This article is contributed to FHR’s website through Elizabeth M., member at Fairwinds Clubhouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
Please note that all names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.
“I would describe my depression as someone beating you up until you’re unconscious and pushes you down the stairs. You can barely breathe because the pain is unbearable. As if that is not enough, you are thrown off a mountain and you become paralyzed when you hit the ground. My depression was worse than all that combined.”
Kimberly chooses to remain anonymous due to confidentiality. She was nice enough to share her story of her struggle and recovery from dealing with a mental illness. Kimberly Bell was born in the late fifties in Western Massachusetts. She has one older sibling. Her mother is still alive today, however her father passed away due to emphysema. He was a heavy smoker. Kimberly had a son in 1985 to an anonymous father. In 1987, Kimberly got married and had a baby girl named Amanda. Due to family conflicts, Kimberly divorced her husband in 1992. Mental illness does not run in Kimberly’s family.
Kimberly was diagnosed with major depression in her thirties. Kimberly was experiencing a lot of anxiety and didn’t know why. She could feel the anxiety build up in her chest and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She started seeing a therapist for the first time in 1992. She had a hard time managing depression so she checked herself into a psychiatric unit as an inpatient at Cooley-Dickenson hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts. By the second time she was hospitalized, she was put on lithium and Depakote for depression. She was suicidal. The last time she was hospitalized was in 2001 when she stopped taking her medication.
Kimberly was a “perfect child” as her mom used to say watching her grow up. She never got into trouble and was always respectful. Kimberly was shy and didn’t have many friends. Kimberly’s symptoms of depression and anxiety started at a young age. By age ten, she had already experienced panic attacks. Despite her early anxiety as a child, she did well academically. However, Kimberly never felt loved by her family. She felt worthless and by 16 she wanted to die.
In high school Kimberly drank heavily. It “took away the pain” as she described. She was “terrified” of going to school. She was nervous sitting in the classroom. She couldn’t adjust her seat or switch leg positions because she was afraid someone would notice her. Her anxiety worsened along with her grades. She wanted to drop out but her parents didn’t allow it.
Kimberly attended college straight after high school and majored in gerontology. Gerontology is the study of the elderly. “It seemed interesting,” she said.
By the second semester, her depression got the best of her and she dropped out. A few years later, she picked herself up again and attended night school. She majored in criminal justice. She dropped out again and soon attended college a third time majoring in human services. After dropping out again due to heavy drinking to try and mask her depression, she attempted her fourth and final college enrollment and studied psychology. She never received a degree.
As she became more depressed and more suicidal, she felt taking care of a family was overwhelming. She didn’t want to wake up after a stressful night’s sleep. After the divorce, she was ready to kill herself. The only thing stopping her was her two beautiful children. They would lose their mother and would be grieving for the rest of their lives. However, the anxiety and depression made it easy for her to want to end her life yet it was a challenge to do it right. “I wasn’t going to do a poor job of killing myself. I didn’t want to end up sick in the hospital. I wanted to be dead,” she admits.
Jobs were stressful for Kimberly. Working wasn’t a way to forget her problems. In fact, working made her problems bigger. The jobs Kimberly worked at were mostly home health aid programs and cleaning businesses. The anxiety of trying to feel “normal” was getting worse. “I never felt like I fit in with everybody else,” she explains.
By ten years old, Kimberly already imagined herself in a “coffin with family around her hoping she mattered to them.” Kimberly never felt close to her family. She was ignored and rarely got positive attention. She had no bonds or support from them. She felt alone - completely alone.
Food became a source of comfort for Kimberly. She gained 40 lbs when she was put on Paxil and lithium for depression. Kimberly’s self-esteem dropped drastically and her depression swallowed her up.
It was never easy to be Kimberly. She was alone and tearful. Her usual day consisted of attending an outpatient program to receive therapy and supervision from a psychiatrist. Her normal weekend was spent alone in her small apartment. She slept a lot and hated herself.
The program she attended was also called “day hospital” in Pocasset, Massachusetts. It was a program for the mentally ill and a rehab for substance abusers. It entailed a week’s worth of therapy classes, lunch, and exercise time. Exercise time included volleyball, walks along the lake, and basketball. Therapy classes included dealing with emotions, talking about strengths and weaknesses, attending writing workshops, and completing art projects. The clients get to know each other on a personal level and some form close friendships. It’s a remarkable support system.
Kimberly decided it was time to face her problems. She had long, painful nights after arguing with her family. She felt it was time to stand up for herself. She needed to fight for her own needs. She felt she was being walked all over and pushed around by the only support system she wished she had.
No matter what happened, Kimberly felt worthless. The therapists in day hospital would try to convince her she mattered. Kimberly got angry when they tried because she was absolutely certain she amounted to nothing. She spent sleepless nights telling herself she was a failure. This went on for years. She was in a vicious cycle of believing she was a nobody. She stayed in a routine of depression and hatefulness against herself. Deep down in her torn heart, she wanted to feel better about herself. She wanted to smile more and fit in with the world.
One night Kimberly agreed to take a walk with a friend down her street. Once the endorphins started running, she made the commitment to walk three days a week for an hour. Not only did her energy level rise, but so did her motivation. Her mood changed for the better. Once her body and mind started to improve, so did her self-esteem. She has taken up two volunteer jobs. She works at a day care facility supervising children and at a health care center where she greets patients. The children make her smile and the health care job helps her feel important and needed. Kimberly decided to go out one night to a local band’s concert. She got up and danced and let loose! She has never felt so free and happy. She now takes minimal naps and socializes at least three times a week with friends. “I feel like I have a life!” she says.
Kimberly never knew her own strength. Her story of recovery is powerful and inspiring. She’s a beautiful example of what the human mind and body can achieve. She has been pushed off that mountain but instead of falling, she’s soaring like an eagle.