The Tale of a Real Life Superwoman

Author: Michelle Ioannou, Real Life Stories

I know what you’re thinking. Another millennial female claiming that her mother is her best friend and the best person in the world. Well, yes, I am claiming that, but give me a second here.

My mother is Superwoman.

I don’t say that lightly. If you know me, you know I don’t say a lot of things lightly. If I say mom-4something I mean it. And I mean it when I say that my mother is wonder woman.

I grew up in a house where two out of the four of us were confined to wheelchairs. My father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and my brother was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. My mother automatically became their caregiver.

Not only was she caring for her husband – the love of her life — but she had to watch him suffer. She had to watch him get weaker and weaker. She had to watch the disease take his life.

But no, it doesn’t stop there.

My mother has to continue to watch her son — her little boy — fight a different disease every day. She’s had to watch him stop playing baseball, the sport he continues to love. Or not be invited places because they aren’t handicap accessible. Or watch him go from being able to feed himself to needing someone to not only feed him, but to move his hand on top of the wheelchair control so he could move it.

Wait, no, it doesn’t stop there either.

Throughout all this, my mother served as their primary caregiver. From dressing to cooking to cleaning she’s done it all. Even the gross stuff that no one wants to talk about, like helping them go to the bathroom — yes, all bathroom functions — blowing noses, bathing, taking care when they’re sick; she’s done it all. Do you know how hard it is to care for someone who’s confined to a wheelchair when that person is sick with a stomach virus? My mother’s been there, done that…and never thought twice about it.

My mother is the most selfless person you may ever meet.

She’s put her own wants, needs and life to the side to care for others. She dedicated her life to caring for my father when he was alive, no matter how sick he got. She never left his side. Why? He was the love of her life, and she would do anything for him.

mom-2It’s been almost seven years since my father’s passing, and my mother’s caregiving role is still as strong as ever. My brother’s disease has progressed, and unfortunately he cannot do much on his own anymore. She has to plan her days around him. If there’s snow outside, they can’t go out because you can imagine how well a wheelchair can do on ice. If it’s too hot and humid outside, they can’t go out because it’s difficult for my brother to breathe. My brother cannot be left home alone, making him and my mother almost inseparable.

It doesn’t just stop there, though. Does my brother call for my mother three times a night because he needs to be moved and he can’t do it himself? Yes, that happens, and that happens quite often. Does my mother need to allot at least an hour of her morning to getting my brother awake, to the bathroom, dressed, and out of bed? Yes – in fact, an hour is being generous.

On top of all of this, for much of my upbringing, yes, I had two parents, but in a way, I didn’t. My mother had to serve the role of both parents.

My father was diagnosed when I was just six years old. By the time I was in middle school, he was in a wheelchair and not driving. My mother was the one who brought us to school, play dates, after school activities, dance rehearsal and so much more. She acted as strong as two parents when I sobbed after a dance competition in which I didn’t score the highest. She was the parent at my brother’s and my parent-teacher conferences. She was the one who had to do everything alone.

There’s a lot behind the scenes that people don’t realize my mother took care of. She had to figure out our finances and make sure that we never went over our budget. She had to figure out how to send her college-age daughter (yes, yours truly) off to college while knowing that her husband was not doing well. She had to figure out health insurance and school disability services for her disabled son. She’s had to go to bat to ensure that her son was getting everything he needed.

And she never hesitated to do any of these things, ever.

Want to know the crazy part in all this? mom-3My mother still has the time and energy to be my best friend. We still binge watch cheesy Hallmark movies and spend our weekends out shopping with each other. She’ll crawl into my bed in the morning or at night just to talk about everything. Sometimes, she’ll even surprise me with Dunkin in the morning. And yes, I live at home – and I hope you understand why after reading all this.

My mother was a caregiver and still is a caregiver, and yet, she is one 0f the funniest, and funnest people you’ll ever meet. Despite how difficult our life is — and hers especially — she doesn’t let it get her down. She’s the first to always remind me of all the blessings that I have, and everything I should be grateful for. She’s the one who pushed her own emotions to the side when my father passed and focused on my brother and me to make sure we were okay. She’s the first to remind us of the happy memories of my father. She’s the person who reminds us to focus on the good. She’s the greatest person I know.

