Donna Smaldone
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Monday / September 05 / 2011

Dealing with depression: a personal story

News of social media guru Trey Pennington’s suicide spread rampantly across social media channels last night, forcing me – and thousands of others – to look squarely at dealing with depression. And for me, it’s personal…

I Have Depression, Too.

Most people assume because I’m upbeat, expressive, friendly, and outgoing that I couldn’t possibly suffer with such an illness. But I do. I first noticed my symptoms of depression about four years ago, but it wasn’t until late last year I was left with no choice but to deal with them.

I was not myself. It all felt so foreign. Not only was I sad to the point of frequent sobbing, exhausted to the point I could lay down anytime, anywhere and sleep for hours without ever feeling rested — but too, I had grown completely apathetic.

Depression was like kryptonite to my usual ‘handle-whatever-comes-my-way’ ability and they battled each other fiercely. I needed help. And with the loving guidance and encouragement of my husband, I sought it.

Professional life-shifter (love that title) Bridget Pilloud penned a very brave post about depression yesterday following the news of Trey’s suicide. That blog post is no longer available online, but she shared the battle of her own depression, the illness that so many deal with, often times in secret. “It’s not something that people need to just get over. It’s not something that people can help.”

I wonder if you realize: 
* 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness
* 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment
* 15% of depressed people will commit suicide
* Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease

We need to stop perpetuating the myth that depression is “all in your head” or “only affects the weak”.

I, like Bridget Pilloud, do everything I can to keep my depression under control. The first and most important thing I (finally) did was seek help. Exercise, yoga, prayer, guided relaxation (especially before sleep), walks with my pup, breathing exercises, a healthy diet – along with authentic conversations with my therapist and the right meds – work for me.

I had come to a very good place and my depression was under control. It was like the sun had come out and a new day had dawned. It was truly like I had been reborn. The freedom was exhilarating.

These past few months, however, I’ve become quietly pensive. If you know me at a deep level, you’ve noticed.

I’ve noticed.

Here’s The Sad Truth.

My battle now is with the new anti-depressant medication I’m forced to take because my new health insurance company won’t cover the med that’s proven to WORK GREAT for me. “It’s too expensive” they said with clinical precision – and they don’t see the value in it. I’m left wondering why health insurance administrators yield more power than my physician over decisions so acutely affecting my health and well-being. Why are they empowered to override the recommendation of the licensed physician who knows me so well?

It pains an extrovert who is truly energized by others to once again start avoiding social situations, find excuses to not participate in activities, and be apathetic about reaching out to and sharing life with loved ones. I wrestle with making it better and it’s often a battle I don’t… more aptly, can’t win.

I don’t want to mislead you and make you think I’m on the edge of suicide, because I am not – at all. I do battle with great sadness and apathy, but am one of the fortunate not to be pushed toward suicidal thoughts. And when I’m able to once again balance the chemical piece of all this, I will once again relish the sunshine on my face.

I’m learning more and more about this disease called depression and, well… it’s ugly. Please. Reach out to those you cherish. Listen. Learn about dealing with depression. Care. THANK YOU!

31 responses to “Dealing with depression: a personal story”

  1. James Hood says:

    Donna, thank you so much for sharing this. Your story (and maybe Bridget’s moreso) is my story. I suffer from depression and so does my sister. My father’s father committed suicide when my father was a boy. My family never talks about it – like it’s some dirty secret. Many of my family members are in denial or they think that my sister and I will “just have to get over it.” That’s is very frustrating for my sister and me. The two of us have both been suicidal – both been hospitalized – both got therapy and both went through several anti-depressants before finding the right one. I am brutally honest when I say that my son is my reason for living. He is the main reason why I sought treatment and my main reason for pushing through the down times. I am glad that you shared that you take an anti-depressant. I think a lot of people believe that anti-depressants are a weak crutch for a weak condition. I wouldn’t be alive without them. Only someone with depression truly understands how tough it is. I am glad you are my friend and I am right here if you want another shoulder to lean on.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Your comments mean more than you know, James. This – by far – is the most vulnerable post I’ve written to date and I have to admit, as soon as I hit “publish”, a slew of thoughts flooded my mind, questioning “should I have shared all of that!?”… “have I become too exposed?”

      I was in the car with Skip approaching the mall (for Brody’s 1st haircut) when I first read your comments… and they made me cry. So raw. So honest. So shared. From the bottom of my heart… thank you for sharing, James. Your thoughts reminded me of precisely WHY I shared what I shared and exposed what I exposed. And I can’t thank you enough for sharing back.

      I am so sorry you and your sister have not only had to deal with the loss of your grandfather and the trials and testings of your own depression, but also the denial of your family as you battle with this illness. I know that’s the most difficult part.

