My Journey with Depression and Anxiety

I have an overwhelming empathy for people who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety.  Whether it is the “winter blues” that come your way every season, a mild listless feeling you have that anchors over your spirit during certain periods, or a debilitating poison that eats away at your soul, I get it…. I’ve been there.

My struggle with depression and anxiety, severe at times, impacted my life in seemingly insurmountable ways.  I was embarrassed, frustrated, lonely, and didn’t understand why I just couldn’t “snap” out of it.

Anyone who has struggled with these things also knows there are ebbs and flows with it. I never wanted to take prescription meds for it because in my “mind” I wasn’t that bad. Looking back now, it was that bad at times. After years of this I turned to natural supplements plus lifestyle changes to heal myself. It worked. I feel 100 pounds lighter mentally. I have passion again. Purpose. I feel happy and at peace with myself. FINALLY.

Here is my story of what I went through and what worked for me. And what is continuing to work for me.

My situation

When I started having fertility issues seven years ago it was the nail in the coffin. As someone who already suffered from high anxiety and worry, it threw me into an internal tailspin that quickly turned into depression. Thoughts of worthlessness, internal conflict and loneliness clouded my days. I became obsessed with my situation and thought I was alone and no one understood how awful I felt and how helpless I felt. It affected my friendships. It affected my marriage. I started avoiding people. I woke up every morning exhausted from the restless sleep I had the night before.

And then my mom had a stroke. She needed help applying for disability, finding health insurance, getting on programs that would help her and sorting out her finances. It was hard and I struggled with the fear and responsibility I felt for her and her situation on top of my issues.

What was at the time just depression turned into an anxiety fueled debilitating illness. I developed severe insomnia to the point where I ended up taking prescription sleeping pills that reacted badly with me and made my depression worse. I felt alone, terrified of the future and clueless on how to proceed.

I knew I needed to do something. But as with a lot of depression sufferers, I lacked energy and the purpose to take action. After a few months of this I pushed myself and decided to join a gym. They had water aerobics classes and I thought exercise might help take my mind off of some things. What a blessing in disguise. The women in my class were  wonderful. So friendly, so easy going. They chipped away at the barriers I had put up for what I thought was protecting myself from more hurt. They got me to talk. About the infertility. About mom. About my fears, hopes and anxiety. I started healing.

I decided then to try and live healthier. I starting watching what I ate. Less sugar, more protein and vegetables. I took antioxidant supplements and drank whole food shakes (Love my Vitamix blender by the way-worth the investment). It helped. I started feeling hope again. This went on for a few months.

And then my husbands dad died. At our house. It was awful. Those first few months afterwards were bad. It left the whole family in a state of shock and wondering where do we go from here? My depression kicked back in.

Six months later my husband took a new job in Florida. When we moved I saw it as a new beginning. I was determined to find my joy again. I was blessed to be able to take my time to find a job that was actually in my field of study. I continued to exercise and started doing yoga and took meditation classes. I started acupuncture. And then as you have read in another of my posts, I got pregnant. That dear readers, was the best antidepressant money could  buy me. I know it is cliché, but Bryce truly has helped heal me. Children give your life instant purpose. Your life path suddenly becomes crystal clear. You are there to raise and guide your child in this crazy thing called life. He has brought me SO much joy.

This past summer was hard. My mom died suddenly in July. I could feel myself getting sucked down the path I have known too well. I was introduced to and purchased a Young Living starter kit at the end of July. People, these oils are helping me feel more grounded than I have in years. I can’t tell you why they are working. I do believe aromatherapy is a benefit. Scents have a very powerful effect on our emotions and mood.  And Essential Oils contain the concentrated beneficial compounds of the plants, seeds and organic matter they come from. All I know is that I have found a natural way to continue to control my anxiety and depression and I feel liberated. It is working for ME.

My Routine

In the beginning I began using the oils that came in my starter kit and honestly did not have any particular plan.  I just began diffusing different oils at different times, inhaled them directly and placed them on my body.  One of the best ways I found to use the oils is by diffusing them. I love that the Premium Starter Kit includes a diffuser. I love mine and use it everyday. It has been a huge blessing to my family. Below are the oils that are working for me.

