesn’t work the same as other kids and this will help.” I can’t tell you how proud of her I was at that moment that she was just so clear about it. I wish we could all be that way. Great post!

    • Right on, Zandra. That says a lot about how you have handled this situation . . . and about the strength of her self esteem. Here’s to a happy school year for her.

  13. Thanks for posting this, Sarah. I too was postpartum and took Zoloft for a long time. What is so sad is that even with my seven year old’s counselor is being cautious about what code she uses for possibly signs of OCD. She has a concern now for how this might effect said seven year old later in life.

  14. I fully embrace my broken recordship. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  15. I love all of your posts, but this one really hits home. I also lived with anxiety and what I called my dark days for as long as I can remember. I thought this was just life and I could stumble through the dark. But once I had children and my anxiety attacks kicked into high gear I knew it was time to seek help. My serotonin booster has changed the world for me. Life isn’t dark anymore and I am a functioning mama once again. I was embarrassed for anyone to know my secret to think something was wrong with me. I slowly started talking to friends about my “issues” and couldn’t believe the relief on so many faces that they also are not the only ones in the dark. It really is a very common problem and I think we should talk about it and not be embarrassed! Bravo Sista! xo

  16. My favorite people in the world are always the ones that are the most real. You most definitely are one of my favorites!

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