Your Mental Health and You

(C) 2019, JJ Shaun
Semi-colon and butterfly tattoo.

We arrived home on Saturday to the news that Naomi Judd had died. Now, I usually wouldn’t write about the passing of a county music star, but the circumstances of her passing keep drawing my mind back to the subject of mental illness.

Wynonna Judd’s statement on April 30 that “we lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness” snapped my mind right to the possibility of suicide. As the story unfolded, clips of The Judds’ last performance at the 2022 CMT Music Awards appeared on my news feed. I watched the duo perform “Love Can Build A Bridge,” and as the song played, it seemed that Naomi’s heart wasn’t in the performance. So, while I was as shocked as everyone else about her death, it didn’t come as a big surprise, especially as someone who has battled depression most of her adult life.

What is depression, exactly? According to the National Institutes of Mental Health:

“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. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”

~ National Institutes of Mental Health

The symptoms include, but are not limited to, feeling sad or having a depressed mood, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, irritability, and thoughts of death or suicide.

My first crystal clear bout of depression was after my youngest son was born. We used to call it the “baby blues,” a condition that can affect new mothers within a week or two after delivery. Now termed “postpartum, or perinatal, depression,” mental health experts now recognize how serious the condition can become. Every time I read a story about a mother going to prison for killing her young children, I think about my struggles with my own toddlers.

My “baby blues” went untreated. As more and more time passed, and I got no break from two children under the age of two, I felt the emotional pressure and anger build inside me. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to end it all during that last year of my marriage. The prospect of divorce scared the bejeezus out of me—until it didn’t anymore.

I walked away, leaving my children with my ex and his new wife. And as much as that decision broke my heart, it was the best thing I did for my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, the guilt I felt for leaving my kids behind kept me wondering about that choice for the next couple of decades. But I also kept playing “future me with my kids” scenarios in my head, and not one of them turned out favorably. Eventually, I came to terms with my decision and left the guilt in the past where it belongs.

It wasn’t the last time I’d had suicidal ideations, either. Before I met First Reader, I contemplated more than one fatal “accident,” usually involving my car. Some of those fantasies were stronger than others. Still, none ever drove me to actually try to end my life—I just thought about it rather seriously.

First Reader recognized my mood swings for what they were—clinical depression. Being a Psychiatric Nurse by profession, she knew the signs and urged me to discuss my symptoms with my doctor.

When I finally sat down with my doc, she prescribed a mild antidepressant to help control the symptoms. Since then, I’ve been more in tune with the state of my mental health. I also listen to First Reader when she notices I’m beginning to slip back into the black hole. For the most part, though, I can recognize when the monster starts creeping in.

Even though I’ve been off my medication many times over the last three decades, I’m taking that same low dose my doctor prescribed all those years ago. Knowing my triggers, I have decided that I’ll stay medicated until we are settled in the new house on the mountain. Even then, I’ll probably wait for a while. We’ll see.

And today’s photo? I got that done two-and-a-half years ago in honor of Suicide Prevention Day in 2019. The semi-colon is symbolic of a story not yet complete, that more is yet to be written. The butterfly symbolizes change and natural growth, telling us that we can continually evolve and grow into something more than we already are. I would like to add more, but sometimes a simple message comes across much more clearly.

Please, if you have feelings of worthlessness and feel the urge to end it all, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255, or dial 988. Talk to someone. Please.

EDIT: After finishing this piece and scheduling it for publication, I was told a family member committed suicide over the weekend. Our grandkids are devastated by the loss.

2 thoughts on “Your Mental Health and You

  1. Courage, implemented, comes in so many forms. People who would judge, really do need to be reminded of that old saw about walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes. I’ve been following your posts from the very beginning, and never wanted you close enough to hug more than right now. Go hug First Reader instead.

    I know how depression feels,…I spent most of my life believing I was retarded, and working really hard trying to hide it from everyone I knew and loved. Discovered at age 65 that I actually tipped the scales at the opposite end, then got depressed over a life wasted. Now I just grin and take my Medications like a good boy,when my lover girl tells me.

    -Always Your Friend,

    Sam

    Like

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