Catherine Kahr has struggled for decades with major depression, surviving multiple suicide attempts and several hospitalizations, including a two-year stay at an infamous state institution for the mentally ill. Now 40, she is happily married and has three daughters. She says perseverance, her family's support, and a commitment to therapy pulled her "out of the darkness."

Image courtesy of Catherine KahrWhen I was 18 I was severely depressed and suicidal, but I didnt know what that meant. I contacted a suicide hotline. The police came to my house and took me straight to the hospital. Why did I call? I wanted to die so badly. But subconsciously my survival instinct wanted me to live. I knew there was something wrong. Still, I didnt know what to do or how to get help. I was only a junior in high school.

That was a defining moment. Being taken from my home to a very adult situation was traumatizing, to say the least. The hospital was a place to be safe. I saw psychiatrists, and there was group therapy that is supposed to help you. Still, it was more of a filler of time in the hospital. They dont want you lying in bed all day.

I was out of the hospital only briefly before being committed again, and I wasnt comfortable around other people.

The stigma of mental illness only made it worse. You feel it from other people. You dont want anybody to know you have a mental illness. You dont feel part of the community. People dont realize depression is a real disease. They think its all in your head and you just need to get over it. You cant see it, you cant touch it, but its an illness—a mental illness.

The worst of all are the doctors and nurses. You are already prejudged by your medical records. You are your illness, not a person. The staff are careless about callous things they say within earshot of the patients, or worse, they are just flat-out rude or accusatory. A doctor told me that I should be well aware of what the street value of my medications was. He knew nothing about me but assumed I was selling my medications.

I was hospitalized four times in a period of two months, and because my suicidal impulses continued, the courts ordered that I be confined to a state mental institution. I wrote about my experiences at the institution in this blog: After 28 months I was sent to transitional housing to begin the process of rejoining society. I had my own room with a bed, a sink, and some other furniture. It was finally a place I could call home.

Later, I met my husband. We were married in 1993. He has been there for me all along. I told him fairly quickly about my depression because I believe that he needed to know what kind of person he was getting involved with. He would have figured it out anyway; I have scars on my arms from self-mutilation. Thats how I dealt with emotional pain.

Next Page: I am on medication now. [ pagebreak ]I am on medication now. Ive been through a huge array of medications, trying to find what works. I have pretty severe episodes if I dont take medication consistently. Ive had shock therapy (ECT, or Electro Convulsive Therapy) too. Still, the depression did not go away. My depression always hovered in the background. But it really didnt return in full force until I suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of my second daughter.

My husband supported me, and I went through years of therapy. However, my turning point was with a breakthrough therapy called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). The Portland Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program really helped me work through a lot of my issues and helped me finally recover from my crippling depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I am a stay-at-home mom now. I attend school; I want to be a psychologist. My daughters know about my depression. They call it Sad Sick. Its how my husband explains it to them. I dont go around advertising my past, but I am very comfortable with my story and my life. It made me who I am. I am a very strong person. Without that learning experience, I would not have evolved into the person I am. I wanted to be happy, and I knew it was something I had to work for. Its wonderful to be out of that darkness.