Terri, an enterprising business woman, wife, and mother of two, was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2007, although her symptoms of sadness and hopelessness had begun decades earlier.
“Depression runs in my family and my initial symptoms go way back to my teen years,” Terri explains. “My mother has always suffered with depression but she’s never been treated. She’s in denial. My sister and my aunt have bipolar disorder and they are both managing it with medication. So, I knew the symptoms. But I was in denial, too. I just wanted to believe that everything was okay. I didn’t want anyone to know. I had always felt that my inner world was very different from my outer world.”
Terri married Rich when she was just 19. Several years later, they had two children. Summer is now 15, and Noah, 13. But despite her loving husband and healthy children, Terri remembers far too many nights spent crying in her closet, desperate, in the dark.
“My husband would knock on the door and ask, ‘what can I do?’ But there was nothing he could do. There were many times that I felt truly insane. I became very mean and defensive. I put up a wall and refused to seek help. There was nothing wrong with my life. My children were healthy. My husband was a saint. But I was a stubborn and prideful woman.”
Then, in 2004, Terri lost her dad, whom she’d been close to her whole life. This loss triggered a downward spiral. Terri found herself in tears every day. It got harder and harder to get out of bed. Soon, she was unable to function. Except for her husband and children, she secluded herself from the world as she battled the denial and isolation, the anger and bargaining, the numbness and pain of the grieving process. After the fateful day at the cemetery, Terri sought help.
“Right before Father’s Day in 2007, I went to the cemetery and lay down on my father’s grave,” says Terri. “I wanted to die. I could see no other choice. I am a Christian woman but in my brain, something was off. I had no specific plan in mind. I just knew it was going to be my last day on Earth. I sent a text message to my 12-year-old daughter: Goodbye. I love you. I had hit bottom. Then, when I got in my car to leave, a song came on the radio that I had heard the day my dad died. Suddenly, two choices became very clear to me: I had to leave before I destroyed my family or I had to seek help.”
Terri went to her doctor and was prescribed antidepressant medication. It took just a few weeks before she felt a marked improvement and the overwhelming hopelessness began to subside. She felt she was emerging from a long, dark tunnel, finally headed toward the light.
“When it comes to treatment, everyone’s different,” she says. “My body is very sensitive to medication so it worked quickly for me. I also eliminated soda and began eating more natural foods, and cutting back on preservatives. I also began exercising. The endorphins produced by exercise really helped to balance my brain chemistry. We also attended family support groups and I explained my diagnosis, openly and honestly, to my children.”
Today, Terri begins each day with a half hour on her treadmill. “Sometimes I read a book or watch TV while I exercise,” she says. “I still have bad days but now I recognize it for what it is and can fight through it. I have a stable and loving family. They know and understand.”
To help others, Terri began speaking publicly about her journey with depression. “This is 2010 and many people still don’t understand. I want to let people know that there is help. You don’t need to be curled up on the couch in a fetal position. You can be a successful individual living with this disease, just like any other disease.”
Terri has created a website, www.changingthefaceofdepression.com, where she shares her story. “I will share my life with you through my blog but I want this website to be a source of hope – not a place of hopelessness,” she writes. “Yes, I have depression. It is a part of me. But I refuse to allow it to define who I am.”
In August, Terri and Rich will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary. And, the other day, Terri’s daughter said, “Mom, you’re the happiest depressed person I know.”