How timely that the lovely month of May, with colorful tulips and tender green leaves atop the trees, was chosen “Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Yet, The World Health Organization says that depression is the major cause of disability world-wide.

As founder/director of New Directions Support Group of Abington, PA – now in our thirty-third year – we’ve witnessed over a thousand people passing through our doors since our inception.

Unlike a broken arm, depression can’t be seen. Nor can “mania,” where an individual becomes as energetic as a wound-up toy. For both severe depression and mania, a hospital stay may be a necessity.  

There is no right or wrong way to get through your illness.

“Whatever works” is the strategy.

Our Alex, 46, is doing well. He believes in “psychoeducation.” Learn as much as you can about your illness, he says. He takes medication that works for his bipolar disorder. A construction worker, he makes a good living, and is now looking for a girlfriend.

At any given meeting at New Directions, friendships are made and members call one another in good times and bad.

Joy, a brilliant woman who once worked at a high-powered job, cannot find meds that work for her. She questions whether or not she should give up on meds, but remembers when she went off and “life was a living hell.” 

She knows the importance of exercise, which creates endorphins that lift our moods. Working in the health care field, her meds are less than perfect. “I feel high, spacey, and frightened now.” Still, she rarely misses a day at work. One thing that gets her through is visiting neighbors, who understand what she’s going through.

“It’s hard living alone,” she says. “Sleep is difficult.” She enjoys sitting out on her patio where the bright light brings a sense of calm and peace.

She sees an excellent psychiatrist. A half-hour session costs $200, not uncommon, she notes.

Eve, mother of four, loves her volunteer job. Ironically, she works in the psychiatric unit at Abington-Jefferson hospital, where she does administrative work.

Lauren is a woman who almost gave up.

“For about three years, I would contemplate taking my own life. Right before our annual get-together at a beautiful, rented beachfront home, I would hand-write a suicide note to my immediate family.

“I didn’t want to join them because I was utterly unhappy and didn’t want to leave the house, let alone participate in a family gathering and have to look alive.

“After essentially being wrapped in a cocoon for almost 11 years, I overcame an unrelenting depression that had rudely interrupted my life.

“However, it wasn’t easy stepping into the light. What would I do now that I had come out of the seclusion that had ironically comforted and protected me?”

When depressions begin to lift, the person may hardly notice it. Lauren felt differently. “For a few months toward the end of my depression I began to sense it slowly lifting. I can pinpoint the day it completely left. Typically for me there is a sudden, familiar feeling of elation mixed with fear. I wonder if I’m going to burst through the ceiling?”

Lauren has been off all psych meds now for six years, nor has she received talk therapy. She attributes her recovery to her sheer determination, will and perseverance.

She tried every medication her psychiatrists prescribed for her. Often they worked for a while but then “pooped out.” This is also quite common.

“I have a handful of friends who love me, listen to me, and trust the decisions I’ve made,” she continues. “I have a loving, patient and supportive family. I am most fortunate and for that, I am eternally grateful.”

Today Lauren lives a life of meaning. Her two cats, Gertie and Pilgrim, would be proud of her. She volunteers at an animal shelter where she gets kittens ready for adoption.

“Occasionally my mind drifts back to the past, and I remember what it was like “before.”

“Now,” she says, “I am in transformation.”

“I am,” she continues, “as Michelle Obama’s book is titled, “Becoming.”

There are as many varieties of mental illness as there are peaches on a tree. We, at New Directions, encourage folks to attend if they suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety.

For members of New Directions, we strongly advise medication and talk therapy.

Come to our group where you will be warmly greeted as you talk with peers who understand your travails and your triumphs. A special “Loved Ones Group” helps you cope with family members. We’re proud of our diversity. Our age range is from 20 to 75. Our motto is “People who come to New Directions get better.” 

View our website at www. Newdirectionssupport.org  

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