In 1994 Mary Margaret was working long hours for an international consulting firm. She also bought a house that year, and her father, who had been fighting cancer, passed away. "By April 1995," she says, "I could no longer get out of bed or stop crying."
Mary was "completely exhausted," and her decision-making suffered. "Something as simple as figuring out what to eat was overwhelming." She had trouble concentrating and with comprehension. "I could read a sentence five times, and it would still make no sense to me." "Throughout it all, there was this overwhelming sense of despair," she says. "If I wasn't sleeping, I was crying." She missed work and ultimately was asked to resign.
Mary's psychiatrist prescribed antidepressant medications. At first Mary refused to take them. "I've always been a 'say no to drugs' kind of person. Then, my psychiatrist explained the difference between therapeutic and recreational drugs. I finally realized my symptoms were medically based. I thought it was just my inability to keep a positive attitude about life " When Mary looked into her family history, she found she had four generations of mental illness. "This helped my family and I realize that it is a real illness, not a character defect."
Mary used the Depression Wellness Guide, which helped her see that, although slowly, she was improving. "Before I started using it, I thought that every day was a 'bad' day. But once I started tracking my daily moods, I found there were 'good' days here and there."
Mary's psychiatrist recently refined her diagnosis to hypomania, or type II bipolar disorder from her previous diagnosis of chronic major depression. Since Mary hadn't responded sufficiently to several different antidepressant medications, her psychiatrist suggested she try a mood stabilizer in addition to antidepressants. Mary's only sign of mania was periods of increased energy. "If I made a list of 10 things to do, I'd actually do all 10 during those times," she said.
The Depression Wellness Guide helped Mary work with her therapist. "My therapist always asked 'How have you been?" says Mary. "I never knew how to answer and it was easy to say I was awful. But, the guide showed I was actually improving. I also liked the fact I could monitor what was important to me - my medication schedule, daily accomplishments, exercise, and appetite."
Mary says her friends and family continue to provide unwavering support. During the rougher depression episodes, her housemate, Gary stepped up too, saying, 'You're going to get through this.' "And he'd say it everyday," she says. He also took over household chores, including bill paying, laundry, grocery shopping and general housecleaning.
Friends "were really consistent in calling to offer support. One friend said, 'It's going to get better and remember it's the illness and not you.'" Another friend took her to appointments and helped her obtain financial help. She called several of our friends to tell them I was not doing well, and they started sending money to help pay the bills. "My mother and sisters, who live nearly three hours away, made several trips to my home to help me with personal care, and keep up on household chores. "I am so very lucky to have the family and friends that I have. Without them, I don't think I would have made it through the worst stages of that episode."
Mary takes her medications, eats a healthy diet and exercises two or three times a week. She read books written by other people with depression, and joined a support group to share coping strategies. She reduced unnecessary stress and says spirituality is extremely important to her.
Repeated job losses were especially hard for Mary who always had a career. So she pursued part-time jobs, many that she could do from home. She has always been an animal lover, and when caring for animals was described to her as "good mental health therapy", she started a pet-sitting company. She also took on marketing projects during the stable times through her home-based marketing business. She now is volunteering a few days a week at the local mental health association in an attempt to prepare herself to re-enter the workforce. "It's giving me a chance to test my ability to work part-time."
Keeping up treatment isn't hard for Mary, even though she knows firsthand that it can take a long time--her last depressive episode lasted some 20 months-- for treatment plans to start working. "Managing my illness is a habit at this point...You have to make it an everyday thing." And it's paying off: "I feel good right now. I'm stabilized. I feel like normal Mary."