      I am so glad you’ve been able to find a med that works, and that your son is truly your sun, shining brightly on your heart and soul. How grateful, too, I am that we are friends. Who knew “haa-aaay” would go so far for us on such a day as this.

      THANK YOU for your shoulder. Know mine is always here for you as well. Love!

  2. C Racette says:

    Is there anything that can be done with the insurance? Can your doctor appeal their decision on your behalf? Can you negotiate a price with your insurance for more coverage for that drug?

    No question about what you say about depression. I know people who need medication to help them with clinical depression. It can be such a long and difficult road to find the right medication and to think you found what works and the insurance company is dictating what you “need” is so demonstrative of at least one ill of the insurance industry.

    Sorry you’re going through this.

    -Cath

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Cath. Indeed… going to battle with the insurance company is “next” on the list. To be honest, the thought of beginning the debate with the insurance company is daunting as I do NOT want to be told to “try this…” or “try that…” before they’ll finally negotiate with me on the med I KNOW WORKS. But that journey needs to begin now. Thanks for the nudge.

      I can’t tell you HOW discouraging it is to recognize you’ve taken steps back in a journey like this — simply because an insurance company no longer feels like paying for something. I know many who have experienced similar plights (with depression meds and others), and it’s frustrating as well as infuriating on many levels.

      Thank you for your nod of love and encouragement, cuz. I’m glad to have you in my life. Hearing something as seemingly ‘simple’ as, “I’m sorry you’re going through this” really goes a long way. Thank you.

  3. Kim says:

    I have been in treatment for Social Anxiety and Depression for since my 16 year old was 4 (panic attacks started the year my husband was sent to Korea, leaving me at home working full time and with 2 kids). There is such a stigma (still) for any “mental issue”…. I once told my boss that I had anxiety and he said “But you are so confident, and outgoing”… That is one of the major symptoms of anxiety. We feel the need to please and are afraid of failure. I remember thinking I was insane and would never be happy again… A late night infomercial with a woman named Lucinda Basett truely saved my life. I watched and cried finally understanding that I was NOT the only person in the entire world who felt like this.. Who was nervous and sad every minute of every day… and that there was help for this. It had a name and a treatment. I ordered the CD and can say 12 years later, they saved my life!
    I now tell everyone who wants to know about my anxiety and all the symptoms that come with it and how I work, on a daily basis to control it so it won’t control me… I applaud your courage and willingness to discuss it.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I too, applaud your courage, Kim and thank you for your willingness to share with us here. You are right about the “stigma” that seems to accompany depression and other mental illnesses. What a shame.

      What people fail to recognize is that truly, it’s a whole-body disease (as you and I both well know). I applaud you for taking the steps to find the help you needed and need. There’s no such thing as, “you just need to move past this” — and such a suggestion can be very dangerous.

      Depression and social anxiety are real. They are powerful. But they don’t get too win… especially not with a higher, stronger, more assertive level of education for those who have (and have not) experienced depression first hand. Let’s continue to spread the word, and love and rally around those who need our help and support.

  4. Cynthia says:

    I cannot begin to thank you for sharing. I, too, suffer from depression. All those times you’ve seen me sing, and I don’t know if you knew. Today is a sad day. When I’m not in performer mode, it’s hard. I just finished a great play with lots of new friends. But the kids are 13 to 32, and I was the one trying to keep them motivated! Right in this moment, I know I need to try to make some new friends that are my age, and maybe I can meet a man that I’m not afraid of. In the meantime, I stay home, watch tv, sew and play games on the computer. I have a cat and she is soothing but … And I pray. My faith is stronger the years since you and Skip moved, but it’s still hard. I left that church and have been trying to attend another. That’s hard, too. The very place I want to feel wanted and it scares me. I spent 6 years at our last church but have not been able to keep but 2 or 3 people on Facebook. Ugh. I’m not suicidal either; I love life. So I just try to deal. This post is very important because I’m admitting I feel sad. Please keep posting.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you for your candor and pure honesty, Cynthia… not just me – but importantly, for you too. This journey is not intended to be taken alone and I’m grateful our paths had the opportunity to cross. There is no easy answer (as we both know), but admission of sadness and a request (or cry) for help is a critical part. I applaud you for stepping out. You are not alone.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Oh, I forgot to say the VA gives me Cymbolta, both for the depression and for anxiety from menapause. I would be a LOT worse without the meds. But I’m on this stuff, for life, it seems.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I’m glad to hear the meds bring you relief and help, Cynthia. It’s not important whether you stay on them for a period of time or for life… what matters is their help along the way. There is NO shame… just as there is no shame in taking Excedrin when you have a headache.

