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My Experience of Depression: The Bell Jar

My experience is that depression truly is the bell jar that steals the air from us, making it hard to breathe or function.


What is depression? I know.

When Sylvia Plath wrote her enlightening book, The Bell Jar, she described depression in a way no other had before or has since. My experience is that depression truly is the bell jar that steals the air from us, making it hard to breathe or function, much less laugh and enjoy life. Unlike Sylvia, I have survived my times of overwhelming gloom without succumbing to the oven. I'd have to find another path, anyway, as my oven hasn't been cleaned in months. My depression never got that bad, I suppose. It was always just a pall that blanketed my small universe; it came from nowhere and left just as quickly. I can remember as a preteen waking up and feeling an all-encompassing relief because it would be gone—poof!—until next time.

Growing Up Sad

When I was younger, I didn't quite understand exactly what was wrong with me. I remember hearing my mom tell people I was "nervous." The most frightening thing about it all for me was my powerlessness over the wretched thing. I can remember feeling uneasy when I was happy, running and playing with friends, because I wondered how long it would last. Other children were afraid of the boogey-man. I was afraid of the real boogey-man, who came sprinkling gloom and sadness and fatigue. As a child and a young teenager, I would use those dark times for reading and most often to escape to my room for naps. The periods of sadness and gloom were always accompanied by a dreary tiredness that no amount of sleep seemed to relieve.

In college, I learned a bit more about depression in my freshman psychology classes, although that was many years ago and there wasn't that much to learn. After I married and had children, the bouts with depression lessened because life was so full of children and activities. In my late 30s and early 40s, the plague, as I've often called it, was back with an intensity I'd never experienced and some days it was difficult just to make it out of bed. I remember so many mornings talking to myself about being positive and grateful for what I had, etc., then bursting into tears. So much for the power of positive thinking. The depression came and went over the years. Some years were better, some worse. It was never situational and just seemed to materialize out of the mist.

Reaching My Limit

In the spring of 2005, I became so very overcome with sadness and gloom, that I finally mentioned it to my primary-care physician. She merrily wrote me a prescription for 20 milligrams of the antidepressant Prozac. Within four days, life was good! In fact, it was too good. I was absolutely intoxicated on the drug. I loved my husband so much, my friends so much, hell, I loved the stainless steel. It was something a bit like being underwater, taking the SSRI. I wasn't certain I liked the feeling, but after years of struggling not to cry at the dinner table, get in my car and drive to the ends of the earth or sleep 20 hours a day, I was ready for any relief.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Katrina came along in August of 2005. My husband and I were always very cavalier about hurricanes, had never evacuated for one. We often sat in our driveway in lawn chairs, drinking beer, surrounded by empty houses left by the evacuees, watching the weather come in, feeling smug and thinking about all those people fighting a parking lot of traffic on I-10. However, on that particular Sunday morning in August, Joe came in to wake me up at 8:30. His message was: They're saying this one may be a Category 4 or 5. Do you think maybe we should leave? Whatever. I didn't care. I felt fantastic! The Prozac was truly in my bloodstream by now and altering the workings of my brain, making me love everything and fear nothing, not even Hurricane Katrina. Bring her on!

Fleeing Katrina

We left to go to my husband's hunting camp in Arkansas. I don't remember the drive up except that we took two cars and all through the drive, I was smiling and humming and wondering if we'd be gone a day or two days and if we had enough clothes. When we got to the camp, I started to put my things away in one of the rickety chests. I wanted to check that the little pills were there to keep me smiling. Oops! I went through my makeup bag ten times. Double Oops. No pills. Oh, my God. OH, MY GOD.

By this time, we couldn't communicate with anyone in New Orleans and, as I later learned, my doctor's office was empty and would eventually be a total wreck, with windows blown out, water everywhere, etc. I realized I was going to have to withdraw from la-la land cold turkey. And I did. Actually, it wasn't so bad. I found myself coming down from the heights of ecstasy to being me again. And strangely enough, I liked it. I was able to think more clearly and make decisions objectively without that feeling that everything is going to be fine, which it very obviously was not. I was nervous for a few days after stopping the pills, but I don't know if it was caused by not taking them or all the other drama going on around me. One of my biggest focuses during that time was my fish, which hadn't been fed for almost nine days. I dreamed about them every night, could feel myself crumbling the flake fish food to feed them.

Heading Home

We returned home to New Orleans in nine days with a truck loaded down with gasoline and a generator. If we'd had a wreck, our truck would have exploded and I-55 would have lit up like New Year's Eve. The parish let us come back to check on our homes and when we found our neighbor had gotten the electricity turned on, we stayed. The stainless steel no longer glittered and shone and my husband got on my nerves in the worst way, just as I did his, I'm sure. I was cursing at the cats again, but I was myself, and I survived. Ironically, I was one of the few peop