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Psssst. I Have a Secret. Want to Know? It May Make You Feel Less Alone.


Psssst. I Have a Secret. Want to Know? It May Make You Feel Less Alone.

I hope learning my secret makes you or a loved one feel less alone, more understood. Every depression has its unique beginning, progression, path. Mine has been with me off and on since my teen years. But I didn’t look it in the face until decades later. This is my story.

This story started as an article that I wrote and published as a guest post on another blog over a year ago. I wasn’t ready for “my people” to hear it then. I am now. In light of the recent rash of suicides and the ever expanding reach of mental illness, I feel that although the topic is heavy, it is time for us all to be brave enough to do what we can to help each other. It’s a five minute read. I hope it helps either you or someone you love.

I love my husband. Not in a common way. This love is an earth shattering, jigsaw puzzle fit, Hallelujah Chorus kind of love. I look at him and just reel with the awe of our having found each other. We have a mutual respect that sees us through conflict and a collective sense of humor that keeps us laughing. And yet, I have a disease that, at its worst, made me want to turn away. Not from him, but from his need of me. From my role in his life. My emotional reserve was so shallow that by afternoon, anything but solitude felt like an assault. I was obligated and determined to meet the needs of my daughters, and after doing my best with that, I had nothing left for him.

I love my kids. My highest ambition had always been to be a wife and a mom. We waited 6 long years to have our two girls, and they are more than I ever could have designed. So much more. Yet this vicious, lying thief of a disease left me walking the other way when I heard their sweet footsteps. “Please don’t need me. Please don’t need me” on repeat in my unwell mind.

I love my parents and my sister. They love and support me unconditionally and have never wavered in showing me. Never. But I hid my disease from them. The energy it would take to explain and reassure alluded me, leaving me in a selfish lie of omission which would, were the tables turned, hurt me deeply.

I love my God. Since the age of 3, I have had an abiding, life-giving faith in my Creator. Yet this disease flattened my resolve and dulled my hope. I never lost faith, yet I didn’t seek God for help.

I love my friends. And yet I withdrew from almost all of them. I felt I had nothing to give, most times feeling already scraped clean, turned inside out, and shaken empty by just the basic responsibilities of daily living.


Every depression has its unique beginning, progression, path. Mine has been with me off and on since my teen years. I was in a juvenile relationship that ended in rejection, and the effect that had on my mental state was way out of proportion to the situation. In retrospect, that was my first bout. Then I was in college in Seattle and began feeling spent, worn thin part way through the day. This was uncharacteristic for my typically high energy, determined self. I didn’t know what it was then. I kept thinking that if I could just get more sleep, I’d be fine. I limped by, graduated, and moved back to our huge, bright Reno skies and the challenge of medical school, and I returned to myself. Medical school and residency brought their own built-in anxieties, but that dark cloud and inexplicable worn-thin feeling didn’t return until after I had my first baby at age 31. With the sleep deprivation and new found responsibility, it seemed expected. I wasn’t as happy as I had envisioned being, but I was exhausted from 60 minute sleep intervals and all that comes with being a new parent. The storm cloud didn’t take up residence again until around 40. With no warning or reason, the skies went gray and the bottom fell out of my heart despite all the love I had in my life. Premature ovarian failure, or early onset menopause, confused the picture. I had hot flashes, a brain full of cobwebs, an inability to multitask, and a short anger fuse. I couldn’t find my cheerful, high-functioning, energized self anywhere. Prescription hormones helped some. I thought they should fix everything, so I waited to feel normal again. I waited for 2 years, telling no one. The feeling was one of inexplicable, deep, all-encompassing defeat.

A turning point for me was reading a blog article from CupofJo.com entitled The Hardest Two Months of My Life. In the telling of the author’s own self-realization, she says, “The funny thing about depression is that you don’t know that it’s depression — like, chemical imbalance in your brain, or a hormonal crash. You just think it’s your actual life–that your career really IS ending, that you really ARE a terrible mother, that your husband really WILL stop loving you, that friends DO think you’re boring…When you’re depressed, you don’t realize that your life actually is fine–you’re simply sad because you’re depressedThe depression is the reason for the depression.” The depression is the reason for the depression. I began thinking about how I have a significant family history of clinical depression and about how no matter what I fixed, I never felt better. Her description of the experience, the feeling, the mind-set rang so true to me that I felt I was reading words I myself had written.

