Columnist: No fear of the shadow

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lynn Walker Gendusa

Contributing columnist

She was on the playground in front of her school. The old three-story brick building with the spiraled orange fire escape loomed over the dirt school yard. She had been selected as the bride in a mock wedding being performed by her class on the sidewalk below. She was 8, her groom, Martin, was the same age.

The spring air blew strands of wispy blond hair around her face, as she walked toward Martin. The little girl was so excited that she was the bride, and happy as the sun soaked the walkway toward the make believe altar.

Then, as if the day turned to night and as quickly as a smile can turn into a frown, she felt strangely alone and strangely out of place. The last thing she saw before falling on the concrete was the blurred brick building with the orange fire escape melting into the dirt below. Anna had fainted.

Anna would have similar episodes in the years that followed. A feeling that the world was far away, that people were walking in one direction and she was walking in another. A feeling of lost hope, love and dreams of being alone on a crowded schoolyard.

Finally, one day while happily at work, Anna again fell to the floor. An ambulance was called. Before the day was over she found herself in a strange room, talking to a strange man. He was Dr. McLarty, a leading psychiatrist in the treatment of depression and other brain illnesses.

Dr. McLarty was to Anna a calm hand on a shaken soul. A gentle man that asked gentle questions to learn who she was and how she really felt. Anna started to talk and was surprised as the words fell out and around and all over the room.

His eyes grew larger as she explained, and he would learn that the little girl with the wispy blonde hair had been living with a shadow all her life. The shadow’s name was Depression.

I met this little girl the day I was born. You see my name is Anna Lynn. It is a brave day I can share with you this story. God and time do make fear fade.

When you reach the latter part of your life, you realize that what is important is helping others. If you can do that with your own story, then do it. That is where I am today.

Once I was diagnosed with clinical depression — an imbalance of chemicals in the brain — I was given a variety of drugs, but none worked. Instead, I was treated with a regimen of counseling and jogging. For 15 years I ran hard to get myself in front of the shadow.

Depression, like many brain illnesses, is treated with trial and error. Some things work and some don’t. I call them brain illnesses instead of mental illnesses because of the connotation of the word mental.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is simply cluelessness.

All my life, I have heard folks talking about illnesses of the brain.

“People need to buck up.”

“I don’t believe in psychiatrist!”

“How could anyone be so selfish to commit suicide?”

“People just need to believe in God more.”

Let me tell you from experience, you can have the courage of a lion and still feel weak in the midst of the shadow. If you don’t believe in a psychiatrist for the brain, then don’t go to a cardiologist for your heart.

Depression causes suicide often because the depressed person feels the most unselfish thing he/she can do is leave this earth and not be a bother anymore. Their thinking is from the depressed mind, not yours.

And finally, God is the one that knows your hurting brain and is trying to help you get the help needed. Did he not create the doctor to help your heart?

If you are experiencing either situational or clinical depression, or just an emptiness that doesn’t go away, please understand you can be better and there is hope. Seek help. Brain illness is not your fault.

There should be no stigma any longer for brain dysfunction. Instead, we need to encourage ones that could be in trouble to seek help, to lend understanding and finally, to support and never judge.

Dr. McLarty wanted to try one more new type of drug for me years ago. I balked at the idea, but acquiesced and I took it every morning for three weeks doubting it would work.

I was sitting at my little table in the kitchen on a very sunny Sunday morning, reading the paper and drinking a hot cup of coffee. All of a sudden, out of nowhere and not thinking about a thing, I physically felt a veil was lifting off me from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head.

When I explained the sensation later to Dr. McLarty, he smiled a broad smile.

“That phenomenon has been reported before in rare cases of those that have lived years with depression. Once the chemical balance is corrected in the brain, it is literally felt.”

Many more years have now passed. I take one pill a day, see my gentle doctor once every two years and the shadow stays behind me.

The courage to seek help, the love of three wonderful children and the love of a God that whispers in my ear, “Fear not, for I am with you — always,” has kept me playing on this noisy schoolyard called life.

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell.