**This blog post was published in August of 2014. Considering that the topic of mental health, depression and suicide keeps coming to light, I feel it’s my duty to share my story and how I overcame depression. Today, I am a happy and confident woman. I wish only the best to all of you reading this post. **
In light of Robin William’s death, so much has been said about depression, a condition not many people know or talk about. People who think know me would never, ever think I have suffered with depression for years and that it almost killed me countless times. I know depression very well and this is the only reason I am writing this. Part of getting better is helping others and if this post saves at least one life and/or causes anyone to seek professional help, I am willing to expose a side of my life not many people know about. Yes, I dealt with depression and it took me a long time to find it out.
When I came to the United States, 15 and a half years ago, I did not think life could be so difficult. At 21 years old, I came to be with whom I thought was the man of my life. I came alone and all I had was him and his family. I didn’t have much time to settle in and started college less than a month after I arrived. Culture shock struck. Everything I had learned and known until then did not hold true. Human interactions were different, making friends wasn’t easy, food was a problem. I depended on my then boyfriend for transportation and I felt completely out of place with no one to talk to. I didn’t want to call my family and tell them I felt alone because I didn’t want them to worry about me. Feeling out of place was not unknown to me but feeling out of place in a different country with a different culture almost took me to the edge not once, but many times. I cried a lot and many times thought the only way to get out of it all was to kill myself. Why you may ask? I was young and I didn’t want to admit to myself and my family I didn’t want to be here. How could I have dropped everything in Brazil and then go back as a failure? How would I justify to my parents and family that my relationship with my then boyfriend wasn’t what I expected or the fact that I was alone and no one understood me? I spent days and nights crying, especially because I lived away from the city and knew no one. I was depressed and in isolation during the day since I didn’t have a car to go anywhere and 50 minutes away from a bigger town. All I did was study. My coping mechanism was to study and sleep. I would take naps ranging from 3 hr to 5 hrs each day and I thought that was normal. I would try to tell my then boyfriend what I was feeling but he never understood and didn’t sympathize with my pain. His family tried to equate me being away from home with them moving from one state to another in the same country. I stopped talking. I kept everything to myself.
I got so into school that I would wake up sweaty at night with anxiety. It was a weird feeling and something that had never happened before. Anything that didn’t go the way I had planned would cause me to think about death. Killing myself had always been my default. I thought everyone was like that. Some people will categorize suicidal people as cowards. They know nothing about depression. If anything, thinking of suicide means you don’t want to be a burden to others. You get in such a lonely and desperate state that you think everyone’s lives would be easier if you weren’t around. The thought of not adding anything to the world sounds perfectly fine. I’ve been there so many times. Don’t ask me why because I can’t tell you why. Many times my mind would wonder and I would start crying… My mind would race and the despair would grow. Eventually I found myself in a place I didn’t believe there was a way out. Of course I didn’t want to be there but I didn’t know how to get out of it either. Sleeping was my way out. School was another way out. Avoiding my then boyfriend was a way out. I wanted out of my life.
Fast forward until April of 2003. At night I received a call past 11pm and my heart raced for some reason. My then husband answered the phone and I saw his facial expression changing. It was a call from Brazil and someone I did not know told me my mom had passed away during an asthma attack. I had no reaction even though my body felt weak. I was in shock and didn’t know it. There I was, living in the U.S. for 5 years, in a relationship that wasn’t really what I thought it should be, no support system, not many friends and away from my family. I didn’t know how to process my mom’s passing. I couldn’t go to Brazil since my passport was being renewed at the consulate. She died exactly a month before I was scheduled to go to Brazil. Couldn’t she wait so I could see her one last time? That’s what was in my mind. My then husband’s family, in trying to comfort me, said I should look at the fact I was here, going to school and how good of a life I had. I wanted to kill them for saying that. How could they try to say that? How cold can people be? I am sure they were trying to help but in my culture, we would NEVER say such a thing. I left the dining room crying and feeling lonely. I had no one to talk to, again. Depression got worse. After my mom’s passing I was afraid to receive another phone call with the announcement of the death of another family member.
My life here was miserable and I knew it. No one did. I kept it all to myself. All these years I had put on a face. I was good at that. The fights with my then husband only intensified and I wanted to go home. This was not my home. I still had no one I could call a friend and my then husband’s family got me to be the “wife” and “woman” I was supposed to be. I had lost myself and my identity to become more Americanized and someone more acceptable to American standards. Everything about me had changed. I was living with a stranger and I was the stranger. When I started working I would spend 12 hrs to 14 hrs per day at work. Then I would go to the gym for two hours every single day. Looking back this was my way of staying away from my then husband. I wasn’t happy at home but I didn’t know what to do. I thought that’s how marriages were and I stayed… Then I got pregnant. I was so happy, of course. With the hormonal changes, my depression got worse and I was at the verge of a breakdown. My then husband and I started therapy. I thought therapy would solve our problems and what it did was the opposite. It exposed the problem even more and I knew then nothing could change. I focused on work even more. When I had the baby I had post-partum depression. It was intense. I never thought about hurting the baby but I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I had a baby and no one from my family close to me. Everything about raising a child known to my then husband’s family was different than what I knew. The family started to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do and I just blew it. For my son I resurfaced the Simone I once knew. It’s amazing how having a child takes you back to your childhood years and how your parents raised you. I was committed to doing the best for my son and raising him in the way I thought was right even though going against my then husband’s family and American standards. My son was my life. I was happy when I was with him. I associated having a child with happiness and as a way to put my marriage in second place. Three kids later the happiness I thought I could get never came. My kids were my happiness but that did not solve my relationship’s problems. I worked more and more. I worked so much and was going through so much stress that it almost killed me. Literally.