When I finally decided to confide in a friend and in my husband, they were both blind-sided. I am a great pretender. How could I have looked so normal to those closest to me when inside, my cup was emptying faster than it could be filled and springing new leaks every day? It was as if the appearance of being ok was all I could control, all I had left of my former self.

I resisted medication because I was afraid I’d lose my “edge.” This was a lingering fear from the residency days when I was convinced that one of the reasons I was a good doctor was because of the fault line my anxiety kept me straddling. I thought my anxious perfectionism was my super power. But, in truth, depression blunted my edge. I had no energy and was so quick to think, “I just don’t care.” I never contemplated suicide. But I did sometimes wonder how having me around in this state was irreparably, if subtly, harming my kids. And I often thought that it would be a relief to just be done. Waves of despair hit me at the oddest times. I’d often find myself carting through Walmart, willing myself not to cry while calmly consulting my shopping list. At every point in my past, if something was scary or hard, I would simply approach it with the requisite level of vigor, determination, and focus and then presto! Mind-over-matter would prevail. I prided myself on my mental heartiness, my ability to avoid shrinking in the face of fear. But “mind-over-matter” could not fix this. Love could not fix this. It was a first, and it was a blow. Grit and strength of will had failed me, and love, rather than being a savior, felt like another way to fail.

I eventually found a combination of exercise, adequate sleep, and medication which has me back at center. There is no such thing as a happy pill or quick fix. Sometimes I’m happy and sometimes I’m sad, but with medication and good self-care, I can reach happy. And when I’m sad, it’s about something sad, not about something trivial or for no reason at all.

This story has no tidy conclusion. My life is an ongoing, messy combination of joy, love, faith, disappointment, struggle, and striving just like yours. I’m telling it so that you or someone you love might feel less alone, a little more understood, armed with the language to describe their invisible battle. I write it so that those that have the gift of sound mental health might remember that a person who looks completely together may be drowning.

  • Jen Janiga says:

    Joanne, thank you for sharing your story. It will help someone, possibly someone we all know, with their struggle.

    • cozyclothesblog says:

      Hi Jen! Thanks so much for reading and commenting! So good to hear from you and glad to know that you feel it’ll help someone! Took me a while to gather my nerve. 🙂

  • Keri Fishel says:

    You are so brave for sharing this very private side of yourself! I love you even more! If this helps even 1 person, you are a savior!

  • Martha Templeton says:

    Beautiful you! You are admirable! My daughter suffers from depression and indeed it’s very difficult to understand why but you story helps me to understand her a little bit more. Thank you for sharing.

    • cozyclothesblog says:

      Hi Martha! I am so, so glad that my words have helped you to understand what your daughter is going through. I’m sorry that she is. It’s a tough road, but she has a wonderful and caring mama and family!

  • Crissy says:

    You are amazing in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart with us!

  • Kathy Secrist says:

    Wow, Joanne thank you for sharing part of your story! You are an amazing women of God! I pray that your new routine towards better mental health is a way for you to know God’s love even deeper… that through your story you’ll be able to share His love even better to the world.

    • cozyclothesblog says:

      Hi Kathy! Yes, I have definitely drawn closer to Him through this. Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to send me a comment. God bless you!

  • Kaylie says:

    The way you describe your experience is so vivid and relatable.

  • Ali says:

    Joanne, I remember you so well, especially from Chemistry. I was always so envious of how smart you were and how easily all of the experiments turned out for you 🙂 Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story. To use your words, some of the things you said I felt I could have written myself… about myself. I’d love to share more, but not here. I’m so glad to have re-connected on FB and so happy for all of your success 🙂

  • Such an articulate expression of what depression is and what it does to a person. So glad you were able to get yourself help. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Amy Blair says:

    Oh wow oh wow! This was a fantastic article.
    I can relate about most of it but especially about feeling like your feelings are out of proportion with your first relationship.
    Then the realization that you don’t know it is depression when it is happening is absolutely true, and the same with anxiety and panic attacks. You just think there is something wrong with all these other things and it is hard to just snap at of it and call it what it is.
    I’m glad you found a balance. Something we all can hope for when facing this kind of mindset at certain times in our lives.

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