by Mary Frances Erler
For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to understand the difference between autobiographical fiction and fictionalized memoir. It seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of how much the author reveals of his or her personal life. With this is mind, I’ve been laboring on a memoir for the past few years, but to “protect the innocent” I have changed names, settings, and sequences of events. I guess that means it is a fictionalized memoir.
However, in the interest of being an advocate for mental health, I have realized I need to share my true story, so here it is.
Yes, according to the calendar it’s spring, but all of us in Northwest Montana know that real spring is still a month or more away. Winter is often a difficult time for people who suffer from depression. I’m no exception. For most of my life I tried to hide this behind a shield of pretense, but that took a heavy toll on my physical and mental health. I was afraid of the stigma attached to mental health issues.
Things really took a nosedive in 2003 with menopause, as anxiety and chronic migraines were added to the mix. In 2005, after trying herbal remedies for years (St. John’s Wort, Feverfew, Black Cohosh, to name a few), and one antidepressant (Zoloft) that made me violently ill, I finally agreed with my doctor to try Lexapro, and it did help.
But new stresses piled on due to family issues, such as caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s. By 2013, I was getting suicidal. Fortunately, I was directed to an excellent counselor, once I swallowed my pride and admitted I needed help. It has taken me another eight years to realize (admit?) that having a place where I can let go and truly be myself, where I can say what I really think and feel, is just as important to my treatment as the meds are.
I’m fortunate to be living in a century when some of the stigmas attached to mental illness are lessening and there are treatments available to people like me. Every person is unique, though, so finding the right combination of treatments can be a long journey. It has been for me.
As I’ve gone through this, I feel that now is the time to be open and share where I’ve been, hoping this will help someone else out there.
No, the book isn’t published yet. It still needs to simmer a bit longer. But I feel the journey is finally reaching some light ahead–at the end of the tunnel.