  6. Jenn Wood says:

    Thanks to all for posting and commenting, without keeping the conversation about mental illness going it won’t receive the attention it deserves. Having watched family members and friends struggle with depression and other issues it is sometimes all too easy to think that someone should just “snap out of it”. Keep advocating with those insurance companies and hopefully someday getting the right meds will be no different than getting the right diabetic supplies.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Jenn not only for your cheerleading… but for your thanks to all about the conversation. You are right – without talking about it, it too easily remains in the shadows James talked about as a “dirty little secret”. Like so many things, it often takes education and repetition to catch the light of truth and attention. Carry on!

  7. Debbie says:

    Love you, Donna. Very raw and personal post… You are so loved and just know that you are a light to so many others in your life every day. So glad to have you in my life!! Keeping you in my prayers that you will feel better soon.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Yes, Debbie. Without question, my most raw and personal post yet. At first I was worried I had become “too” vulnerable, but then I realized this type of exposed vulnerability is precisely what we NEED in order to change the dated way of thinking that people can simply ‘decide’ to change their situation when dealing with depression. Case in point… just read the comments on this post. I am humbled.

      Thank you for your affirming love, Debbie. People like me need people like you.

  8. Surly Paul says:

    After years of missed diagnosis from all kinds of doctors I finally, on my own, sought out the help I really needed. Hooray! Now I can sleep, At 5PM i leave the office with work on my desk and still relax. I can even hold my own in conversations and talk in front of groups. I still have some anxiety and OCD but it’s like getting my life back
    I guess I’m lucky… if you can call it that. A few months ago Blue Cross said I had to switch to a generic in place of the drug that was working fine. I’m lucky in that I never noticed the difference.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Congratulations, Paul. I applaud you on continuing your pursuit until you finally found what you needed to be YOU!

      I chuckled when I read, “…at 5PM I leave the office with work on my desk and still relax” – because this, too, has been a freedom for me — finally!!! (Cheers!)

      You’re an amazing man, Paul. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with all of us. You are appreciated.

  9. Pasquale says:

    Donna, you are one the most magnificent souls on our planet. WOW, what a profound sharing, readers are better for it…..your grace and openness are a kind of healing in-and-of-itself –it is such a gift that you would present such intense, important, intimate, and inspiring (yes, inspiring) observations and experiences.

    Also —- incredibly, while channel surfing, I saw a certain Tv ad air, very shortly after I read your newest post. After rubbing down the goosebumps that I felt after noting the amazing “coincidence”, I knew I had to include the following link (below)…..even though it’s an organization/event that’s likely already “old news” to you.

    http://www.preventsuicideny.org/Awards_Banquet.html [it’ll be right “here”, in Latham]

    your friend,
    -‘P’

    p.s. folks, one the great “anti-depressants” that pharmacology has not yet learned how to synthesize into a pill, patch, or mist is: the AMAZING sounds of Skip Smaldone and the fantastic musicians he chooses to jam with! IF you see a “prescription” from “Dr. Donna” that Skip is playing (in Glens Falls, or whereEVER) I highly recommend you heed “Dr’s orders” and TAKE that dose of VERY WELL PLAYED music…..you WILL “feel better in the morning” !! 🙂

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Pasquale, I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am our paths crossed so many states away, so we could be “reunited” in our hometown of Glens Falls, New York at this time. You are a beautiful and unique soul and you encourage and edify more easily than most. Thank you!

      And (smile!) thank for the nod to my amazing Hubs Skip and the incomparable music he makes! Incidentally, he’s playing with Groove Therapy (great horn band) this Friday night (Sept 9th) at JP Bruno’s in DT Glens Falls, NY and with Meltdown (80s rock) this Saturday night (Sept 10th) at King Neptune’s in Lake George, NY. Just what the doctor ordered.

      • Donna Smaldone says:

        oops! change in Skip’s gig schedule this weekend… no gig this Friday night (Sept 9th) — but he IS playing with Meltdown this Saturday night (Sept 10th) at King Neptune’s in Lake George, NY.

  10. Martin says:

    Well done for putting this post out there. It’s great to see such tremendous support from your readers.

    I have to say, I’ve still got a way to go with my disclosure. When you read the stats about how many people experience depression, it doesn’t make much sense that we still feel uncomfortable about being frank about suffering from the condition. But then when you see that 54% of people think it’s a sign of personal weakness, maybe it’s not so surprising.

    It probably won’t change until all those affected can be as brave as you Donna.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Your words are very kind, Martin. Thank you. The truth is that as soon as I clicked “publish” and pushed this post live, I struggled with feelings of doubt wondering, will people now look at me differently? Will they doubt my capabilities? Will they start to handle me with kid gloves?

      But you’re right, the responses I’ve received from people (both here in this comments section, and privately via email and Facebook) have been overwhelming. I continue to be amazed at the number of us, who suffer with depression AND with people’s perception of it.

