Live and Die | My Personal Struggles with Anxiety and Depression
August 17, 2018
First, let me preface this post by saying I AM OK! But, I've come to the realization that has not always been the case. If you have been following me on my business journey for a while you may have noticed how quiet it's been for the past few months and before that you may have noticed some posts hinting here and there of something bigger I've been battling for a while now. I've felt the call in the past several weeks to share the full story and only since recent events have I felt the courage to speak. I was afraid that sharing would have a negative impact on my business but I can't let that fear keep me from sharing my heart. I have suffered with anxiety and depression on and off since about high school. It comes and goes in waves, as I'm sure it does for most people, but here in the past few years after dealing with a family fallout, postpartum, and losing the vision in my right eye it just became too much to handle alone.
You may or may not be aware that three years ago I woke up one morning just 10 weeks after giving birth to our sweet boy, Oliver, to pain and a floater in my right eye. I headed straight to the eye doctor as soon as I could. After doing some tests my doctor determined I had some significant swelling and fluid on my optic nerve. She said the number one cause for these type of symptoms was Multiple Sclerosis. She sent me to the Retinal Associates in Jackson for more testing and a more in depth look. They said the same thing, so they ordered an MRI for later that week and started the process on setting up an appointment with a neurologist. Thankfully the MRI results were clear but that still didn't answer the question as to why this was happening and how to correct it.
Fast forward about 2 or 3 weeks and I realize my vision has gotten significantly worse. I would be holding my newborn baby and close my "good eye" and I could not see his face. I had no central vision whatsoever, only peripheral. I go back to the Retinal Associates and they are at a complete loss. They compare my test results from the last visit to the present and tell me I need to see a neuro ophthalmologist immediately. There is not one in Jackson so my options were either Hattiesburg or Memphis. I of course decide to head to Memphis where my parents are located. This was a Thursday afternoon in early January of 2016. So the next Friday morning Oliver (who is a little over 3 months at this point and has been exclusively breastfed) and I hit the road to Memphis. I leave our older son, Keller, in Jackson with my husband, Jonathan, and my mother-in-law. I stop at my parent's house and leave Oliver with my dad and my mother and I head to the ER at Methodist hospital. The doctor at the Retinal Associates had spoken with the eye doctor at Hamilton Eye Clinic in Memphis who told him the fastest way to be seen would be to go through the emergency room.
Mom and I get to the ER about 9 am and I do not get taken back to an exam room until about 10 or 11 pm! They start running tests, I request a spinal tap (insane, I know, but I wanted to be sure MS was in fact not the issue) and I finally get admitted about 2am or so. The next 5 days and some were the biggest three ring circus I think I have ever experienced in my life. Between the attending doctor on my floor, an Infectious Disease doctor, the main eye doctor, 3 eye doc residents, and all the nurses, it was crazy! They were testing me for a few different things, one being cat scratch fever. I definitely was belting out Ted Nugent lyrics at some point to try and make light of the whole situation. Now keep in mind this entire time I'm having to pump breastmilk every few hours while my baby is at home with his PawPaw screaming his head off because he wants his mama/to nurse. Needless to say Oliver and PawPaw established quite the bond during that time period.
Have you ever had a spinal tap or epidural and then experienced the most excruciating headache afterwards?? I did. There is a very simple fix for it called a blood patch where they take some of your own blood and essentially patch up the tiny hole in your spinal column that has caused this headache. Yea, they wouldn't do that for me for fear that my infected blood may cause a spinal meningitis situation. I couldn't sit up to pump so I had to turn on my side and pump one breast at a time.
I was finally released from the hospital 5 days later with still no for sure answer as to what was going on. I ended up being in Memphis for another week, maybe two (at this point I can't remember all the details), for follow up appointments with the eye doctor. At my first follow up we finally got confirmation that I had been infected with Toxoplasmosis. Turns out that the night before I had Oliver (we had a scheduled c-section) our dog scratched me pretty badly. At the time we didn't think much of it but it would turn out to be one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. We all know that when you're pregnant your immune system is compromised and apparently the dog had either contracted the disease himself or just simply had it under his nails. I thank God every day this literally happened the night before Oliver was born, or else he would have been born with Toxo and trust me when I say, do not Google "babies born with Toxoplasmosis". Just don't. Or maybe do just that so you know how serious it is!
