By: Laurie Jueneman
I am going to share the story about a “normal” woman. Her life was and is not too different from many people in the world today. She is one of every five people in the U.S. who has been diagnosed with depression.
That woman is me. I lived a fairly typical life until I was in my thirties. My twin brother and I were adopted and grew up in a loving home in Minnesota. We experienced the death of our father when we were sixteen, but life went on. After high school, I went to nursing school and worked for a few years. I had my friends, enjoyed sports, camping, and took a few trips to the western United States and Europe. I then returned to school to get my graduate degree in nursing education.
When I was in my mid-thirties – life as I knew it suddenly changed – it felt like an earthquake came out of nowhere and shook the ground beneath my feet. The relative stability I had felt up until then suddenly disappeared. I no longer enjoyed going to work, even though my job had been the essence of my life. I began to cry easily and had periods of anxiety for no apparent reason.
I had problems sleeping and my concentration was poor, making work difficult. I didn’t care if I ate or not. I stopped doing things with my friends, the very people who were so important to me. I saw others enjoying life, but I was unable to do so. It was difficult to put on a happy face every day – to be around people.
I finally gave in and went for medical help which led to a diagnosis of depression. Even though I was a nurse with a graduate degree, I had no idea what this meant or certainly what it would mean for me in the future. I would later describe depression as a “callous illness that had no idea that I had other plans for my life.” I tried several different medications, none of which seemed to help. Even during the first few months of my diagnosis of my disease, one I had had for many years, I journaled about the stigma associated with depression and my fears that people just thought I was crazy or weak.
I wrote of my suicidal thinking and my fear of not being able to ask for help when I needed it. I felt like I was a burden to everyone, including my family, friends, co-workers, and the medical team. I had several hospitalizations and eventually had my first electroconvulsive therapy. They helped me for a while, but they came with the side effect of memory loss. This had a huge impact on my ability to return to work.
After about two years and not much improvement, I was referred to the Menninger Clinic for inpatient treatment. This was helpful but compromised some because I just wanted to be at home. Luckily I was totally independent before my hospitalization, so it didn’t take me much to get settled back into a routine once I came back home. I came home with hopes of being able to feel better forever. I returned to work and tried to get back into the life I had once had. It wasn’t always easy as I continued to struggle with the same thoughts and feelings which had dragged me down in the first place.
One breakthrough occurred during a session with an employee assistance counselor. I don’t remember how it came up or why I finally shared this information, but I found the courage to admit that I had been sexually abused as a young child. It was a big relief to share this, but of course, this was a new hurdle in my recovery process.
About four years after my return home, I found myself experiencing suicidal thinking once again. I began seeing a doctor for cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is still something I use frequently.
In 1993 I made a suicide attempt, and it was at this time that my doctors first recommended my having a neurosurgical procedure in which lesions are placed in a particular part of the brain (cingulotomy). It was thought that this procedure might help with the obsessive thoughts of suicide I experienced. I had the surgery a second time because the lesions were thought not to be deep enough after the first procedure. I went through these procedures because I was desperate for anything which might help me live a normal life.
In addition to cognitive therapy, my medications, and fairly frequent electroconvulsive therapy when my mood declined enough to require it, I became involved in many volunteer activities. I also continued to take continuing education credits to keep up my nursing license in hopes of returning to work.
My struggle continued. I still had periods of hopelessness. I made a couple of attempts to go back to work but the additional stressors led to a relapse. In 2002, I met with friends I had met through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). We had been talking about ways to relax or divert our attention from our illness. They were both artists and liked to paint and draw and found this helpful. I remember sharing with them that I liked to write and had been journaling throughout most of my illness. They suggested that I write my story and turn it into a book for others to read.
The next several years I continued to struggle but one morning in January 2009, it struck me that I had not been hospitalized for six months. Although I had gone that long before, it still felt like a milestone. I knew that I had been taking many baby steps toward recovery by using many of the tools and skills I had learned over the years. This gave me the confidence to keep trying.
In 2012, I finally started working in earnest on my book. I reviewed medical records, reread journals, did a little research, and wrote and rewrote. It wasn’t always easy going back through those very difficult years, but I also found it healing. I did things kind of backward. I wrote my first book without learning anything about marketing and publicity. Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression with the Help of Strong Cleats, one Person’s Ongoing Journey Through the Crevasses of Depression was published in 2014. In 2015, after learning about the importance of marketing, I started taking some online courses. It was recommended that I shorten the title and brighten the cover some. I also had had a couple relapses in my depression in 2014, so I talked about that reality in my new book, and added a few other topics. In 2015, my book Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression: A Story of Hope, Recovery, and Inspiration was published.
Finishing these books gave me a true feeling of accomplishment. I had a dream, set a goal and I met it! I felt triumphant. My life expanded as I felt like now I could reach other goals and truly move forward with my life. I was never able to return to my nursing career, but am now able to define myself in other ways.
I have been able to build a website and start a blog helpwithyourdepression.com. My goals include informing others about depression, sharing tools and skills that I have learned that help me live better with my illness, and to help decrease the stigma of depression.
The cure is different than recovery. I am now more aware that a cure for depression may not occur in my lifetime. I can, however, enjoy the recovery. Recovery means regaining control over one’s life to fight the illness. As I move through my recovery, I have more hope for a good future.
I am passionate about sharing my story and other information in order to help decrease the stigma of depression and other mental illnesses. I want others to know what it is like to live with a mental illness. It is a rollercoaster ride for sure. I want to give hope to others when it might feel to them like there is none. I am grateful to have the opportunity to help others and share this message as an author and speaker.
Laurie Jueneman is a registered nurse with a graduate degree in nursing education from the University of Minnesota. She worked in a variety of areas of nursing in Minnesota and Washington. She states it is not her education that qualified her to write her two books, the last one being, Climbing the Mount Everest of Depression, a Story of Hope, Recovery and Inspiration, but her experience of living with depression for thirty years. Her career was actually sidelined by her illness and the side effects of some of the treatments. During the course of her treatment, she experienced many hospitalizations, two neurological surgeries, over 400 electro-convulsive treatments and was treated with almost every medication out there. She continued to be active in her community by volunteering in several areas including the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She now feels that her “bad” days are better than her “good” days were at one time. She knows the difference between recovery and cure. She says she is in recovery. She is single, retired and lives with her roommate, a 6-year-old Bichon/Shih Tzus dog.
Visit Laurie Jueneman’s blog: http://helpwithyourdepression.com/