One Calgary mom’s journey to make sense of mental illness

It’s getting late. A warm Mara Lake breeze presses into the second floor bedroom window of the Shuswap, BC condo. The air’s movement seems to have a purpose, but that purpose is lost upon its entering. There is a stifled mood to the room – nothing in and nothing out.

 An anxious Cindy Radu closes the curtains. She can think of little more than her desire to slip into oblivion, but not even closing the curtains helps.

Radu is supposed to be on vacation, but she can’t shake an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. Only in her mid-forties, her body is riddled with old-age aches. She feels like she’s been skiing down a mountain for days. She hasn’t; it’s nearly 30 degrees outside and the middle of July.

The petite Radu is now crumpled on the bed. She lies twisted in an indiscernible wrap of blankets. The confinement of the blankets is not unlike the sensation she’s feeling; she can’t get out and there’s no where to go.Cindy Radu calls her 8-year-old daughter a “definite miracle” after she had several miscarriages.

Photo by: Sharon Titus

Her mind races. She feels so trapped. Need to escape, she thinks. The bedroom door is only a few feet away, but there are guests downstairs and she can’t bear to face them. What to do? Radu reasons that the only legitimate answer is to escape through the window. It’s a 20-foot drop, and something stops her.

But oh, how she longs to leave.

Now, four years have passed, and similar experiences are rare. What was once an often-unbearable reality for Radu is now mostly a memory – mostly because Radu suffers from depression. She was clinically diagnosed in 2002. This particular experience remains especially vivid in her memory.

She’s well composed. Her short, brown hair is tucked neatly around both ears. A few strands are left loose and sweep softly across her forehead. Every so often an intensely reflective look crosses her face; it’s as though she’s taking in all of her experiences at once, trying to discern which seem most relevant to share.

A smile creeps over Radu’s face. She lights up and the decision is at once obvious – her daughter. Lucy is 8 years old and, after 3 miscarriages, as far as Radu is concerned, a definite miracle.

Radu says that by the time she gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, she was feeling about 90 per cent better.

Photo by: Kalyn GilbertInitial talk of her losses seems to take Radu to a less idyllic headspace. She recalls her first – not quite a true miscarriage, but rather a false pregnancy. She’d experienced all the signs of a true pregnancy, as her body was tricked into thinking it was carrying a baby.

Radu spent several months planning for her first and only child. It wasn’t until a routine doctor’s appointment that she discovered she there was no baby to be found. Radu was devastated and became stuck in sorrow. Radu found herself shutting down. She closed doors that were normally left open and walk past people she always stopped to talk with. Where vibrance and energy were once plentiful, fatigue and exhaustion were constant. Everything was just sad. It was during this time that she was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

Radu appears to recover from the distress of the memory. She’s smiling again and there seems to be little holding her back from sharing more.

She dives straight back in. This time she talks about sharing her experiences; discussing them has provided a venue through which she’s learned of others’ struggles, and further understood her own. However, opening up hasn’t always been so warmly received. Radu’s eyes race back and forth, and she recalls yet another disturbing moment from her past.

She talks of a Christmas family gathering years ago. Radu remembers that familiar desire to slip away from the world. She wants only to be alone; some of her family members won’t have it. She doesn’t go into much detail, but describes, in particular, a sister-in-law. This woman is yelling at Radu, shouting at her to apologize for ruining Christmas.

The sentiments are understood, Radu says, but adds that they require an address. For Radu, apologizing for a bout of mental illness is like apologizing for having cancer: It’s completely illogical, for everyone Radu says that, while she was pregnant, people would often ask if she was worried about giving birth to a sad baby. She says that Lucy is anything but sad, and that there are a host of pictures to prove it.

Photo by: Kalyn Gilbertstruggles (differently) at times.

Radu’s words become especially purposeful. The struggle has been eased, she explains; help has come in many forms. It started with an initial visit to the doctor – the one where she was first diagnosed with depression. Her physician, whom she’d known for many years, recommended counseling with a psychiatrist. Those visits were all Radu could muster, and she poured all of her little-remaining strength into gathering enough energy to leave the house. That lasted for months. Eventually, even getting help didn’t seem so difficult.

Radu had been on a six month-long trial to find an appropriate drug. With only minor side effects, she eventually discovered the most important piece of what she calls her toolkit – her medication. She now takes venlafaxine, more commonly known by its brand name, Effexor.

It’s an antidepressant that blocks normal re-uptake of norepinephrine and serotonin (feel-good chemicals) so that greater amounts are left in the brain.

Radu still sits well composed. Her hands are tucked loosely together in her lap, and a tiny smirk hides pleasantly on her face. It’s as though she knows something that most of us haven’t caught on to just yet.

Radu says she’s feeling better – that she still has her days – but won’t let the depression define her. In fact, some days she doesn’t even remember she has it. Somehow she’s learned to let things go.

And then her grin breaks into laughter.

“Is the world going to come to an end? Well, no it’s not. It’ll keep going just fine, thank you very much.”

She knows.

kgilbert@cjournal.ca