If I ever had suicidal thoughts, which happened a lot, I would always think of my kids. They were the ones that kept me alive. Fourteen years after moving to the U.S. no one knew about my depression. My then husband thought it was just me missing home. Even I thought that. In my mind everyone thought about killing themselves. I found out that wasn’t exactly the case. With the stress of an unhappy marriage and work demands I started having panic attacks and ended up in the ER twice with signs of a heart attack. Back then I didn’t know anxiety masked itself as a heart attack. My left chest hurt and my entire left arm tingled. I was scared. Both times all I could think was, “if I die here, I’ll die alone.” I didn’t have friends I could rely on. My then husband had to stay home with out three kids. My friends were friends you go out with and not the ones you can count on when you really need them. What had I done? What kind of life was that? I broke down during my last ER visit as the doctor brought me yet another electrocardiogram. I was at the verge of suicide and I knew it. I went to a therapist, afraid of what could happen. As soon as he saw me and talked to me for a while he said I needed to be in a suicide watch outpatient program. My first question was “am I crazy”? I was taken out of work at the verge of killing myself. The first days in group were horrible. Not only was I dealing with my problems but I had to hear the issues of nine other people. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t believe in medicine either but the doctors wanted to put me on some right away. I fought it. I had to stop nursing my baby to take the meds. I tried two and both of them caused me to have allergic reactions and swollen lymph nodes. I was depressed and scared. Ended up at the ER again where a doctor said that if someone in my family took any anti-depressant that would most likely work for me. It did. I started feeling different and the group noticed it as well. I wasn’t crying for everything like I used to. I wasn’t thinking about death 24 hours a day. I started to see some light. Don’t get me wrong, medicine is not the cure to depression at all. I was just in such a bad state that the medicine brought me up to a stable level. I was still depressed and I still had to do therapy. I started thinking about my life and what I needed to do to change it. After four months of daily therapy I resigned from work. After a while, painfully, I told my then husband I wanted the divorce. Seeing his pain was horrific but I had learned that I had to do what was right for me. For once I had learned that it was OK for me to do things for me and to take care of myself.
Today I thank God and that doctor for taking me out of work. Had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I now live a life that works for me. Standards don’t mean anything to me. Who created them anyways? My change came as a shock to a lot of people I called friends. A lot of them did not recognize me and started judging my behavior. I had to cut some people out of my life and I am ok with that. Now I live a life that makes me and my kids happy. It has been tough being a single mom with no support system whatsoever but I am happy. I feel free! I can now be myself and don’t care about what others have to say. A lot of people will look at my Facebook pictures and say how happy I look. Let’s be real, no one puts bad pictures on Facebook. I learned in therapy that you have to get out and do something you like even if you don’t feel like it. You do it and then you feel it. The days I was out and looking pretty were the days I was really depressed. No one knew it. Going out and making new friends became my survival mechanism. With a 50%-50% custody, the days I didn’t have the kids at home I felt so alone. I had to go out. Did I want to? Of course not. It would’ve been easier to lay in bed, watch TV and drink wine. But I would force myself to get up, take a shower, look beautiful and go out. This saved my life! This is also the reason I love the gay community and my gay friends so much. They always made me feel beautiful and never had any intentions towards me. They were fun and they made me happy. I guess we found ourselves in our struggles even though we didn’t talk about them.
I know it’s easy to say talk to someone if you feel depressed or if you have bad thoughts. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I didn’t want to expose such a dark side of my life. Only one that goes through this knows how it feels. So, to anyone who is depressed, know that there are free support groups everywhere in the world. Break the taboo of seeing a shrink and seek professional help. No one needs to know. Talk to someone who can not only listen without judging but also someone who is a professional and has resources to help. Depression is not something to play with. Don’t worry about what people will think or say. No one is in your house and living your struggles. If living by society standards means having a miserable life, choose to be abnormal but alive. Your real friends will be by your side no matter what. The others that may leave you probably were not your friends. Live one day at a time and be happy about every single accomplishment you have in your life. Life is precious and we need to learn to take care of it. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak. Seeking help means saving your life and learning to be happy with what you have. As I learned on therapy, “what others think of me is not my problem” and “those who care don’t mind and the ones who mind, don’t matter.”