Finding Mental Wellness: My Story In and Out of Depression
I grew up in a small town.
My parents once had three stores in downtown Pasco, in Eastern Washington. There was a shoe store on one corner, ladies across the street, and a men’s store.
They worked very hard to give us three girls everything they didn’t have, including a college education.
I was the youngest. I watched, listened in the corner, and stayed out of the way. I wanted to be the perfect child that did everything right and stayed out of trouble (or not get caught!).
I remember feeling depressed and isolated at times but didn’t think much about it in my high school years.
I felt uncomfortable being in groups of people at parties at home and preferred to sit quietly in a corner of the room.
I went to college at the University of Puget Sound, majoring in, what was at that time called, “Urban Studies” (basically social work).
Down the Rabbit Hole
The year was 1982.
I was working in downtown Seattle and had received a promotion to Assistant Buyer for a large clothing corporation.
The year before I had gone through a divorce--and a Jewish divorce at that.
It was not much longer than two weeks into the job, and I still remember the day I walked into the bathroom and said to myself,
“This is it, and I’m done.”
Little did I know that everything would collapse and take two solid years to recreate my life again.
I went home and fell into a deep depression, not wanting to leave the house. I became so fearful that I could barely function or even walk outside to the mailbox.
Parents to the Rescue
My parents packed me up and brought me back to the Tri-Cities.
If they hadn’t, I know I would have ended up on the street. It was difficult to even walk out the door to get the mail. I even quit talking to my friends.
The next two years were a series of trial medications, hospitalizations, an attempted suicide, and finally coming out on the other side with working part-time and creating a new career in the travel industry.
I remember a time when I tried to actually make myself disappear. I had a dream where I went up into space and could not/would not come down to earth.
It scared me beyond belief.
Being back in my parents home made me feel as if I were 16 all over again. So many days my father would leave work only to come home to try to console me, all to no avail.
I regret the “hell” I put my parents through. But I seemed to have no control over my feelings and actions.
Life is Good and Then…
In 1984 I received a job offer as a cruise consultant, which involved a move to Portland.
I spent ten-plus years in the industry, traveling, leading groups and marketing cruises. I also bought a small condo.
Being an independent and entrepreneurial spirit, I had many wonderful adventures.
From there I took a position in the hospitality world in sales and marketing as a Sales Manager for a small group of hotels. When that position ended, I met a man who had a restaurant-marketing business. We formed a partnership that would last over 20 years.
I had a fantastic opportunity to delve into my creative side, implement my ideas and travel to build new markets.
I met my second husband, Tim, in 2007.
In that year I also spent a month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, exploring the life there and dancing tango, my passion.
The following year, in the month of May, Tim and I took a sailing vessel with a group to Tahiti. It was like a honeymoon trip, 10 days sailing around the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea.
Less than a month later, my life drastically changed once again.
Down the Rabbit Hole #2
The year was 2008. The economy had tanked. I had lost some clients but was still holding my own. I will never forget the day I received the call.
“I can no longer pay you. I should have told you months ago.”
Those words sent shock waves through me. I was stunned, as I had managed to hold down my end of the bargain and had worked very hard to build up a business that I put my heart and soul into.
Shortly after, the pacing and hand-wringing began.
24 years had passed since the healing of my first episode.
The illness came on very quickly, just as it had the first time.
Tim and my sister took me to the hospital at the advice of a therapist I had seen once or twice. I remained there for six and a half weeks.
I can remember that time like it was yesterday, down to what I wore. I remember being very medicated.
Again, I was so fortunate to have advocates such as my loving mother, sister--and especially Tim, who I am forever grateful for. Tim spent every day with me. He had only known me for a year and five months. He tells me that I looked at him one day and said, “I don’t trust you.”
Still, he never wavered. Many nights were spent eating ice cream with neither one of us speaking.
Through my delusions, non-communication, and depression, my family came to see me every single day. Unfortunately, no amount of drugs, therapy or “plant classes” made much of a difference.
At that point, it was decided that I would be given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a last resort. I was given a dozen treatments. The town car would come very early in the morning to get me to go to the hospital where the treatments took place. Every time I would ask my family, “where are we going?” The ECT was painless and only lasted a few minutes. In my mind now, I see the “cowboy boots” of the doctor administering the treatment. It turns out he was a neighbor of mine!
Those treatments--and the love and support I was given--brought me back to life. Without that, the next step would have been the Oregon state hospital.
The memory lapse caused by the ECT was a small price to pay to regain control of my life.
The Healing Begins
I finally returned home.
I remember the days of frustration standing on my deck with Tim and asking the same questions over and over again. He would patiently answer with a sigh.
There was a lot of relearning to do, including things like pin numbers, phone numbers, and all matter of issues most of us take for granted. I was very tired much of the time, as I was still on many potent drugs.
Slowly, with help and by listening to my own body, I was able to wean myself off the drugs.
As I became stronger and able to reconnect with others again, I wanted to give back.
With a referral from my psychiatrist, I walked into the Multnomah County National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI). It was there that I met the executive director who encouraged me to tell my story in a program called “In Our Own Voice.”
I completed the training on a weekend and spoke at various colleges, businesses and community centers. It not only was encouraging to others to hear my story, but it also assisted me in regaining my strength and courage.
There is Always Hope
Two years ago I went back to school to become a Professional Life Coach. I am now certified through the International Coaching Federation.
I have coached successfully with those who struggle with various challenges such as depression, bipolar and schizo dysfunctive disorder. It is my honor to listen, reflect and provide clarity to those who are ready to begin to look at goals and move forward.
It was a very challenging journey. Words cannot express how ever-grateful I am to have come out on the other side. To this day, it is easy to visualize the days spent in the hospital.
I know that many struggle with depression and finding “mental wellness.”
It brings me great joy to know I can touch even one person at a time.
There are experiences and memories I will never forget during my times down the rabbit hole.
I am thankful to have those memories as I know how close I can be--even now.
I carry with me feelings in my body and soul that have faded yet will not go away, nor do I want them to. I am reminded each day of how lucky I am to have found the self-care tools that continue to guide and soothe me.
I want to say one thing:
THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE.
Suzie Alexander is the founder and owner of Inspire You Coach. Certified by the International Coaching Federation, she is an entrepreneur at heart. Her current work focuses on sharing her “6th sense intuition” to empower others to listen to and trust their deepest instincts in navigating to their deepest joy. Never one to “color between the lines”, she offers others ideas in the creation of their own “Mental Wellness Toolbox.” EFT (or tapping) to manage stress and quiet the mind as well as guided meditations are two of her trademark modalities. She has been trained as a speaker with NAMI as an “In Our Own Voice” speaker. Suzie also has a passion for dancing Argentine tango and once spent a month in Buenos Aires, perfecting her craft. She is married to another coach and has one furry child, Angel.