Adapted for ProHealth.com and reprinted with kind permission of Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio from lymeroad.com
What’s it like to battle depression and an overlapping medical condition? ProHealth editor, Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, shares an essay she wrote during a time that seemed hopeless.
My legs were too weak to stand and my brain too broken to sleep. I spent most of 2012 and 2013 lying agonizingly in my bed. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. Over time, my 10-year battle with Lyme disease seemed impossible to overcome and discouragement set in.
When I was about five years old, my family (my mom, my brother, my grandma, and I) packed into a car and headed for a summer vacation in South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. At that age, I was more excited about making sure our motel had a pool than seeing a bunch of dead presidents’ faces carved in stone.
After a long drive, we arrived at the motel just in time for me to get in a quick swim before dark. My brother and I jumped into our bathing suits, and with a giant splash, we were in the pool. My mom watched us from a lawn chair on deck. My brother, being four years older than me, was a good swimmer. He could go in the deep end, but I was still too little. I would hold on to the ledge and pull myself around the pool, dreaming of the time when I would one day be big enough to let go. Eventually my brother got bored of swimming with his little sister and went into the motel to watch TV.
I am a little uncertain as to how exactly the following sequence of events unfolded. I don’t remember letting go of the ledge, but I do recall suddenly finding myself in the middle of the deep end of the pool…sinking. I tried kicking my arms and legs but my attempts at the doggie paddle were ineffective for keeping me afloat. As my head bobbed up and down from the water, I called out to my mom for help; I was drowning.
My little body began to sink to the bottom of the pool. Through a haze of chlorine-filled blueness, I could see my mom standing up from her lawn chair. She was quickly trying to remove her shoes. Though it seemed like minutes had gone by, in reality, I suspect only a matter of seconds had occurred.
In the midst of chaos and panic, an idea popped into my head. I decided to stop struggling, and with a giant gasp of air, I allowed my body to sink to the bottom of the pool. In the depth of the pool, the water had become so dark that I could no longer see my mother—I was alone and unsure of what my next move would be.
As I scanned the bottom of the expansive pool, a thought came to me. I could jump with all my might to the top, take a breath, and sink back down again. I would continue to do this until I had bounced my way back to shallower waters. With all the might my five-year-old body had in it, I sprang from the pool floor and aimed myself in the direction of the shallow end. My head rose above the water, and I saw my mother frantically heading into the pool.
I called to her. “I’m okay!” I yelled as the water engulfed me yet again.
My feet landed on the bottom of the pool for the second time, but I could immediately tell I was no longer in the deepest parts. Instantly, I rebounded to the surface again. “Look! I can bounce back!” I shouted to my mom before I faded back under the water.
“I am almost there.” I called to her upon resurfacing for the third time.
By the fourth bounce, I had reached the shallow end, walked to the ledge, and climbed out of the pool—tired but surprisingly unphased by what had transpired. As I focused my efforts on bouncing back to the shallow end, I was unaware that my mom had jumped in to rescue me, but I could now see that she too was soaked.
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“You could have drowned!” my mother cried as she hugged me.
Perhaps I could have, but thankfully and gratefully, I didn’t. Immersed as a five-year-old in the deepest parts of the pool, an inexplicable peace came over me at a time when panic could have set in, and I realized I was going to be alright. I knew I was going to bounce back, though, my efforts would leave me exhausted.
Fast forward into adulthood.
The last decade of my life has been submerged by a long list of bizarre and often puzzling mental and physical health symptoms. As the years have ticked by, I’ve forgotten how many doctors I’ve seen, the dates that each symptom developed, and the variety of names my illness has been called before I was finally given a diagnosis of Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.
For years, I struggled to hang on to as much of my life as I could. But in 2010, it was an excruciatingly sad day for me when it became apparent I was too ill to work.
By 2012, my mental and physical health had slowly sunk into the depth of a really dark place. As the fatigue overpowered me, I had become bedridden, and the unrelenting burning in my brain left me sound sensitive and unable to sleep even with the aid of significant amounts of sleep medications. I remained bedridden for much of 2013, except for an occasional doctor’s visit that took a shear act of will to get to. I would cry on the days I had to leave my house. The intensity of the burning in my brain was unbearable and my future looked hopeless and bleak.
Just when I felt I could no longer go on, peace showed up in the midst of my profound pain.
In the fall of 2013, I began working with a new practitioner and changed my treatment strategies. Slowly I began to move forward, receiving momentary glimpses of what it felt like to finally have my head above water again, rather than drowning amidst a multitude of chronic symptoms. New hope emerged in me, and I’m so happy I took the chance and saw a new practitioner.
Here’s what I want you to know: Whether your you’re trying to reclaim your life from mental health issues, physical diseases, or a combination of both, the road to recovery is long and often consists of many ups and downs. But with patience and persistence, you can reach a place where you no longer feel as though you’re overwhelmed by the deep end of life. Take a risk—get help and anticipate the moment that you’ll one day bounce back from this, and the undertow will be behind you.
If you need help dealing with depression, please seek out the help of a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. You don’t need to go through this alone.
ProHealth Editor and Content Manager Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and interstitial cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, A New Dawn Pilates: pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health journalist who writes about her journey on The Lyme Road as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio or Twitter: @jennybuttaccio.