I experienced my first episode of depression towards the end of medical school. I had assumed that people became doctors driven by a passion for helping other people. Although I have met a few doctors that fall into that category, I learned over the years that a greater number of my colleagues pursued careers in medicine for other reasons such as the need to feed their fragile egos and/or their pockets. When I was just 3 months away from graduating, I went through a phase of doubt, thinking I didn't want to belong to this group that considers themselves so elite and superior. I was disenchanted and troubled. I was also subjected to some abusive public humiliation by one of my attendings. I think that incident was the straw that broke the camel's back and I fell into a deep depression. I did continue school and graduated on time, but my heart was not in it and I was just going through the motions.
It was just around the same time that I was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (by J. K. Rowling) to my older daughter. It was a great night-time routine for us; I would read while the older one doodled and the younger one played next to me. I admit we are all "Potter Heads!" On one of these particular nights, I came across a passage describing the dementors:
"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you . . ."
I remember realizing with a shock that J. K. Rowling was describing depression! Not only I could see this as a superb description, but also I could tell that she herself must have experienced it personally to be able to describe it so well. It was years after that when I watched an interview with Rowling in which she explained how she had created dementors to depict depression. I felt pretty proud of myself for figuring it out on my own. I suppose it takes one to know one.
Recently, I've been feeling as if I'm being followed by a whole army of dementors. They hide under my bed when I sleep; they wait for me at every corner to suck the happiness out of me everywhere I turn. They are the first things that greet me in the morning and the last things hovering over my head before I fall asleep. They haunt my dreams. They wait for me in my car. They hide behind the shelves in the grocery stores. They forbid me to do things I should be doing, such as fighting my insurance to pay for my treatment!
There is no winning with the dementors; no good news. Every morning when I get to work I check my schedule. On a day when I'm booked with patients, I hear the dementors' shrieking laughter, reminding me that I barely made it through the shower and the process of getting dressed in the morning, and telling me there is no way I will make it through the day. If my schedule is light, then they recall for me the fear that I won't be able to make enough money to pay for my treatment and support my children.
In the book, after one is subjected to a dementor, chocoloate is used to help them feel better. Well, I can relate to that. My strict diet given by my LLMD forbids sugar, and therefore any sweetened chocolate. I faithfully followed those instructions until a few weeks ago when the dementors became too much, and I have now turned to eating chocolate regularly again. The chocolate helps only momentarily, and then I'm back in the pit of darkness. I eat it out of pure desparation.
The best way to make the dementors go away, according to Rowling, is by doing a patronus charm. You think of the happiest memory in your life, then wave your wand and say expecto patronum. An object comes out of the wand and drives the dementors away. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my wand during the process of leaving the fantasy world and entering the reality of Lyme disease, so I'm basically patronusless.
Just when I thought my depression could not get any worse, I found out my insurance rejected my claim and that my treatment costs $5000 per month. Within the same week, I received a summons to jury duty and found mouse droppings and a dead mouse in my kitchen and pantry. I became so depressed that I did not go to a wedding that I'd been looking forward to for a year. A week after that, my laptop crashed and I've lost two years' worth of picture, videos, and documents (completely my fault for not backing up regularly).
The cost of the care is so outrageous that I can't even conjure up any feelings about it. I'm still in shock and feel very numb. The jury duty summons did make me laugh. I imagined myself crawling up the stairs to get into the jury stand, and then taking breaks to change my IV meds. Also, imagine me trying to get these little plastic balls filled with IV liquid past the security guards every day. This image brought a true smile to my face.
As for the mice, it is not very pleasant cleaning up their droppings off the countertops, but that's actually nothing comapred to seeing the mice. One day my dog was trying really hard to get into one of the cupboards, and my daughter was pretty sure that it was because there was a mouse in there. Our first reaction, both of us, was to get as far away from the cupboard as we could. She was looking to me for answers, and I had none. I summoned up all my courage and decided to go and look in the cupboard. I made it about three feet in that direction before I turned right back, picked up the phone, and called my father who is 79 years old. My parents live a couple of blocks away and he came right over and looked all around, but there was no mouse. My "courage" or lack thereof, when I called my father, made all of us chuckle.
This incident reminded me of a time in my childhood, and I told the story to my daughter. There was a period in my life where my family lived in an apartment complex containing ten units. Four of the ten units were occupied by my family, two of my aunts and their families, and one of my uncles and his family. In my early teens, it was very common for one of the cousins to come over to our unit, while our parents would meet in the other unit. One night my cousin from the sixth floor came up to have pizza and watch a movie with my sister and I. Half way through the movie, we heard a sound of gentle, quick taps on something. We looked over and to our horror saw an enormous cockroach walking on the pizza box. This thing was so big that we heard its footsteps on the hollow box!!
There was instant panic and plenty of screaming. Here we were, three teenage girls, completely helpless when faced with one cockroach. I remember the scene in which my cousin called her father on the phone while my sister and I ran back and forth around her, screaming as if the place was on fire. My uncle laughed on the phone and told us he'll grab his shotgun and will be right up. We had done all we could do, so we ran into the bedroom and closed the door. For good measure, we propped up a chair against the door in case the cockroach decided to knock the door down. All three of us jumped up on the bed, holding on to each other tightly. This seemed like a good plan to ward off the evil cockroach except that when my uncle came to the apartment, we were all barricaded in the bedroom and none of us wanted to go open the door for him.
Telling this story to my daughter was a lot of fun. We laughed so hard we had tears coming out of our eyes. That's when I realized that I had not been aware of the dementors for a few minutes. They returned quickly afterwards, but I had an instant in which I realized that maybe I do have a patronus; maybe laughter and joy can keep the depression at bay.
I still have a long way to go, there is a dementor sitting right under the table while I write this, and I'm sure a few more are waiting for me in my room, but I'm going to work on strengthening my patronus.
. . .