Oils I Use

Joy

I honestly did not like the smell of this oil at first – it is very flowery – but I put a drop of this oil on my wrists and over my heart every morning before I walk out the door. It really calms and uplifts my spirit. I notice more bounce in my step in the morning and now I love the smell.

Peace and Calming

I diffuse this one quite a bit at night. It seems to help everyone in the household relax and for me helps quiet the mind. Plus, it helps put Bryce to sleep and that dear friends, is reason enough to use this oil. lol.

Stress Away

This oil is a favorite of many – I like the lime and vanilla scent – it really is different but so relaxing.  If things get a bit cranky for me, this goes in the diffuser and/or I apply it to the back of my neck.  (This oil comes in the premium starter kit). It really helps relax me. I have put this in a rollerball that makes this very convenient to apply.

Lavender

Oh Lavender, how I love you. It is called the swiss army knife of essential oils for a reason. You will find this diffused daily in my home.  If I am not sure what to diffuse, I go with Lavender.  It has such a calming fragrance and it just settles my mind.  I also have made myself a night-time roller bottle sleep blend and this is the main ingredient. This oil alone is making everyone in my family sleep better. This oil comes in the premium starter kit

Valor

I saved this for last for a reason. This oil has helped my anxiety the most. I put two drops on my feet before bed every night and instantly feel relaxed. More centered and happy. It is considered a grounding oil and I see why. It seems to melt away my anxiety. Since I have been using this oil, I feel renewed. More energy, more joy. Just more. I always have a bottle of this on hand. It is that good.

Your Journey

If you are in need of emotional support, please get help. Whether that is through therapy, medication, or natural supplements like Young Living. Do it. Life is too short and you deserve to be happy. I have been there. I know it is hard. But believe you can. You can and will get better.

Have hope.

When Infertility Strikes, and Then You End Up Pregnant

In the 6 years it took me to great pregnant I probably purchased well over 100 pregnancy and ovulation tests. I was injected with hormones, took  “fertility” pills, and suffered through a test where they actually put a balloon and inflated it my fallopian tubes. That my friends, was not a fun day to put it mildly. I did all this for a chance to be a mom, to carry a child of my own and go through the miracle of giving birth. In the end though, none of those things got me pregnant. I even resigned myself that maybe I was meant to be childless, maybe become the next Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray and Eat some more my way through Europe. But yes, eventually I did get pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful son.

I know when I was suffering through my years of infertility I was so afraid to talk about it. I felt like a failure as a woman and each month was a horrible reminder of what I wanted so badly yet couldn’t have. When friends got pregnant it was hard for me. Baby showers were impossible. I want to say to whoever is out there that may be going through this – don’t give up hope. Those years were some of my darkest times mentally. When you want something so badly yet you can’t control it to make it happen – it literally messes with your head. I know it is hard. I know all the feelings of helplessness you feel. Don’t let it overtake you. You are more than your reproductive system. You are NOT alone. Talk to someone about it. Don’t do what I did and let it just stew.

As the years went by I went to countless medical doctors, met with and tried many advanced fertility options. All failed. Modern medicine couldn’t tell me why my body wasn’t falling pregnant. My hormone levels measured normal, my “insides” all looked good. I was what they considered “unexplained” infertility. Which basically means we don’t know what is wrong with you. Well geez, thanks doc. Makes me feel much better about my situation and spending LOTS of money at your office for you to tell me this…..

After five years of this I gave up. I started looking into adoption and reading blogs on the benefits of a childless life. But then I started having hormonal issues every month. My cycles got crazy. I got to the point I just wanted to find relief from my monthly madness. I decided to purchase and read the book The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis. It really touched me. She is a reproductive medical doctor who suffered from infertility herself and decided to become an acupuncturist after it worked for her. I liked her idea of promoting general health and balancing the body. I decided to try it. I found a local reproductive acupuncturist (yes, there is such a thing and studies have shown it works in increasing rates of conception among IVF patients) and started taking the herbs she prescribed me.

Three months went by. No pregnancy. But I FELT better. My monthly hormonal issues eased. I had more energy. I felt like a giant black cloud had lifted from my head.

