49: Purple Candles

49: Purple Candles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Purple Candles

What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.

~Colette

Until recently, my life seemed extremely orderly. I was following an imaginary script, living out some unwritten play, doing exactly what everyone expected of me. I graduated high school. I went to college. I got my M.D. degree. Eventually, I got a job, got married, and had two kids. I was the good little girl, always doing the right thing.

Once I had my daughters, I left my job as a pediatrician and became a full-time mom. Being a mother was much harder than being a pediatrician, but the payoff was much more rewarding. As a mother, I got paid in kisses instead of cash. I fixed bruised egos instead of ear infections. I prescribed hugs and snuggling instead of amoxicillin. Life was certainly different when I wasn’t a career woman, yet I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

As a mom, my life was also very orderly. I did exactly what everyone thought I was supposed to do. I volunteered at my girls’ schools and signed them up for all sorts of fun and engaging activities, which led to hundreds (probably more like thousands) of extra miles on my car. We had play dates and went to playgrounds. We rode carousels and bicycles. We played in the pool and in the snow. Each day was filled with surprises, and each day was more exciting than the last.

On paper, I had the perfect life: great house, great kids, husband who loved me, a medical degree. What more could anyone want? My friends would tell me often that they wished they could do as much as I did in a day. I sometimes got teased about how incredibly clean my house always was. I even overheard a few people say that my marriage seemed perfect.

Yet, as a wise friend told me once, “When a house seems too clean, and a life seems too right, something is probably terribly wrong.”

Suddenly, I hit thirty-five and my world simply fell apart. Somehow, I just couldn’t hold it together any longer. I suppose that the stress of living up to what I thought everyone else’s expectations were got to be much more than I could handle. At the time, I called it being overloaded. Yet, now I admit and even talk freely about the fact that it’s actually called being depressed.

At first, I was just a little sad. I didn’t enjoy life quite as much as I used to. But gradually, the sadness turned into despair, until one day, I just couldn’t do my life anymore. I didn’t want to get up in the morning. And, when I finally did, I counted the hours until I could go back to sleep. My once-spotless house was now piled high with trash, dishes, and long-overdue laundry. I’m not sure how or even what my family ate. I’m not sure who did the cooking; it certainly wasn’t me. Not only didn’t I cook, but I didn’t eat. I lost ten pounds in two weeks. What I had once called my life now seemed like the beginning of my death.

The day my husband found me curled up on our bed crying hysterically, saying that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, turned out to be the best day of my life. Hitting rock bottom like that, having a complete and total meltdown, forced me into the hospital, and subsequently, into recovery.

Initially, I was extremely ashamed that I, the middle-class doctor and mother of two with the proverbial white picket fence life, ended up in a locked psychiatric ward and on antidepressant medication. That just wasn’t supposed to happen to people like me.

People like me… What does that mean anyway?

My psychiatrist made me realize that depression is an illness, just like heart disease or diabetes, and it can happen to anyone. Depression doesn’t care where your house is, what you do for a living, or how great your life was supposed to be. Illness doesn’t discriminate.

Once I accepted the fact that I was actually sick and that I wasn’t just crazy, I was able to start talking about my depression openly. Immediately, the shame I’d buried deep inside disappeared. Putting it out there, admitting to what I’d been going through, honestly, made everything seem okay. And, what I found as I began discussing my illness with more and more people was that depression was so much more common than I’d ever imagined. Suddenly, friends and acquaintances alike were sharing their own deeply personal stories with me. Sadly, many of them had, previously, been too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their illnesses, just as I had been.

I quickly learned that talking about what I’d been going through, instead of keeping all of my emotions bottled up inside, actually helped my recovery be that much easier.

Several months into treatment, with therapy and the right medication, I finally began to feel like my old self for the first time in forever. But, recovery was a process, and a long one at that. There were days when I felt like I could really take on anything, and then there were days when I worried that I could easily be headed back to the hospital. Yet, overall, I was on an upswing from the day I hit bottom, and I knew that, soon, it would all be okay.

I was lucky because I got help. And through that help I learned how important it was for me to take some time each day, just for me. Having some personal time gives me the chance to relax and regroup, and honestly makes me a better wife and mom. My kids, over the years, have learned to give me alone time in my room when I need it to rest and unwind. That time, I’ve discovered, is priceless.

Right now, it’s evening and my girls are asleep. I’m in my comfy chair, wearing my favorite pajamas, enjoying the glow of nine purple candles burning brightly on my kitchen counter. There’s just something so relaxing about candles, and something so calming about purple. For me, this is therapy, and I’m happy.

Life is complicated, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I’ve finally taken the time to get myself in a very good place. As I watch the flames dance and flicker in my kitchen, choreographing a dance of their own, moving to a rhythm that only they can create, I feel that someday soon, I too will be that free.

~Sharon Dunski Vermont

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