Hello, and welcome! My name is Sonja Deklerk, and this is my first official blog post. My purpose in writing this blog is to share with you through personal experience that living with depression and mental illness does not exclude you from living a joyful life…nor does it exclude you from the ability and opportunity to share joy with others for that matter!
I was first medically diagnosed as having Bipolar II disorder almost 14 years ago. For me personally, I struggle most often with the depressive side of the illness and rarely experience hypomania. In the past, I have tried my best to hide my depressive episodes from those around me…sometimes even those closest to me. From personal experience, I have found this never to be a good option as it is oftentimes much more damaging than helpful to try to carry the weight of depression on my own. Slowly, I am learning how to open up…how to reach out…how to ask for help.
Just recently I was hospitalized for a severe and life threatening episode of depression. To clarify, it is not my intent to devote too much time to any painful life experiences of mine on this blog, but rather I will focus on the experiences that have allowed me to find joy amidst the sorrow. That being said, depression is not something to be taken lightly, and for this reason I will share a little bit of my most recent experience in hope of raising awareness and understanding towards depression and mental illness.
For me, there are always warning signs when my mental health is beginning to deteriorate: I feel constantly stressed and overwhelmed. I begin to have regular panic attacks. I do not want to be around others, or even answer the phone. My energy deteriorates rapidly and even the smallest task seems next to impossible. It becomes very hard to get out of bed, or even just find the strength to shower and get ready for the day. All the while, I isolate myself even more because I am ashamed of anyone seeing me this way. A thick dark fog envelopes my mind with such heaviness that I am unable to think clearly. Sadness consumes and overwhelms me to the point that sleep is seemingly my only salvation…I just want to escape the pain…close my eyes and escape for a little while. Eventually, insomnia occurs, and I am unable to find the reprieve from the pain that I so desperately need. Without sleep, the darkness, pain, anguish and personal hell that I experience become all consuming, and I become desperate to put an end to my anguish.
I’m going to interrupt myself briefly at this point to say that I am generally very good about seeing my Dr at the earliest signs of a depressive episode. This time however, I did not meet with my Dr until it was too late, and it very nearly cost me my life. I think that my neglect in seeking proper medical attention and help earlier on was due to denial and an erroneous belief that if I just tried a little harder and pushed myself a little bit more, I would be okay…
***Please! If anyone reading this is experiencing anything similar to this, I beg of you to not make the same mistake that I did. Seek help immediately. Reach out and talk to someone. Your life is of value, and you are worthy of receiving help. You are of worth, oh so much worth!***
To give a brief account of what happened to me during this most recent depressive episode, a period of hospitalization was necessary. While at the hospital, I was able to receive the help and attention of competent Dr’s, nurses and mental health professionals for which I am truly grateful.
One quote that I have been considering of late is by David O McKay:
“The greatest battle of life is fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.”
I promise you…life is a battle worth fighting! I would also like to add that part of the battle in regards to mental health, is being willing and able to ask for the necessary help. It can be terrifying, but I encourage you to reach out…ask for the help that you need…open up to someone and share your pains and sorrows. I promise you there is help. There is hope. There is healing. Please, please, please…hang on until you find that help, hope and healing that you are so desperately seeking.
Coming home from the hospital is always incredibly difficult for me. I am encompassed by intense feelings of shame, guilt and remorse. It is a very difficult first step to take upon coming home to go back to everyday life. What do I say? What do I do? What are people thinking of me? My first instinct is to once again withdraw and hide…it is terrifying to face life again.
***Please, I beg of anyone reading this to show an increased measure of mercy, compassion, empathy and support to anyone you know suffering with mental illness upon discharge from the hospital. This is a most difficult transition to make.***
Something that I have been trying to make the focus of my thoughts as of late, is that depression, sorrow and painful experiences are merely events in my life, but do not define my life as a whole. Painful life events do not define me, and I must never give it the power to do so.
I recently heard the analogy of looking at life through a rear view mirror. Now, if a driver were only to use the rear view mirror while trying to drive forward to his destination, it is easy to imagine what a deadly consequence that would be! A rear view mirror can be an important safety tool for a driver, but it should never be anything more than that. So it is with life. We cannot allow ourselves to constantly be looking to the past and being overcome by feelings of self condemnation and guilt. This is something that I have to remind myself of daily. Healing and recovery require pressing forward. I do not have power to change the past, but the most beautiful thing is that I DO have power to change the future. The past can teach us, but living each day in the present with our heart and mind focused on a brighter future will be what brings about true change and personal growth. Each and every one of us have the power within to live a joyful life…if we but choose. Seek for the joy amidst the sorrow.
I am really excited to start this blog, and believe that it will be a great source of strength and healing for myself. I’m looking forward to my next blog post where I will explain my thoughts and ideas on “Reciprocal Joy.” Stay tuned for next time, and have a fantastic day!