I stopped going to her and continued to look into adoption and just living my life. And then one day two months later it happened. I became pregnant. ALL BY MYSELF. No drugs. No injections. No crazy doctors telling me my body just wasn’t going to work. Because it did. I remember buying prenatal vitamins and thinking I really didn’t need them because this just can’t last. This can’t be true. I wasn’t really pregnant.

At my first OBGYN appointment I remember waiting for the ultrasound to come on and preparing myself to see an empty womb. But then I saw it. A heartbeat. A tiny blob on a screen. And it was real. I was pregnant. Words cannot describe the joy I felt that day. The tears of joy I shed that day. The rest of the pregnancy I was of course nervous. And I probably drove my OBGYN crazy with my phone calls and questions. But in the end all was well. I became a mom to a healthy baby boy.

But I still remember. The pain. The depression. The doctors. The monthly reminders. And I know it is a struggle that millions still go through every month. I feel for you. Don’t give up. And if you are like me and it is an unexplained diagnosis maybe try something like acupuncture, or essential oils, or herbs. You never know. I think for me it was all hormonal. So when my body got back into balance it was able to hold a pregnancy. But everyone is different. So I will never claim to know how to cure you. I am just telling you what worked for me.

People are starting to ask me if we will try for another. I don’t know. I am extremely grateful for one. And I am older. Also, to be honest, I am afraid to enter the cycle again of depression from trying. It truly was some of my darkest moments. I don’t want to relive that.

Whatever path you end up choosing embrace it. There is more to a woman than her womb. And there is nothing wrong with living childless just as there is nothing wrong with having children. We each have our own path and our own life to live. Go and live yours.

Coming to America

Growing up I lived only 10 minutes from my grandparents (my mom’s parents). “Omi” (German for Grandmother) would tell me her life story over and over again through the years. As a kid I would get annoyed that she would repeat, AGAIN, how she came to America, how she survived the war (World War 2), and how she met my grandpa (“Opa”). Weirdly, Opa never talked about his story. To the day he died I only heard his story from the bits and pieces Omi told me or my parents told me. I think some people heal through telling their story and other people try to forget as much as possible through silence.

My other grandparents also immigrated to America from Germany after the war. In fact, my dad was born in Germany. But they also never talked about their journey to get here. In fact, this summer when I went through my mom’s stuff I found a letter my dad wrote a month before he died. In it, he tells how his grandfather split the family onto 2 trains when they were kicked out of Budapest, Hungary by the Communists – one to West Germany and one to East Germany. My dad’s mom (he wasn’t born yet) was on the one to East Germany. I was floored. I had NO idea I was Hungarian! I always thought they had lived in Germany hundreds of years before immigrating.

My dad with his parents
My dad with his parents

Both families came to the United States through NYC, with my mom’s family settling in the neighborhood of Glendale, Queens and my Dad’s family settling in Clifton, New Jersey. Both were able to come over partly because they had relatives already living here in the country (which are good stories in themselves – one was a sister who was ostracized after she got pregnant out of wedlock and the other met and married a man in 3 days so she wouldn’t have to go back to Germany!).

In the end, it is my grandmothers story that I remember the most and that resonates with me today. Her mom a widow, the war was hard on them. The Russians bombed her town (At the time a key port town called Konisgberg – after being largely destroyed in Word War II and occupied by the Soviet Union thereafter, the former city was renamed Kaliningrad) and killed her mother after she refused to give them the location of her daughter (my grandmother was hiding in the basement dressed up as an old woman since they had heard the Russians were looking for young women). A neighbor had tipped the Russians for food to the location of my grandmother. Somehow she escaped and survived by eating literally at times leaves and eventually volunteering for the Red Cross. She almost died of Typhoid, she lived/hid in ruins and eventually ran for her life across the border (woods) to West Germany. At some point she met up with my grandfather, they got married and managed to come to the United States.

I am writing all this because my heart is BREAKING with the news lately of the refugee crisis in Europe. My grandparents were refugees at one point. They got lucky and were able to come to the USA. How different my story would be if they hadn’t. My grandmother did what she had to so she could survive. My father’s parents as well. Desperate to improve their situation and feeling like there was no other choice, they choose to come to America with nothing and try and start a new life.