My mother is Superwoman. There’s no other way of putting it.


To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, please click here. To learn more about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, please click here.

Once Again, Start Smilin’

Author: Claire Greene, Real Life Stories

My first experience with depression happened when I was 13 years old. It was the summer before I began high school. It was very gradual. Day after day, I would wake up and find I had lost more and more happiness. My energy declined, the thought of eating made me sick, I had constant crying spells and I was unable to face day-to-day life. To be completely honest, the only thing that would have made me happy would be to curl up in a ball on my parents’ bed and stay there for the rest of my life.

The best way that I have ever been able to describe depression is that it is similar to a cloud hanging over your head. A dark gloominess takes over you that you cannot shake, while everyone around you is experiencing sunshine. And guess what? I was extremely fortunate in life. I was born into a wonderful family, with a father as a dermatologist, a nurse as a mother and a brother who would bend over backwards to protect his little sister. We were financially stable, but were not necessarily able to spend excessively.

My parents always supported us, regardless of the religion we chose to endorse, our sexual orientations or our career paths. They simply wanted us to be happy and healthy. I had a great group of friends and excelled in school. I was extremely fortunate in life and was always grateful for the cards that I was dealt.

The truth is that one can have an absolutely perfect life, and still suffer from any psychiatric illness. I was given a great life, yet I still always had a deep feeling of despair within me.  Sometimes it felt like my insides were completely frozen over.

It took me a while to realize that this state of being was not normal. A 13-year-old girl should not be questioning why she is living. That should not even be a thought that pops into a kid’s head. At that age, kids should be thinking about what they are going to do with their friends and how they are going to finish their homework.

When one says that he or she is depressed, most people think that it is simply being really sad. Severe clinical depression is a whole other thing entirely. I was not able to function every day as a normal, healthy adult. It took a great amount of energy and effort to simply get up in the morning. This aspect makes going through depression even more difficult, because many do not understand that one cannot simply “snap out of it.” It is difficult for others to relate to you — and therefore the thought of telling people about your time of crisis can seem overwhelming.

A psychologist once told me that the three ways to know if someone is clinically depressed are hopelessness, helplessness and guilt. I had all three. I felt hopeless for the future, that I would never be able to live a normal life or hold a steady job. I felt helplessness, that there was absolutely nothing that I could do to help myself get through this terrible time, or make it easier on my friends and family to deal with a constant downer. I also felt guilt for countless reasons.

I mainly felt guilt because this was a huge ordeal to put my family through. Coming home to your 13 -year-old daughter always crying under the blankets in her bed cannot be easy. I had guilt that I was blessed with such a wonderful life—and that there are so many less fortunate than I was, but I couldn’t put a smile on my face.  I also felt shame that I had a steady, well paying job that many people would do anything to get and I was completely miserable. All of these feelings are irrational and yet, I still had them. I share these thoughts to help you understand that if you are depressed, you can recognize it and seek help. Recognition is key. Please, if you recognize these symptoms in yourself, tell someone.

Being as I always had a close relationship with my parents, I brought up the strength to talk to them about what I was going through. They immediately referred me to a psychiatrist that my family had been going to for years — who also did counseling. For about a month I would simply meet with him for an hour, he would talk and I would cry. I realized that I had a serious, clinical mental illness that would take a lot of time to recover from. However, if I am to be completely honest, there was only one thing that I learned from him that I have taken with me throughout my life, which is that my trigger is uncertainty.

After a month of him talking and me crying in the leather chair, my psychiatrist put me on medication. At first I was put on Zoloft. Simply put: Zoloft did not work for me. It made me feel like I was outside of me, that I was not myself. After a couple of weeks on Zoloft and not seeing any improvement in my health and well being, my psychiatrist decided to put me on another medication called Lexapro. After about a week, my entire life changed. I was able to enjoy life again, take in my surroundings and focus on preparing for the future. In a way, it took away the clouds, so that I could actually begin to work in the issues that led me into my depression in the first place.

