the rest of the story

Paul Harvey I'm not, but here goes. Spring 2006, and I'm getting ready to graduate from Emory & Henry College, also known as heaven. Up until this point, I have been super-involved and super-successful: president of Campus Christian Fellowship, good friend, Drama ministry leader, self-proclaimed best girlfriend ever, reigning queen of the psychology department. I love my life, and I'm successful in pretty much everything I care about doing. Then minor stressors start to ovepower me. Nothing major--just people stirring up trouble and making me feel like all sorts of things that aren't my fault are, well, my fault. Most of this was not actually directed at me personally (though some of it was), and I should have been able to brush it off. I'm fairly pretentious and tend to think I'm nearly perfect (only kidding... sort of), so I knew I had been doing my absolute best. However, I began to feel ultra-stressed out all the time, wondering whether I should have done something different, wondering if I misunderstood God when I thought he was clearly calling me to be in these leadership positions, wondering what to do but feeling powerless to make the situation better, which was pretty accurate for the most part. My everday life felt difficult, forced, and I didn't have any fun anymore--not even learning about psychotherapy, pretty much my favorite thing in the world, from my very favorite professor/favorite person/all-around hero. I chalked it up to senioritis and just kept telling myself it was all going to be better the moment I became a graduate. No one seemed to notice that something was amiss, and I kept doing what I was doing before, only not as well. One day after class, Dr. Qualls, my aforementioned hero, asked me to come to his office. He and my other psychology professor proceeded to tell me that they thought I was depressed, that I just wasn't myself anymore, that they knew something was really wrong and wanted to help me. Just to clarify, everything I knew about psychopathology at this point came from Dr. Qualls, who is a master dianostician and all-around genius. He knows me better than just about anyone and had spent more time with me that year that most of my friends did (but not in a creepy way or anything...) In short, Dr. Qualls is a demigod, and I had not heretofore disagreed with him (unless I was proofreading for him, which is irrelevent here.) But... I blantantly told him he was wrong, that I was just stressed, and that everything would be fine when I graduated. He obviously knew better, because he knows everything, but that was the end of the discussion.

Fast forward.I graduated. I didn't feel better. But I was at home, and I really don't have friends at home, and I had a horrible job where I didn't do anything meaningful or helpful or even interesting. So, I thought, of COURSE I still don't feel better, but I will when this job ends and I go to grad school. The job ended. I went to grad school, and I didn't feel better. But my classes weren't challenging at first, so I thought I'd feel better when they got harder. Then I got both dumped and fired in the span of about 3 weeks, both for what I considered to be insufficient reasons, so I thought, of course, I'm single and unemployed, so that's why I still feel bad. Eventually, near the beginning of this semester (my second semester of grad school), school got so hard that I could no longer use this "I'll feel better when...." train of thought. I couldn't deny any longer than I was (am) depresssed, especially since I was a clinical psychology student and had the DSM criteria right in front of me. I felt ashamed for being too proud to admit this before (it was meta-shame, if you will), so I was very nervous about admitting how long my problems had been going on.

I went to the doctor, and told them about my depression symptoms (no energy, no enjoyment of anything, no motivation, no ability to concentrate, trouble falling asleep.) The doctor prescribed antidepressants and left. While the nurse was filling out paperwork next to me, she looked up, alarmed, and asked, "What's that big thing on your neck?" I had no idea what she was talking about, but she had the doctor check it out, and he said it was a goiter (my new least favorite word in the English language), a swelling of my thyroid. They took blood and sent me to an endocrinologist. After I had an ultrasound to insure that it wasn't cancer, they told me that the blood work showed that I have a hyperthyroid condition called Graves' disease. I had many of the classic symptoms as well, though I hadn't noticed any of them before, which was a little frisghtening. Specifically, my blood pressure was really high, and my pulse was 140 (it sholud be about 80.) My hands were shaking when I held them out, which I had noticed but not worried about. Once I knew the diagnosis, I also realized that I was eating a lot more than usual (because of my overactive thyroid and therefore too-fast metabolism.) My endocrinologist said that my depression could be a result, since the thyroid controls all hormones and brain chemicals (and pretty much everything else in the body, I now know.) I had an idodine uptake scan to see exactly the extent of my hyperthyroidism, and the results showed, basically, that I was as hyperthyroid as you could possibly be. So it was time to decide which treatment to use. There is neither a known cause nor a cure for hyperthyroidism, so the treatment is, in one way or another, to destroy my thyroid, making me hypothyroid instead. Because thyroid surgery is dangerous and medicine doesn't work for very many people, I opted to undergo Radioactive Iodine Therapy. The radioactive iodine in the pill I took was designed to go straight to my thyroid (the thyroid absorbs iodine), and the radioactivity, to destroy the thyroid tissue gradually. At this point, a month after that treatment, my goiter is visibly smaller--almost invisible, and my thyroid is functioning at a roughly normal level. Eventually, of course, it will disappear totally and I'll have to start taking thyroid replacement medicine, which I'll be on for the rest of my life. My depression symptoms are still the same, so we hope that I will experience some relief from that when the treatment is completed. I am still taking antidepressants (a different one now than when I started), but they are not helping me at all. The theory is that since that isn't helping, my thyroid probably is the cause of the depression, which hopefully means that when my thyroid is gone, my depression will be gone. The jury is still out on that.

In the process of dealing with all this throughout the semester, I have become even less capable of doing my schoolwork. My motivation and concentration are virtually gone, and my sleep problems are worse--it almost always takes me about 4 hours to fall asleep, regardless of how long I've been up, whether I've napped, etc. I stopped going to my morning classes and procrastinated getting my work done, thinking, every day, tomorrow I will feel better and will be able to do this. Work piled up too high, and I became more and more overwhelmed each day, making me even more incapable of getting it done. Finally, after I had spent 3 hours trying to answer a simple, factual question on a take-home exam, I just broke down crying in the computer lab and had to admit what I'd been desperately trying to avoid: I CAN'T DO THIS. Then I began the (unecessarily difficult) process of medically withdrawing from school. It isn't official yet, but I haven't been to class for almost a month now. I'm going to spend the summer (maybe longer) at home with my parents, doing nothing and trying to get better. I still haven't really come to terms with the fact that I'm essentially quitting school and have no idea what I'm going to do with my life. I feel like I've lost touch with the successful and passionate person I used to be, and it's terrifying. I trust in (or, more accurately, I try to trust in) a loving God who knows and understands, and has a plan. I believe that there is a purpose for the suffering I'm experiencing, and, hopefully, I can use this space to explore what that is.

My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
(Psalm 119: 28)