Some things are overwhelming and private and full of stigma, so we keep them to ourselves. But at church the other day, the message was all about how God can take your terrible story and use it to help someone else. I'm a sucker for helping someone else, so I am going to tell you a story.
First things first: if you are even reading this, it's because I asked Lea if I could write about it. I wouldn't publish the blog without her reading it first and giving me permission.
A bit of background in case you don't know my family. Lea is 21 and has Down syndrome. She is very active and just fun to be around! She brings a smile to your face when she sees you! She is in a public school program that offers job training and life skills to adults with special needs. While she doesn't have bad behavior issues, she does get herself involved in some drama at school that we could all do without. She is very sensitive to other people's feelings and wants to please everyone. These 2 things (drama mixed with wanting to please) have gotten her into some sticky situations. She often feels very pressured by other students and allows them to make decisions for her. In the last several months especially, she has come home very upset and crying. But people get upset and cry sometimes.
We thought Lea was being a bit too dramatic, dragging things out that aren't even her problems. So when she came to us with feelings of self-harm, we were quite shocked. A young woman with Down syndrome? Hurting herself on purpose? No. That doesn't happen! We made an appointment with a new therapist since her former one "released" her awhile ago. (We have a murder in the family that has taken much therapy these past 4.5 years). We knew she should talk to someone. We still weren't grasping the gravity of the situation. The earliest appointment we could get was 3 weeks away, but that flew by as we were packing and moving. Just a couple days before her appointment, she threatened to hurt herself again. Admittedly, our reaction was not great. Again, she has Down syndrome. This doesn't happen to people with DS! I have read a ton in the last 21 years about DS and what it comes with. I have never read about situations like this.
Imagine our surprise when the new therapist not only diagnosed Lea with depression, but said she was on the verge of needing to be hospitalized to keep her safe! I certainly lost it then. I wouldn't say I didn't believe she was sad. I just didn't realize it was so REAL. I didn't realize the depth of her pain. "It's like I'm in a black hole," she says. The therapist decided that a hospital stay would be pretty scary for Lea, so she put her in our care with instructions to hide all the sharp objects in our home and not leave her alone at all. Ummm. If you haven't been in this situation, can you just think about that for a sec? The weight of that? (If you have been here, then you already know.)
Lea went to a local mental health facility for 7 school days instead of school. She was with the adults in their program. I know she heard some pretty adult stuff and problems from the other women. But she did learn some good coping mechanisms and got some tools to learn how to handle her feelings. She also got a prescription and that made ME very unhappy. I hate drugs and chemicals. Have you read the side effects of this stuff? It's just as scary as depression. It can make it WORSE!! WTH. When I say that having her on this drug causes me anxiety, I am not exaggerating. I spent years getting toxins out of my kids' systems and treating them with oils and homeopathy instead. Don't make me put this crap in her body! (and before you say "if she had diabetes and needed meds, would you be upset then?" YES I WOULD. She is still on thyroid meds and it makes me upset. Oils have halved her dose, and I am still working on getting rid of that medicine completely.) There is a time and a place for drugs and when used on a temporary basis, they can be helpful. But how many people are on drugs for depression just temporarily? Have we seen her mood improve? Yes. But with several very unpleasant side effects.
The few people that knew about this have been so supportive and kind! I get calls, texts, and even dinner made by a friend while we were in the depths of this! I know we will receive more support once "the whole world" (aka Facebook) knows about it. It's hard to share when it's depression or another mental illness. I don't think there should be a stigma surrounding it, but there IS. But if I hadn't shared with a few people, I wouldn't have had the support. Lea wouldn't have had some people tell her "I struggle with that, too." I also am not ready to be a champion for this cause. There are several things I preach about regularly including Down syndrome and how to make the world a better place by embracing it! I knew that if I let everyone know about this, I will need to be ready for people to send me articles and maybe expect me to speak out about DS and depression. I am writing this, and that is all I can handle right now. It's too new and I am not ready to be the spokesperson for it. Still, I need to tell the story. And people need to know that reaching out for help is the best thing to do.
Our girl is hurting and it makes us hurt, too.
The point of this whole post is to let others know that depression can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are viewed as the "happiest person" I ever met. Or if you have Down syndrome. It's real and it can do such harm. If Lea's story can help anyone, and I think it can, I want to share it. And she wants to share it.
It's a big, scary world out there. Just knowing others feel like you do can be comforting.