Life after a Depression Diagnosis
Someone recently asked why I spend so much of my time working to raise awareness of depression. To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it in years. It's been such a big part of my life for the last twelve years that I no longer think about the actual reasons why I do what I do.
Coincidentally, it was twelve years ago this weekend, with the help of "HTML for Dummies" and AOL's online course for creating a webpage on their site, that I created and published the first five pages of Wing of Madness. It was one of the first websites on depression that was created and run by a patient instead of a doctor or medical organization.
The site became so popular that soon I was receiving several emails a day from visitors. Some wanted a question answered, but I sensed that many people just wanted to connect with someone else who was in the same boat. Depression can be so isolating. So in the fall of 1998 I opened a message board for people with depression. It very quickly became a success. Two months later I opened a chat room and recently added blogs.
Each week, I spend a few hours on the forum and a few more adding mental health news stories. And, of course, I contribute to MyDepressionConnection.com. Between my full time job, being a mom and having Multiple Sclerosis, I don't have an excess amount of time and energy to spare, but I think that every minute I spend writing about depression is worth it. I'm also fairly open about my own depression offline, and I've had people confide in me when they thought they might have depression.
So why have I devoted so much of my life in the last twelve years to this cause? "Raising awareness" is a term that you hear a lot. So much, in fact, that it's almost meaningless. But I guess that raising awareness is exactly what I have been trying to do all these years, and the reason has to do with my own long-delayed depression diagnosis.
I've had clinical depression, in all likelihood, from about the age of seven, but I was not diagnosed until age 27. Most of the twenty years that I had undiagnosed depression, it was more on the level of dysthymia, which is low-level depression, than major depression. Dysthymia is less painful and all-encompassing than major depression, but it can ruin your life nonetheless.
Why did it take so long for me to find out what was wrong with me? Well, the problem was that no one talked about depression back in the seventies and eighties. And whenever I saw the depression symptoms "list" I didn't apply them to me. They were always described in such a dry, bloodless manner that I just didn't relate them to what I was feeling. Of course, I had also been depressed for so long that I didn't really remember feeling any other way.
When I was finally diagnosed, I was absolutely disgusted that so much of my life had been needlessly wasted. I mean, how ridiculous is it to live with a disease for twenty years and not even know it? I knew that in this case the enemy was ignorance, and as soon as I heard about the Web, I knew that I wanted to use it to fight this enemy.
One of the first five pages that I put up on my site I titled, "What is Depression (and What is it Not)?" I figured that since myths and misconceptions about depression had kept me from recognizing mine, it might be helpful if I laid it out in black and white for other people. Turns out that I was right. That page has been reprinted on other sites and in brochures more than any other article I've written. I also wrote about my own experience with depression. William Styron's account of his own depression was what gave a name to mine. I'm not as eloquent as him by a long shot, but I thought someone else might recognize their depression in my story.
I honestly didn't know what to expect when I created Wing of Madness. Even at that point, there were millions of sites on the Web. I kind of figured that my five little pages would be completely overlooked. But it didn't matter. I had to do it. I figured if even one person's depression was diagnosed a little earlier, I would have made a difference. And that was more than enough for me.
Published On: November 25, 2007