Stories of Hope: An Interview with Michelle Noller
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked Michelle Noller about her history of mental health challenges and how things are going for her lately. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
MN: I first became aware that something was seriously wrong with me during my senior year in high school. I wasn’t really sure what was happening to me, I just felt different somehow from everyone else. I began to withdraw from my friends and school activities I used to enjoy. These issues continued throughout my senior year, and my persistent sadness and isolation affected my family and everyone close to me.
DS: Was there a turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
MN: I managed to make it off to college that fall somehow and my symptoms only got worse. I was overwhelmed with the large university, I had no idea what I wanted to study, and I continually felt sad. The isolation I felt was the hardest. I felt like an alien. All around me people were going to parties, having fun, living life, etc., and all I could think was how much I wanted to die.
I never reached out to my parents during that time as I was trying so hard to hold it together. I thought about suicide a lot but didn’t know how I would do it. I kept thinking I wished someone would harm me and maybe kill me, so I began walking around campus late at night alone, wishing for death. I was able to make it through one semester and then I moved back home and let my parents know how bad I was. That is when I began to seek treatment.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
MN: For the next year I was placed on one failed medication after another. First Prozac, then told to wait 6-8 weeks for it to take effect. When it did nothing, they tried another drug, and then I would wait another 6-8 weeks, etc. All I could do was lay in bed most of the day. I had no energy and was really in a deep depression.
I finally saw another psychiatrist who found a combination of medications that made me functional again. I did not necessarily feel happy but I was able to get out of bed and make plans for the future. I stayed at home over the next several years and finished my degree at another university close to home.
For the next 20 years I would suffer on and off with severe major depressive episodes. The psychiatrists would give me a concoction of medications that again allowed me to function and hold down a job, but there was never any joy or happiness, and relationships of any kind were difficult.
What finally worked the best for me was ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and I felt better for about one year. Here I am now, age 43, still dealing with this chronic illness, having some good months and then more bad months to follow. I have never been well for long.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
MN: Currently, I am not doing well and have relapsed into another major depressive episode. I am trying a new treatment in just a few days, TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and I am hopeful this will not only allow me to function again but give me a better quality of life, so I can actually enjoy life.
The things that I have learned that have helped me stay positive and healthy is to keep telling myself I have been through this before, and I have come out of it. Even if the TMS does not work I can go back to ECT, which I know will work, so I know that I will be well again. In the meantime while I am trying to be patient, I try to stay busy.
I work part-time and try to keep to a regular routine. Meditation and yoga has helped me, and my current meds that I am on are keeping my head above water. Even though I live alone and have few friends, it helps to know that really I am not alone, and that there are millions of other souls suffering along with me.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
MN: I would like to say: Don’t ever give up! I know it is hard and seems hopeless when one medication after another has failed, or you find one that works only to stop working a few months later. If you have treatment-resistant depression as I do, there are other options such as TMS, which I hope to report a positive response to in a couple of months. Also if you are not happy with your psychiatrist, find another one, and another one until you find one you feel is being aggressive with your treatment and helps you get well. You can feel good again!
Michelle Noller is a mental health warrior and survivor. She is a constant seeker of knowledge of her disease, different treatments, and better ways to cope. She works a day job from home as an editor for a medical documentation company. She lives alone with her Labrador Retriever, who is her rock and who has gotten her through some dark days. She hopes to write a book and share her experiences with others and it is her goal to help others and become an advocate. You can contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much to Michelle for sharing her terrific story of hope!
Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!