Life Circles: Showing up.

April 9, 2016
Andrea Sargent

Andrea Sargent

Life Circles by Stephanie Wagner.

Sponsored by Pro-Master Carpet Cleaning, 231-757-9061,

When I started this series, I wasn’t prepared for the tremendous amount of responsibility I would feel to the women I interviewed. When a sister opens up her soul and pours out her story, it is scary. We can’t predict how it will be received, we fear judgment. We have been taught to be quiet, unassuming, and polite.

And yet there is a voice within that says it is time.

Andrea Sargent is still not sure she is ready. She has tried to cancel. She is visibly shaking. She is terrified she will cry. And still, her story spills out.  

“I don’t ever remember a time in my life when I wasn’t afraid.  I covered my fear when I was younger with false bravado.. I was loud. I was outspoken. I pretended I didn’t care,” she says.

I remember that Andrea from high school. A little rebellious, a lot of spunk. She was the one who was up for anything, and never seemed to care what other people thought. Fearless. Individual.

“As I got older, I found myself with a permanent smile. I was the one who had it all together. I had the house, the job, the husband. I was the friend who was always there to listen and help out when someone had a problem.”

Things started to unravel with the birth of her first child, a son, Quinn. “It was the first time I heard the word ‘depression’. Up until that point, I had one acceptable emotion – anger. I expressed everything as ‘mad’. I could be right, and if I could make a good argument, then I was OK.”

“But when Quinn was born, I was really alone for the first time in my life. I was isolated – I had no family around. And because I was such a great pretender, all of my friends thought I was doing great.”

Feeling scared and overwhelmed, Andrea reached out to her OB/GYN. She was diagnosed with postpartum depression and prescribed an antidepressant medication.

“I never felt any different, or better,  but I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I was supposed to be happy, so I plastered on my smile and kept going. My husband was the only one who knew that I was struggling.”

Then two years later came a second pregnancy. “It was a horrible pregnancy. Everything that could have gone wrong did. She was our $100,000 baby before she was even born!”  

While pregnant, Andrea went off the antidepressant medication that she had been on since her son’s birth. Because of her history with postpartum, she was given a shot immediately following her daughter’s birth.

promaster 111813“It all went downhill fast from there. I didn’t sleep for days, so the doctor added another medication to counteract the first. I continued to struggle, so they added another med. Then another. In the four years after Claire’s birth, I was on five different medications.  I became an absolute zombie.”

Andrea describes days where she would just lay in bed for hours. “I knew I needed to get up and take a shower, but I would actually have to talk myself into it. I just plain didn’t care.”

It was during this period of time that her husband convinced her to move away from her circle of friends to his hometown in Minnesota. It was a decision she had fought for years.

“The medications – they just made me complacent. I didn’t have the fight in me any more. So we went.”

“I still worked hard to put on the happy face. I made some new friends, but they weren’t real friendships. I managed everyone else’s problems, but still never ever talked about my own.”

Apathy ruled her life. “My (now) ex just took over. He made all the decisions, and I went along with it. I think he liked it that way. He found me a new doctor, who kept prescribing the meds – and I wasn’t really in a position to fight it.”

“I was truly powerless.”

And then, rock bottom. Andrea started having hallucinations, which prompted an emergency room visit. “They diagnosed me with schizophrenia, and put me on a 72- hour inpatient hold in a psych unit.  My ex did all the talking, and I just let him. I was broken, and I thought at that point,  I was truly crazy.”

In the hours it took them to admit and assess her, the medication cocktail started to wear off. “It took about 12 hours between the start of the ER process until I was admitted into the unit. By the time I saw the psychiatrist, my head had started to clear.”

The moment when the doctor and nurse entered her room was a turning point. “I heard him say ‘lithium’, and my fight was back. It took everything in me to refuse the medication, but I did it.”  

The nurse noticed that the combination and dosages of the medications Andrea was on could be a cause of the hallucinations. Over the next few days, as she was weaned off all of the medications, Andrea began to wake up again.

“That nurse – she saved my life. She was the first one to recognize that I was overmedicated. She told me I wasn’t crazy. She believed in me and listened to me. I don’t even want to think about where I would be if she hadn’t been there.”

The eight years since that day have not been easy. Andrea left the tumultuous relationship with her now ex-husband, packing what she and the kids could fit into clothes baskets and coming “home”.  She has lost her mother to a long-term illness, seen her dad through open-heart surgery, lost her job, and faced autism with her son. Then daughter Claire was diagnosed with Moyamoya, an incurable and terminal brain disease.

Still, she is a survivor.

“I will always have depression. It isn’t something that goes away, but I am learning new coping mechanisms. People say to me, ‘You are so strong’ – they don’t know that I am falling apart inside.”

“I just hit max capacity, where I don’t feel like pretending anymore.  I know that my story would have been so much different if I would have just told even one person what was going on back then. Maybe someone else’s story can be changed if I share mine.”

Andrea is working hard to accept that tears aren’t a sign of weakness, and that vulnerability isn’t the opposite of strength.

Her children continue to be the catalyst for change in her life. “Because of Quinn’s autism, every single social nuance has to be spelled out in detail. I can’t hide from the insight when I am scripting it for him.”  

“And Claire – well, terminal brain disease means I have to slowly allow people in. As much as I hate it, sometimes I need to accept help.  And sometimes I need to be honest about the fact that I don’t always have my shit together.”

If there is a lesson in this story, it seems to be this – we truly are all in this together.

By protecting the world from our vulnerabilities, we also are giving the message to our sisters that there is shame in needing.

“Most of my friends disappeared after I was hospitalized. But there was one – she stayed. She never stopped asking, even when I would give her the same answers. She just kept showing up.”

Let’s just keep showing up for each other. It’s really that simple.


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