So of course, as any mother would be, I am devastated I have to stop breast feeding because of the medication they have me on (which get this, cost my insurance FORTY SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS for one month's worth!!!!!), concerned my baby's heath is at risk, and worried for both of our futures. I ended up having to get a high dosage antibiotic injected into my EYE BALL!! It was awful. Between January of 2016 and September of 2016 I had to travel to Memphis for follow up appointments with the neuro ophthalmologist about 6 or 7 times. I was told absolutely DO NOT get pregnant for at least a year or there could be complications or birth defects from the meds. I had my eyes dilated probably a hundred times and probably cried 10,000x more tears than that.
I now take photos using my left eye. My right eye has a blind spot in the lower left corner of my vision that extends to the center and the color is almost black and white. Straight lines are wavy and there is a ton of "noise". It is essentially a scar on my optic nerve. I will be a carrier of Toxoplasmosis for the rest of my life. I can never donate blood again nor be an organ donor. There is also a chance of reoccurrence especially if I were to get pregnant again. And the doctors say to not let myself get stressed because stress can cause a reoccurrence. HA! I'm getting stressed just thinking about not letting myself get stressed, are you kidding me??! My vision will never be the same and no glasses or surgery can fix it.
I think it was literally the day I was driving to Memphis for that very first ER visit that I listened to an Avett Brothers album that I had listened to time and time again but it was like I was hearing it for the first time. And if you know me, you know how much I love the Avett Brothers and can relate pretty much all of life's occurrences to an Avett Brothers song. The album was "The Once and Future Carpenter" and 4 songs in particular that would become my life's soundtrack. My neuro ophthalmologist, Dr. Calzada, was absolutely amazing! I was somewhat disappointed when he finally released me in September of 2016. He was so encouraging and uplifting and made me see this entire experience in the best way possible. He proceeded to tell me about another patient of his who had similar symptoms. She is an abstract painter and when he discussed treatment with her to make it better she refused and said, "No I don't want to make it better, it helps me paint!" He told me I had an advantage and that I now see the world in a different way than everyone else. And he was right. Both literally and figuratively.
As I listened to those 4 songs over and over again I kept having visions of a styled shoot that I just HAD to create as my way of expressing myself, conveying my thoughts and feelings, and more or less publishing my story for all to hear and see. After about a year of seeing these visions and talking about the shoot I finally made it happen, July of 2017. And at that time I thought I had climbed out of my black hole, but I was terribly wrong. I was definitely doing better at that point in time but little did I know it was only going to get worse.
In January of this year I had two main goals, or resolutions if you will, to cultivate a deeper relationship with God and to take better care of myself. In January I completed Whole30 and lost about 10 pounds (which is a lot for a short girl!). In February I gave up social media for lent and immersed myself in the word of God. I thought everything was going great. And then about the second week of March I sat in my car (because it was after bedtime and I didn't want to wake anyone) and cried in agony begging God to end this battle and take away the pain. The despair had become too much to bear and I simply wanted to quit. I didn't want to be here anymore. I wanted to give up. I had not yet gotten to the point of making a plan but I believe with all my being had I not sought help it would have eventually led to that. And that scared me to no end. I didn't necessarily want to die, but I just couldn't go on living this way. I had no motivation or desire to do day to day tasks, my work and house chores piled up to the point of overwhelm and I had no idea of where to start. I questioned every move and decision and wondered if I was making a mistake or if I would be judged. I had let myself go in more ways than I care to admit. Self care was just not a concept in my world. Every little thing the kids did or the dog did set me on fire to the point of "wow, did I really just react that way??" I was not kind to my husband, defensive over everything, dreaded the morning and any simple responsibilities. I would procrastinate on anything and everything that my whole world would be in shambles and it effected every facet of my life and everyone in it.