I don’t have all the answers to where all these people should go. It is horrible that their home countries are going through so much atrocity that they have to leave in the first place.

Just remember that at one time we all immigrated from somewhere. We are all just humans, who want the same things – safety, food, shelter, love, opportunity. A chance to make life better for our family, our children.

Below is my grandmothers story that she wrote years ago before she died. I wish I could have recorded her all those years she talked to me. Her story is movie worthy. But I just have this and my memories. And I definitely will be telling all this to my son. Because her sacrifice should not be forgotten.

My grandmother and grandfather on their wedding day
My grandmother and grandfather on their wedding day

Tragedy Turned Into Victory

My thoughts go back more then 50 years ago. I was born in Koenigsberg, the Capital of East Prussia, Germany. There I grew up in a sheltered home. How safe and secure I felt when I walked as a little girl on my father’s hand.  When I was nine years old, however, he suffered an accident and died shortly after. I was heartbroken. My dad’s death was the first tragedy which I experienced in my young life.

My older sister and I had a Christian upbringing through a caring and loving mother and grandmother, who came to live with us. Life was simple, but happy.

When World War II broke out, I was in my mid teens, wondering what the future would have in store for me and beautiful hometown. When later on, 90 percent of it was left in ruins after two concentrated air raids my heart was broken. The worst was still to come.

On April 9, 1945, the Russians finally conquered the City and I had no chance to flee. It was like hell on earth. Well aware of what happened to females during this time, I camouflaged myself by covering my face and hair with ashes so I would look like an old, sick woman. My mother and I hid in the basement of a burned-out house for many weeks. As the Russian soldiers searched, especially for young girls, my neighbor betrayed me for a piece of bread. The soldiers came and questioned my mother about me. She refused to give me away. They beat her, brutally hit her over the head with a rifle, and left her dying. While watching this happen I became paralyzed with fear and in a state of shock. After the soldiers left, she whispered her dying words into my ear: “I’m going to Glory.” After my mom died, I didn’t want to live anymore. The Lord intervened by sending me a dear elderly devoted Christian woman who had also lost everything. She found me in this state of despair and told me, “if you don’t want to live, your mother’s death would be in vain. She died out of love for you. Let me take care of you from now on.” She comforted me in a wonderful way. I felt like the Lord had sent me an angel at that most crucial time.

Later, trained by the Red Cross, I became active in combatting epidemics such as typhoid, typhus, and cholera. It was a very difficult task. Water lines were broken down and there was no electricity. Germans lived in basements and ruins. Russians occupied those houses that were still intact. Our daily bread rations consisted of 300 grams each for hard work, IF AVAILABLE, and we had to stand for hours in line for it. Most of the time it tasted like machine oil and it was almost impossible to eat. During the winter months, people died from starvation, and many froze to death. I often stood in front of bomb craters turned into mass graves with 500 to 600 nameless corpses, thrown into and buried. Finally, I contracted Typhoid fever myself. With my weight going down to 78 pounds, I looked like a skeleton. During that time in a run down windowless hospital, there were two and three people sharing a bed, and many had to lie on the floor. We could always tell when death was near for the lice would leave the person and flies began to cover the dying body. God was gracious to me, for it was a miracle that the lice never settled on me and my friends were happy that I could keep my long blond hair. During the long evenings, we tried to keep our spirits high by singing folk songs which attracted nursing personnel, and we saw many tears shed by the nuns turned nurses.

The best way to overcome hardship is to help others! We had no stores, no money, and no medication. Whatever nature had to offer was very helpful in every way. For example, oak bark cooked in water, gave cholera patients relief and healing. Once I was fortunate to find a small bottle of petroleum and also a bandage for burns. I applied the petroleum to the head of a young girl who was suffering with nits under the skin of her head. First, I had to give her a crew cut, then I had to cut the area infested with nits. She cringed in pain. With her hair off, she looked like a boy and she played that role for some time, until there was less danger for girls. The Lord had helped me to save her life.

