Monday, October 10, 2011

The Blessings of Depression

I wrote the following post last week, after watching Steve Jobs' commencement speech for the 2005 Stanford graduate students. My psychiatrist had already told me to watch it, and when I learned Jobs had passed away, I decided to finally watch it.

Can anything good come out of depression? Will I look back to this time of my life, in the future, and acknowledge there was a purpose for a relapse? Does depression make me wiser? As I reflected on my life, I've come to realize there were things I would have never done, and people I would have never met, if it weren't for my illness.

This is a very long and personal post, and I hope it helps anyone out there who's also trying to connect the dots.

"All I can say, when I look back at my life, is that suffering from depression and going to medication and therapy at the age of 23 was the best - and most important - thing that happened in my life. Because I was sick and suicidal, all my family, which was highly dysfunctional and complicated at the time, went to therapy with me. My relationship with my parents, especially with my mother, improved 1000%. Moreover, had I not gotten sick and gone to therapy and medication, I wouldn't have realized that I wasn't happy, and that I needed to change that. I was engaged to be married at the time with someone who was insecure, possessive, jealous, controlling, basically mentally sick himself. As I got better and improved, I started to realize that that was not the life I wanted for myself. I broke up the engagement and, later on, the relationship, and lived the best 5 months I had ever lived in the past 4 years.

I started saving money to study abroad. That was the beginning of 2005. I was going to Australia, and had already talked to an agency and set up a savings plan to have all the money by the end of the year, when I planned to spend my summer vacation there. It would be my graduation gift for myself. I was going to finish my degree in December, I planned, and everything was going according to my plan. Then, on February of 2005, as I was watching the principal of the school where I worked give a speech to the students, a commencement speech, as February was the beginning of the school year, I suddenly felt like running away. I felt this desperation inside of me. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to teach. I wanted to disappear. When I got home after work, I was sick of my stomach and couldn't eat. That was the beginning of my anxiety attacks. Back then, I didn't know, or I wasn't sure it was anxiety. So my mother took me to the doctor, he ordered a bunch of exams, including an abdominal ultrasound, and everything came back normal. We told the doctor I had depression the previous year, and he immediately stated that I should go see a psychiatrist.

My aunt, who is bipolar, told us about her doctor, so we went to see Dr. Athos, who became my psychiatrist and therapist for the following 2 years. My insurance didn't cover him, so all the money I was supposed to save for my trip went into paying my treatment. I saw the doctor weekly, and went back on medication, this time including Xanax. I had to postpone my graduation as well, because I didn't feel capable of doing all the courses and all the papers I needed to do in order to finish. It felt like a huge setback. I wasn't going to Australia. I wasn't going to finish college by the end of 2005. I kept my job as a high school English teacher, at least. Because I often couldn't sleep, I would stay up online on a chat program called ICQ. In that program, people could search for someone from a different country based on hobbies, interests, age, gender, etc. Someone from Canada added me. I saw it was a 30 year old guy named Patk (nickname). I almost didn't accept the friend request! But I did, and we started to chat. Soon he convinced me to chat on Microsoft Messenger, and to buy a webcam and microphone, so we could chat via skype as well. Our friendship wasn't romantic at all. I was interested in talking to someone whose native language was English, and he wanted to know about Brazil and Peru.

I told him about my getting sick and not being able to finish college and travel to Australia. He praised me because, from his point of view, I knew how to fail, which was important. The thing is, if I hadn't had a relapse and gotten sick again, I would probably have never met Patrick. He told me, later, that he added me on the chat program because he was searching for someone from Brazil to whom he could ask questions about the country, and someone who spoke English and who were online at the time he was searching. I would have never been online at that time of the night had I not been sick.

By the end of May 2005, Patrick and I had grown extremely close. We chatted on skype almost daily. He could see me on the webcam and vice-versa. He decided he was coming to Brazil in July, during my winter vacation, to visit me in person. He arrived on July 16 and spent 9 days in Brazil. I had a friend whose mother had a bed and breakfast in a nice tourist town close to my town, so it all worked out. He met my parents and, by the end of the 9 days, we acknowledged we were dating. He invited my friend and I to visit him in California for New Year's, and aided by my friend (who did all the work to get the visas done and the cheapest flight tickets), we made it to California in the end of December. I didn't go to Australia, but California was a much better destination. We spent 40 days here.

Patrick came to visit me on April of 2006, and I knew, by then, that something needed to happen. I didn't know what exactly. In the end of May, 2006, unhappy with my job, and almost done with university, I made a big decision. I called my parents into the kitchen in the evening and told them I had decided I was going to quit my job. They were surprised, but they supported me. I gave my notice at the school where I worked the following morning. Looking back, I know that was the right thing to do, but back then, when I didn't know what was going to happen, it was pretty scary, and I know I was being very brave. Patrick then told me I should come to America and spend the rest of the year there with him. I could become an au-pair and secure a year or 2 there, while we worked on our relationship. I knew we needed to live close to each other to see if our relationship was going somewhere. We had spent a year living 6 thousand miles apart. It was pretty crazy. By then I had been on medication for over a year and a half, and I told my doctor I wanted to stop. We compromised on a maintenance dosage and I traveled to America on August 2006. My father picked up my diploma for me in September. I didn't even go to my own graduation, but it didn't matter. I had finished my 8 years in college and I was done!

The rest of the story I might have mentioned already. We decided to get married. I went back to Brazil on December, 2006 to arrange the wedding; I was off medication for 2 months and all the agitation of getting married made me have a relapse. I was back on meds but I managed to continue on with our wedding plans. I traveled back to California in the beginning of February. We got legally married on February 15, 2007. I changed my visa status from tourist to Patrick's work-visa dependent, we went to Brazil in April and had our big wedding day with family and friends.

I've had amazing opportunities while living here since May 2007. My English has improved to the levels of high proficiency in all 4 skills; I've had the opportunity to take courses at Stanford; I lived for a year in lovely Los Gatos; I've realized I want to be a mother and for the first time felt prepared for it.

None of it would have happened had I not been sick. I wouldn't have realized that I wasn't happy. I wouldn't have searched for something else. I wouldn't have quit that previous relationship and I wouldn't have quit my job. I would have probably still been there today.

Right now I don't know exactly where the path is going to lead, but when I look back, I see it has all amazingly worked out okay. I had no idea, at the young age of 23, that I would be living in California, married to a Canadian computer systems engineer, and taking Classic courses and History courses at Stanford. If someone told me that, 7 years ago, I would have laughed. After all, I was engaged to someone else, I was a school teacher and made no way near enough money to travel abroad, and I had never heard of Stanford University.

So if I'm struggling with anxiety and depression now, there must be a purpose. I know I'll be able to connect the dots when I look back at this period of my life".

1 comment:

  1. Ivana,
    I'm glad everything turned out well for you. You're right, depression and anxiety can be a blessing. Most of the time when I'm really down I don't see anything positive but when you sit and think about it there is much to be thankful for. Continue writing I enjoy reading your posts.
    God Bless
    - Melissa


Thank you for your comment. Should you have any questions concerning depression and medication, please feel free to e-mail me at
I will do my best to answer your comments.