After that night in March I decided to seek therapy (after about 2 years of talking about it!) and was eventually prescribed what I like to call a "mood booster" and it has helped tremendously!! I still struggle and have my off days but to be able to accomplish simple tasks like sweeping the never ending dog hair or cleaning up what looks like a tornado went through my house and not feeling like I'm going to explode from the overwhelming anger and resentment was huge for me. I hate cleaning that much but it was debilitating and shouldn't be that way. And that's just one example of the many ways depression effected me and it may seem silly to some but it was more than just a dislike for cleaning. So much more than that.
I'm not sharing all of this for sympathy or for attention or anything of the sort. I'm sharing in hopes that I can shed a light on the stigma that is mental illness. It's OK to not be OK. It's OK to need help. If I can help one person by being open and vulnerable than that is what I'm going to do. And in true Amelia fashion I will quote some Avett Brothers lyrics,
"I hate to say it but the way it seems is that no one is fine. Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find true sadness."
I think to an extent we are all suffering. Heartache, grief, despair, loneliness, and yes, depression. But some people can't fight it alone. And that is OK!
"Just know the kingdom of God is within you, even though the battle is bound to continue."
I'm here if you need someone to confide in. I had an amazing friend who listened to me and my struggles without judgement and I want to be that for you. Depression is a sickness just like any other that you need professional help with. Don't put it off any longer. I wish I would have tended to mine 15 years ago! But unfortunately, I just didn't know! That's depression for you... just not fully aware of the current state you're in...now that I've been medicated for almost 6 months it's amazing to me how good I actually feel and how bad it really was. And if a few celebrities taking their own lives makes it easier for us all to openly talk about mental health and suicide then I guess they didn't die in vain. I've been saying for a few years now that I truly feel like our society would be in a better place if we all took mental health more seriously and it starts with me.
Today, I am alive and thriving, happier than I've ever been before, about 20 pounds lighter, much healthier, eating clean and exercising on an (almost) daily basis! I do wonder if I will have to take medication for the rest of my life but if so, than so be it! Whatever it takes to be a good mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and business owner.
The photos below depict my experience with toxoplasmosis and the struggles I face because of it. These were inspired by the lyrics from those 4 Avett Brothers songs and paint the picture of the lows and the highs. Every detail was chosen for a reason down to the opal ring that belonged to my grandmother who herself was an artist and is a huge inspiration in my life. The antique French easel belonged to her as well. You'll see some images with the model cloaked in a black veil and some where I shot through the veil to represent the distorted vision I now carry every day. I asked my best friend and confidant to be my model as she knew first hand what I was going through. I'm an aquarius and water is very connected to my entire being so I needed to include it in some capacity as well as flowers because flowers make me oh so happy! And you know it wouldn't be a complete Amelia Catherine & Co. production without a hat!
The abandoned home with the screen door was the perfect setting for the first half. I love how the sun came out to play towards the end of that portion to signify an awakening of sorts. The Reservoir was the backdrop for the second, much more happy, half of the shoot. I knew I needed a spot with water and that would provide some wind and motion into the photos. Can you believe that shot with the birds flying overhead?? Talk about perfection. The colors, the hat, the ribbons and jewelry, that smile and those beautiful flowers. It's what my dreams are made of now that I'm not living in that abandoned home with little sunlight and feeling like I'm about to fall apart.
I hope you enjoy these photos and that they resonate with you in some way. I highly suggest listening to the soundtrack (and all of Avett's music!) while you view these photos. Please reach out if you are struggling or if you have any questions! I am an open book!
"Now I'm rested and I'm ready to begin"
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this editorial shoot and personal post! More great things to come on the new Amelia Catherine & Co. Blog!
Also, a big thanks to the friends and vendors who helped make this shoot a reality and for helping me tell my story!
And a very special thanks to MC for being "my person"