A Profile of Depression

Jan BrehmGuest Blogger: Jan Brehm

If you have been anywhere in the Pacific Northwest for any length of time in the past 30 years, you probably know Jan Brehm. Maybe not her name, but certainly her face and voice. In Seattle, Portland, Eugene and Boise Jan has been the television face for some of the most prominent and prestigious car dealerships in the Northwest. She has appeared in corporate videos for most of Oregon and Washington’s iconic companies; Microsoft, Nike, Weyerhaeuser, Techtronic’s, Boing, Safeco and many others. With the Pacific Northwest as a base, Jan has been seen from Alaska to NYC and many states in between as a commercial and corporate spokesperson.  Jan has appeared in a number of major films, network television programs and, stage productions. She has built and maintained an impressive career as an actress, corporate spokesperson and personality. In addition, Jan is an entrepreneur blending her talent as an actor, educator (she graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Education) and an advocate to become the driving force behind Planet Sweet Pea a company where couples come to learn about relationships and mid-life issues.

Jan is also one of the 1 in 5 Americans who have experienced a severe mental health condition. She shared her experience and insight into the darkness of depression and her recovery in her blog i.jan in August, 2014. She has graciously agreed to allow Great Minds @ Work to publish it as a guest post.

A Profile of Depression

First published, August 15, 2014

As she slid between the newly washed sheets and laid her head on her pillow the joy came. That tingling sensation of being able to actually feel the crispness of the sheets on her skin and breathe in the freshness of their smell. As she languished she could hear the croaking frogs in the neighbors fountain, sometimes a nuisance, but tonight they fueled an overwhelming delight as gratitude enveloped her.

She could feel. She could actually be in the wonder of the moment and marvel at the power of feeling the awe of life. And then she remembered this had not always been so. Briefly recounting her tortured past, she now felt like it was a life that belonged to someone else. But it had been hers. And now the miracle was hers.

The days of her past had been riddled with not just irrational fears, but a fire in her skin that invaded her mind, soul and body. Fragmented thoughts disconnected to what was real forced to her hands to her head as she whimpered for relief. To survive moment to moment crushed her ability to feel anything of the world outside, as the grip of this darkness invaded her ability to hold a cup from shaking while trying to take a sip.

To draw a breath deep enough to fill her lungs.

To take a shower.

To get dressed…

…and to take care of two small children.

Nights of pacing, crying and a few blissful moments of dozing were followed by mornings of the dread of trying to sit up and put her feet on the floor fully knowing she would live another day wanting anything but to live another day.

A tormented mind can only be truly understood by those who have suffered the same. You can read about it, study it, graduate with credentials to treat it, have the deepest empathy for it, but you will never really know it unless you yourself have lived it. May has been Mental Health Awareness Month. A time dedicated to educate and offer understanding for mental disorders, the misconceptions and judgments they may elicit.

How much simpler it is to have compassion for those who physically suffer, but when ones’ behavior impedes on the normalness of life, measures of worth and assumptions of character all too often cloud your beliefs.

You stare.

You pretend not to see.

You think, ‘why don’t the just get it together and if only they would just…’

You don’t understand…and you sometimes feel bad that you don’t understand.

The stigma of mental illness is slowly being remedied as many are receiving treatments that were not available some twenty years ago. To think you could be institutionalized for a lifetime for the inability to manage acceptable thinking and behavior that would allow you to walk among the normal, when today medications and treatments allow a normalcy for greater percentages of those who suffer from mental disorders. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness states: “Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” NAMI continues to afford the much-needed awareness and understanding of mental illness that challenge and disable so many today.

Today her life challenges of paying the bills, maintaining healthy friendships and working well at her job may be felt a deeper level than others may feel, but to be afforded the luxury to manage them and overcome them gives her the strength to wake in the morning, put her feet on the floor and be thankful this is a day she can’t wait to live.