The Stigma of Depression and Mental Illness

In the wake of the Tom Cruise assault on psychiatry and many other stars confessions of depression, the normal person is still left with a very difficult choice to make when confronted with a possible mental health diagnosis: get help or not?

When I discovered I was pregnant with my first child I decided it was time to look into a former department head’s comments about Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I’d been a successful teacher for nearly five years, but could see, with the changes pregnancy was having on my body and energy, that staying up until 2 am to grade papers and always being on the go was not going to work for me anymore. After a lengthy interview and a series of intelligence and neurological tests, I was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive type) and depression with anxiety secondary. Since I was pregnant, I opted for non-drug treatment.

Everything went fine, although after the birth of my son I began to experience some serious swings in my mood and ability to function. My therapist suspected post-partum depression, and urged me to try drug therapy. Several months went by and finally I agreed to take Celexa, an anti-depressant. This helped considerably, although I felt tired more frequently, but less prone to crying jags. Summer came and the Celexa seemed to not be as effective, so we agreed to switch me to Lexapro, a derivative of Celexa, but with fewer noted side effects. This drug was not a success, and a week later I discovered I was pregnant with my second child.This pregnancy was vastly different. With my son I was an unwed mother teaching in a very conservative community. I had an hour commute to work, which I shared with two car-poolers. This pregnancy found me married, teaching in a much higher-paying district, with a much shorter commute. I was, however, miserable.

After locking myself into our bathroom and planning my suicide, I decided it was time to seek help for my incessant crying, panic attacks and dizziness. I had stopped seeing my therapist after moving out of town, and hadn’t tried any other medications due to my pregnancy. I confessed all to my midwife who sent me for a variety of blood tests (including anemia) and an ultrasound on my heart. My cousin’s 2-year-old daughter had recently died from mis-diagnosed leukemia, so I was unreasonably paranoid about my son and my present pregnancy.

I was found to be extremely anemic and put on Prozac. The Prozac helped tremendously, and my performance at school improved dramatically as did my mood and outlook. My daughter was born, a very healthy little thing, and after the allowed maternity leave, I returned to school.

The next school year began uneventfully, I was given my own classroom and would get tenure that year in my new school. I had found the district I wanted to stay in. My husband and I began making plans to open a coffee shop in town, and make our dream a reality. Suddenly things started to go bad.

I would arrive to school in the morning unable to get out of my car or meet the eyes of people around me. I would go through my day feeling a terrible sense of doom and dread, as if something terrible had happened to my family. I would call in to work from the parking lot, shaking and crying, certain that if I got out of the car, I would die. I began to hear strange noises and hissing all the time, and shadowy shapes stood at the corners of my vision.I

I was afraid I was going insane. Worse, I was afraid to tell anyone what was happening. Who wants a crazy woman teaching their children? In my paranoia and pain, I could not reach out to anyone. I began making up symptoms and illnesses to cover up my growing fear andalienation.Finally

morning hiding in the bathroom, clutching the plastic bag and tape I was planning to use to kill myself with, when my children began tapping on the door, calling to me. I came out of the bathroom, and called my midwife, then my doctor who ordered me to stop taking my Prozac.

I was put on a low dose of Ritalin and put bProzac.Ielexa. I tried to get all the pieces of my life bCelexagether. I went to my principal to explain, because I knew my absentee-ism and zombie-like performance in the classroom was not my usual, exemplary teaching style.

My principal felt that the burdens of being a mother and a teacher were too much for me and my 7 previous years of high evaluations and performance in a total of 3 districts meant nothing. His own mother, he said, had been depressed and “was a worthless woman.” He went on for several minutes about women who work and are too tired to take care of their families. I was asked for my resignation and my union recommended I do so.

It has been three years since I taught, I have bso.Itnable to find another teaching position; however our coffee shop is perking along nicely. My son started his first year of first grade this year and my daughter her second year of preschool. I’ve gone on and off medication and am now successfully managing my life with a combination of Ritalin and Cymbalta. I’ve never quite forgiven that principalCymbaltar, for his lack of empathy and understanding.

Last year a student’s father committed suicide while she attended that same school. My former principal counseled her about his “worthless mother” and how people with depression were worthless. That year he was secretly asked for his resignation.

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