Paige Hemmis is a self-taught carpenter and a member of the design team on ABC's Emmy Award-winning Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Although you'd never know it from the sunny personality she exhibits on the show, she has been diagnosed with (and treated for) major depression. In April 2009, Hemmis teamed up with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals on the Blueprint for Hope campaign, in the hopes that her story will help others learn more about depression, seek help, and create a "blueprint" for treating the condition.
When you watch the show, it's hard to believe that at one point in my life I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I'm smiley—I have to put on a happy face because my job is improving lives and making other people feel good.
Depression is often seen as a mental issue. For me, the physical effects of the disease were what brought me to the doctor in the first place. I never had any symptoms until 2004, when I began to feel exhausted. I'd put on a happy face, but behind the scenes, my life was in turmoil. After gaining 25 pounds and spending six weeks sleeping no more than two to four hours a night, I finally went to a doctor. But I didn't think it was depression. I thought something was physically wrong with my body.
It felt like I had mono; everything hurt and I had no energy. I went to the doctor and he asked me questions like "Is it hard to get up in the morning?" and "Are you withdrawing from friends?" The answer was "yes," of course. When he diagnosed me with depression, I was surprised. He explained to me that you don't have to be sad or suicidal to suffer from depression. I always assumed that it was a mental thing—if you're sad, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you'll be fine.
The diagnosis gave me a name for what was going on in my body, but I had to learn to treat it. Just like every blueprint for a house is different, every person diagnosed with depression will have a different "blueprint" for treatment. Both my mother and grandmother were diagnosed with depression. I saw more behavioral symptoms in them, but I knew they were taking medication and they seemed to have it under control.
I began taking antidepressants and talking to someone. The antidepressants were wonderful, even though I had to try a few of them before I found one that worked, and I started to get a sleep schedule in place. Talking to a professional was a little harder. It was like nothing I've ever done before, and I had all these preconceived notions of the type of people who went to therapy. What would I say when I get in there?
I went to a life coach, and we just talked about my schedule and work. I was keeping things bottled up, because I thought I couldn't, or shouldn't, complain when I'm working with families who have so much less than I do. I went the back way and built up to talking about deeper issues. Now I can call him for unbiased advice.
I also made small lifestyle changes, such as starting to fit in time to exercise. (See Hemmis's simple and cost-effective DIY tips for managing depression) I'm not a gym-goer, but I tried to fit in 20-minute walks whenever I could. I'd bring my cat with me on the road, which made traveling easier. And, of course, my close friends and family were supportive.
I've been lucky that I haven't suffered any relapses, and I now know what my triggers are. If I don't get enough sleep, I feel that exhaustion and freak out a little. I've been there and don't want to go back. Although I started small, I got to the point where I was managing my depression and sticking to a treatment plan. My doctor noticed my improvement, and he and I decided to try easing off antidepressants. We tried it for a month at first, and it was a surprisingly easy transition. I haven't taken antidepressants for a year now.
Although my close family and friends knew about my depression, I didn't share my struggle with the rest of the world. It wasn't until one of my close friends admitted that she had been depressed and had gotten help. She told me she never would have called anyone had it not been for me. I didn't want anyone to suffer in silence, so I'm now a spokesperson for Blueprint for Hope, hoping that others find the courage to treat their depression.