Hang in there

Pic credit: Jeb Buchman on Unsplash

How I Got Sick

Things have been difficult for me since 2010 when I lost my grandma, the woman who raised me. My condition got worse when another grievous event happened in early 2013. I spiraled down into a deep depression, and became suicidal by the end of 2013. The mental pain was unbearable, I was in anguish.

Logically, I knew I was sick, and I tried to find help. I went to a doctor and I told him that I was suicidal and needed help.

Believe it or not, this is how he responded. He looked at me and said, “But you don’t look suicidal to me!

As I looked at him in disbelief, he continued saying “You should be grateful and think happy thoughts. Be positive! Don’t worry about it. It’s just all in your head.

Well.. he was right about one thing. It IS in my head. Depression is the sickness of the brain.

It was extremely hard to find support. Nobody understood what I was going through. My sickness got worse and during my darkest times, at the deepest of my depression period, I used to hear voices; … voices that told me that there was no hope, that I would never get better, voices that told me death is the only way out of the pain, voices that told me that my family would be better of without me. For months I suffered with mental anguish and a severe sense of isolation.

In August 2014, I read the news of Robin Williams’s death by suicide. What struck me was realizing that instead for feeling shock or disbelief, I felt that I understood (why he chose suicide). That was the moment I realized that something was really wrong with me. I needed help.

Pic credit: Eric Ward on Unsplash

The Battle

The first psychiatrist I saw was not a good fit. He just started to medicate me, without a thorough examination and it was a disaster! I got sicker as the result. I became determined to find the right treatment and became persistent in looking for the right doctor. Thankfully a friend, who is a neurologist, referred me to a psychiatrist, who was a perfect fit. He is a very knowledgeable doctor, and more importantly, he is willing to work with his patients to work out the right treatment.

The Challenge

One of the problems with mental illness is that, often you don’t get “better” right away. I experienced a large range of side effects from the medications we were trying. The doctor needed to keep changing the prescription and we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I became so frustrated, it seemed that nothing we tried would work and I began to despair.

My family knew that I was sick, but they didn’t know how to support me. At the time my job was teaching in a local university. I was still functioning, and, though incredibly hard, I was able to work. But other than that, I withdrew from the world.

Going into 2015, my battle with depression continued. Recovery felt impossible. At times I felt like I made one step forward just to make two steps back. My cognition and the executive functions of my brain were declining. My short term memory got severely affected.

Hitting Rock Bottom

My brain condition got so bad that year; teaching and mentoring were challenging. I also started to get anxiety on top of my depression, which made things worse.

I still remember that day; I stood in front of the class, was just going to start the lecture, when my brain went blank. I couldn’t remember anything about the lecture! Another lecturer had to take over my class.

I was crying on the way home. My brain was something I could always depend on. I was an honor student, the top graduate of my class, I won a full scholarship to a graduate program in Canada; and yet there I was, couldn’t even remember anything about the subject that I was going to teach to my class.

I felt so low; I just can’t seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I started believing that my brain will never get better.

Getting Better

After months of trial and error, we figured out the right combination of medications and dosage for my brain condition. I finally got the right diagnosis which is Bipolar Type 2, not just a regular (unipolar) depression. Later on I was also diagnosed with ADHD, the inattentive type.

As my depression lessened and my brain health increased, my cognition and executive functions started to recover. It took a couple more years to regain my full brain functions.

I am now in full recovery. In 2017, I decided to take sabbatical from my teaching work and became a mental health and recovery advocate. My Facebook Page WorkWithTheBrainYouHave has over 58,000 followers from USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, NZ, Australia, South Africa and Europe.

My startup project LetsConnect combines technology and the knowledge I have on effective mental health support system. Our mission is to build connections among people, giving support even to those who are living in remote places.

I am really grateful to God, thankful to my doctor and deeply, utterly grateful to my peer supporters who supported me during my battle with depression. I was able to go through even the worst moments because of them. Without their presence during those challenging, terrifying months, I don’t think I would make it out alive.

I still have my brain disorders: the Bipolar 2 and ADHD, and I will have them for the rest of my life. But that’s okay because I am now better at managing my conditions. Now, I ‘work with the brain I have

NOTE:

I finally decided to write this story and share it because I want to give hope to those who are now in the middle of the struggle. It’s not easy, but it does get better, and yes, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you for reading

— Sophie

LetsConnect Project

WorkWithTheBrainYouHave Community Group

WorkWithTheBrainYouHave Resource Page

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LetsConnect founder.

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Sophia S Athena

Sophia S Athena

LetsConnect founder.

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