Now I want to make it clear: Just because this medication worked for me does not mean it will work for you. It all depends on your own brain chemistry and genetics. You may have to try a couple of different medications before you find the one that works right for you. With certain medications, your body gets used to them and they have less of an effect over time—which is part of why I had my relapses later in my journey. I am no longer on Lexapro. It worked for me at the time, but after being on it for about ten years, the effects started wearing off. Once again, I had to try several medications before finding another one that worked for me: Effexor.

There is absolutely a stigma related to taking medication for depression and anxiety disorders. Even though a big part of depression is a chemical imbalance that is genetic—and cannot be fixed without medication, many people think that medication is the easy way out. What would I like to say to those people? Deal with Major Depressive Disorder—and then get back to me. When I was going through my lowest point, I was completely unstable. The medication made me stable enough to help myself.

I do not view my decision to go on medication as weakness; but rather, that I was strong enough to get the help I needed to be able to live my life. I took these steps in a secure setting under the advice of professionals who had been trained in brain chemistry. There is absolutely no shame in taking medication if is will help your mental health, which is just as important as physical health. That being said, I want to make it clear that medications are not a cure-all. Had I realized that the first time, I may not have had my relapses. Even if it is only once a month, seeing a therapist continuously is a necessity.

Since the start of my depression, I have relapsed three times. It completely took me by surprise. I thought I was fixed, but I again was sucked back down into the rabbit hole. Two of those relapses were while I was still in college. I’m sure I was a pleasure to deal with for my roommates. I found myself having to make constant trips home and my school work plummeted. During my first relapse, I got the lowest GPA I ever had in my life. My psychiatrist kept upping the dosage on my medication, which would lead to improvement. However, the third relapse, which led to the lowest point of my life, I was already at the highest dosage of Lexapro that I could take. At this point, I decided to stop seeing my current psychiatrist.

I went to a new psychiatrist, and since she did not do any counseling, I also found a therapist. Together, they worked to help bring me back up again—and I have not relapsed since. I also learned tools to deal with my depression. Taking recovery in small steps makes it seem a lot less daunting. Don’t start by trying to run a marathon. The little steps you take are a leap of faith. Step One: getting out of bed. Step Two: getting in the shower. Step Three: going outside for five minutes—this was the biggest tool I learned.

Music is something that has always helped me throughout my experiences. Being able to connect to it and feel it in your soul is the best possible feeling. When I was at my lowest points, I would listen to Avril Lavigne. Her music made me feel like there was someone else out there going through the same thing I was.  I will always hold her music close to my heart. I remember the first time I heard her song “Take Me Away:”

I cannot find a way to describe it,
Its there, inside, all I do is hide.
I wish that it would just away
What would you do, you do if you knew.

This verse summed up everything that I was feeling. I never thought anyone would understand me, but these lyrics made me realize that I was not alone. Another song, “Darlin,” spoke to me as well:

Darlin’10469948_10202358427497107_3137087843476918093_n
You’re hiding in the closet once again
Start smiln’
I know you’re trying real hard not to turn your head away
Pretty darlin’, face tomorrow, tomorrow’s not yesterday.

“Once again, start smilin’” had become my mantra. Also, what I said about a small step becoming a leap of faith? I got that wording from Avril Lavigne, too. I have “A single step becomes a leap of faith” tattooed on my arm.

Depression is never your fault. The psychiatrist that I saw at first consistently made me feel that way.  My current therapist has helped me realized that whenever I am down and need strength, I already have it inside of me. I have to rely on myself to be happy, and I’m a pretty good shoulder to lean on. Instead of making me feel guilty, she has made me realize how strong I am and that I can overcome this mental illness. While I was extremely fortunate to have amazing friends and family, I realize many others do not have that support. If you are one of those people, I want my story to be your strength and emotional support. You can overcome this; I am proof. You have that power, you are resilient and you will once again, start smilin’. Oh, as you can see, dreams really do come true.

 


For more information on depression, seek help at depression.org.