Almost overnight in 1969, "Mary" (not her real name) lost most of the sight in her right eye at age 13 due to glaucoma and soon would lose nearly all sight in both eyes. Yet her biggest challenge in life hasn't been from being blind but with disabling severe depression.
"It started when I became angry and frustrated because of my visual impairment," said 58-year-old Mary of her teenage years. "I blamed God for making me this way. The loss of sight had come suddenly. In school, I was teased about being blind, which didn't help. It was hard to make friends."
Over the years, she would have dozens of episodes of severe depression, with some episodes lasting up to two months.
She said, "When in a depressed mood, I feel hopeless, dark, and as if I'll be unable to recover. I've had instances in which I tried to take my life by swallowing pills or starving myself."
In 1999, she quit her job as a data entry worker - not because of blindness, but due to depression. She had been seeking hospitalization on a regular basis because of having three to four depressive episodes annually. As a last resort to help break her depressed moods, doctors sometimes used electric shock therapy. Her prognosis seemed grim.
She said, "People often told me to pull myself up (by the bootstraps) and get over it, and for a while I thought I could." So she periodically decided to go off medication, in addition because of the high cost and unpleasant side effects, such as weight gain and fatigue. As a result, like clockwork, the depression returned.
Today, she no longer goes off her medication, and her life has improved greatly. She said, "Over the last seven years, the depressive episodes have been shorter and shorter. I haven't been hospitalized in that time frame. Also, my understanding the way I experience depression as a chemical imbalance has helped the last couple years, too."
In addition, she credits faith and prayer, support from friends and a daughter who listens, and her husband, who helps her get back on track when she feels her mood spiraling down. She has become much better at being aware of downward spirals and finding help. She hasn't had a depressive episode in almost a year, and hasn't contemplated suicide in more than five years.