      Depression is NOT something sufferers can “just get over” – as you and I well know. It is NOT a sign of weakness. And it does not make us unapproachable freaks. Thank you for all you do to encourage people to Learn, listen, and care.

      I’d like to refer all my readers to check out: http://toodepressed.com/

      Love, Donna

  11. Julie says:

    Donna, Thanks so much for this post. Depression is not “made up.” It is a disease…. and needs treatment just like any other disease. Too many people just want to sweep it under the rug or just say “Suck it up!” (even those who suffer from it). I have suffered bouts of depression, especially after my melanoma dx and surgery… but pushed through with lots of prayer and the strong support of my husband and friends. Ken is my rock and he understands me so well…. he senses my most subtle mood changes and “makes” me talk and hash out my feelings. I am so thankful for him! It is so important to recognize what we are feeling… so we can work toward getting help. And it is important to recognize it in your loved ones. I am always here for you sweet friend!! Love you so much!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Julie. Indeed depression is not “made up” (and I know you as a medical professional know that well). And you’re right, so many people (sufferers included) tend to lean toward, “I can just suck it up” — which is FALSE!!

      Talking DOES help, and I’m glad you have a partner who understands that’s exactly what you need. However, for many, more is needed — and that “more” looks differently for everyone. My hope is to bring this conversation out from behind the curtains so sufferers and friends of sufferers may work together toward individual solutions for everyone.

      • Julie says:

        I agree that each person needs an individual solution… and what “works” the first time, may not work the 2nd time, or 3rd. I have seen people in crisis many times. Sometimes they are reaching out to their loved ones, who are not hearing them… I am thankful that our ER is available and has the resources to help them. Sometimes they have reached the end of their rope and have attempted suicide… and some have even succeeded. Those are some of my saddest days at work. Grateful that you are bringing this out into the light so that we can all see that we are not alone! <3

  12. Rick says:

    Donna, I don’t know if it’s my place to say this, but I’m proud of you for being so personal, for revealing so much about yourself. If I’ve learned anything about blogging since February 2009, it’s that there’s always a risk in being totally honest, but, with the type of blogs we have, there’s no other way. At the very least, you give a voice to others, and at the most, you show them they are not alone, and you help them in ways you’ll never know. I can’t think of a better reason to put words together and to express yourself.

    I would never have have guessed you suffer from depression. You have always come across to me as so upbeat and exciting and fun. Which just goes to show how complex and fragile each and every one of us is.

    Thank you so much for sharing. Fortunately, I don’t suffer from depression, but I’ve had other mental illnesses (anxiety attacks and agoraphobia), and I know how tough it is to get them under control and not to let them take over your life. I know for a fact what you wrote here will make a difference. Great job. You are a treasure and don’t forget it.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      There truly is risk in being totally open and honest, but you’re right, Rick… it’s why we do what we do. I guess it’s safe to say that for us, the risk is worth it when we’re able to help others.

      I’m glad you don’t suffer from depression, but am sorry you’ve had to deal with other mental illnesses. None of it can be deemed “easy”, that’s one thing for certain.

      Much of the reason you, and many others would never guess I suffer from depression is because my inner me is what I put out there. That’s the “me” that is truly me. My depression just sometimes sidetracks me from it, and that is so very frustrating!

      Thank you for your kind words and thoughts, Rick. You, too are a treasure and I’m glad to have you in my life.

  13. Nancy says:

    Donna:

    Daring post and subject matter. Clinical depression runs in my family and I suffer from it as well.
    Many artists suffer from depression. Keep up the great work.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Nancy. I’m sorry to hear that depression runs in your family and that you suffer with it as well. I hope you’re all getting the help appropriate for your individual needs (as we are all so individual). And you’re right, it IS interesting how many creative-types deal with depression. I appreciate your comments and support.

  14. Yum Yucky says:

    It’s great to hear your story. I can connect with a lot of what you’ve said here. I was the kind of person that equated depression with some sort of personal weakness (before I’m the one who got depressed). But I still don’t call myself weak. I still feel strong.

    I’m totally fed up with insurance companies. I wish American’s set up with more like Europe (taking references with what I learned from the Sicko movie). I bothers me that you’re having to deal with inferior meds. The greed of these insurance companies is replusive to me.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Josie… you are amazing! I love reading your blog and your tweets. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and share your heart with me and my readers. I do not call myself “weak” either. I am ME, and my depression gets in the way of me being me (grrrr! that’s the frustrating part). I, too am fed up with insurance companies and HOPE to have this mess-with-mine figured out soon.

      To my readers… you can read Josie’s post about her recent bout with depression and how she battled back here: http://bit.ly/phzulI

      Thank you so much for your comments. Love, Donna

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