For two years nobody was permitted to leave this military zone behind the iron curtain. During this time, I acquired knowledge of the Russian language. This helped me to obtain a permit to leave for East Germany. Some salvaged jewelry was also helpful. The day finally came when approximately 400 of us were squeezed like sardines into cattle cars. We didn’t know our destination! During those seven days in transit, we had nothing to eat. On stops in open fields, we were permitted to pick weeds and grass to eat and get some water from the locomotive to quench our thirst. While changing trains, we were often attacked by partisans who robbed us of our last possessions. My sweet adopted mother was hiding me under a blanket, laying or sitting on top of me during that time. To my dismay, she had a very serious heart condition and one day on the train she collapsed. She had no pulse or heartbeat. I began shaking her almost frantically till she opened her eyes and looked at me. She looked like she came from another world. Again I thanked my Heavenly Father for His mighty help!

When we finally crossed the border into East Germany, we praised the Lord and started unitedly singing, with tears running down our cheeks: “Now thank we all our God…”

We landed in a refugee camp near Berlin and were in quarantine for three weeks in a former concentration camp. Now we feasted daily on a plain water soup made from turnip leaves and got a piece of bread every fifth day. The straw that was given to us to lie on we used to braid and made sandals. We made use of everything!

Now began the task to find my fiancée whom I had not seen for over three years, but hoped to be reunited with as soon as possible. In the seven years we had known each other, we had met only 81 days, which he had recorded in his diary. My Mother had a vision before she died! It was that he is still alive and will replace her and my dad some day for me. An added assurance, that he was still alive was a postcard from him to my mother, blown by the wind to the feet of the same girl that I had successfully freed from lice and nits some time before. The card was partly burned, as the Russians used to burn all incoming mail. With Germany now divided, I could not get a permit to go to the western part where Albert lived and had to risk my life again to cross the borderline by night through dark and dangerous woods. I could not help remembering a dream that I had seven years earlier when I had met him for the first time. In that dream, I saw Albert dragging me through dark swampy woods. To my horror, this nightmare became a reality! We were running for our lives to cross the border, risking being shot by the guards at any time! Again, the Lord helped! We made it through! Praise the Lord!

Finally we had our wedding in October 1947. In 1950, we emigrated to “the promised land”, our beloved America and have reason enough to thank our dear Lord and Savior for having NEVER left us nor forsaken us. He has also given us two wonderful children, four precious grandchildren, loving friends, a caring church family and a beautiful home. Most of all He has given us the assurance of our heavenly eternal home some day in glory!

Written by Christel Schuster

My grandparents during their retirement years
My grandparents during their retirement years
my great grandfather on the left and my great grandmother on the right.
Her father on the left and her mother on the right.

Grief is a Curious Thing

My sister texted me yesterday that she has been driving past moms house weekly to see how it looks – we are both still coming to grips with her sudden passing away from a heart attack on July 7th.

I hate when people say your grief will get better. No it doesn’t. You move on, but your heart never truly heals. A part of it will always be missing, especially when the person that you lost was very close to you. I had a complicated relationship with mom but she still was my mom. After dad died, she WAS the only parent. And even though we were very different and didn’t agree with a lot of each others choices, she still was always there for me when I needed her. I could call her and know she would listen. Now that is gone. Forever. Parentless at 36 years old. It feels weird. A club that I never intended to join.

There is no one size fits all with grief. When I walked into moms house the first time after her death I saw all the grandkids photos on her piano and I started balling. The meals on wheels ladies stopped by to talk to us and said she would talk about the kids daily. She was so proud to have them. Yet she never called to talk to Bryce. She never called me to say she was so happy I was a mom. Yet she was playing show and tell with the photos we gave her. She did care. I lost it.

The other hard part of the week was seeing her at the funeral home. A hard thing for anyone. But I hadn’t seen her since Christmas. She was so withered. So frail. I had NO idea it was that bad. I knew she was trying to make it sound better than it really was when I talked to her, but seeing her lying there I knew she had to have suffered at the end. I felt bad. Guilty. All the complex feelings we face with our loved ones, staring me down at 10 AM on a Wednesday. I lost it.

I guess what I am trying to say is right now I am hurting. But I am not giving up. I know life will move on, and the pain will dull. I am trying to concentrate on what I DO have and what my future COULD be.