In seven short weeks I will be graduating with my Master’s degree in nursing and will be able to sit for my boards to be a board certified Nurse Practitioner. Many people ask me what my specialty is or what I am going to do when I graduate. I answer, “psychiatry.” Almost always, I get the response, “are you crazy?” or “why would you want to do that?” Well, here is my question, why not? Why not be a compassionate person who understands what it feels like to have or love someone with mental illness. Mental illness is a part of everyone’s life whether they like it or not. At least one in four people suffer from some form of mental illness in their life.
I grew up with a mother who has and continues to struggle with Bipolar I disorder. My childhood was not easy to say the least. My mother loved my brother and I and we knew it but a day in our life was not ordinary. When my mother was manic she was so much fun, all my friends growing up thought she was “cool” and fun to be around and she was and still is sometimes. Those days were few and far between. My earliest memory of my mother suffering from depression was 4th grade. My father was and still is the hardest working men I have ever met and worked nights. So, many days when mom was depressed, if she went to work she would come straight home and go to bed. Dad would leave money for pizza or mom would get fast food but ultimately I learned to cook at a young age to take care of my brother. Thank God we had each other. I used to get angry and so mad at hurt, even say hurtful things when she would sleep all weekend and not do anything or take my brother and I anywhere. So, I will spare the rest of the rough details of my childhood. In high school my mom was pretty stable and did pretty well despite the negativity and stigma she faced from people including some friends and family. Looking back, I see how incredibly strong she was.
It was not until I had my daughter did I truly realize what even an ounce of her suffering was like. I had pre-eclampsia which resulted in bed rest towards the end of my pregnancy which put a strain on me and my family mentally and financially. When I delivered my daughter, Katerina four years ago it was not how I had dreamed. I had an emergency c-section but thank God she was healthy. It was almost immediate, as if someone turned the lights off that I began to feel detached from life and myself. I loved my daughter and thankfully had no ill feelings toward her but I was depressed. Unbelievably depressed. We brought our daughter home and would you know it, she had Colic. She screamed uncontrollably from 8pm to 4am every single night until she was 9 months old. We tried EVERYTHING, nothing worked. Its amazing how you learn who really cares when you have depression and a baby with colic. People who you think are your close family stop calling, visiting or caring. Thankfully, I had an amazing husband, best friend, brother and my parents who helped me through this. My husband is my angel, he put up with endless nights of screaming when I could not, it was so bad that I would look down at her precious face to think, how sorry I felt for her to have mother like me. I would think of numerous ways to end my life, starred at pill bottles, day dreamed of driving into a pole, you name it. I never attempted suicide, the only thing that kept me alive was the fact that my sweet little girl needed my milk to survive. I breastfed her exclusively and when I tried weaning her she would not take formula. Call it a blessing in disguise. She saved my life by needing me. I struggled and my husband and mother knew I was depressed, they did not know to what extent, well maybe my mom did.
When my daughter turned one she weaned herself and I quit breastfeeding. I was sad and relieved at the same time. I knew that I could no longer live like this and with the encouragement of my best friend Lisa and my mother I finally called out for help. Funny thing, no one answered. The first doctor said, “you are not depressed, you just had a baby, you are tired, maybe its your thyroid.” After that I tried the OB doctors office, I had and still have an amazing rapport with my midwife but never got to her because the office staff said I needed to see my primary. I then looked for a support group, at that time, there were none. There still is not one in my county, YET. Finally, my neurologist put me on medication for my migraines with happen to be an antidepressant and hot damn, my light was turned on. Why did I live in agony for an entire year? I suffered for a long miserable horrible year and I barely survived. How my mother is still struggling 2 decades later baffles me. So, that is why I am choosing psych. I know what it feels like to be a family member and a patient and If I can save one person from ending their life or make them feel whole again than this long hard journey is worth it. Mental illness is real, it can happen to anyone and does not discriminate. Next time you make a joking comment that someone is “crazy” or needs to “snap out of it” think twice. Think of my story or my moms. No one asks to have mental illness and if it were easy enough to snap out of it, don’t you think they would? Spread the word, show compassion, you have no idea what someone else is going through.