In this day and age, mental health is paramount. People now understand and often empathize with the strain daily life puts on an individual's mental state. While it becomes more acceptable to be open about mental health, women still struggle to be heard in the exam room. One Hot Springs woman recounts how she was forced to advocate for herself during her mental health journey or succumb to her illness. Having dealt with depression, brain injuries, and attacks from inside her own body, Cara Crews has a desire to share her story in hopes of encouraging other women to never give up when it comes to advocating for their mental and physical health.
HER Magazine: When were you formally diagnosed with depression?
Cara Crews: I was formally diagnosed with depression in early 2000 when I was in my 30s and that was not an easy diagnosis by far .... I was in great shape physically, except for my scoliosis which was difficult when lifting my kids, but I forced myself so hard to succeed even though I felt horrible. I managed to maintain my real estate career, help my husband open our pharmacies from scratch, raise two kids two years apart all while trying to figure out what was wrong with me. We had so many successful memories growing our business but when the marriage ended I was left penniless and feeling like I had been taken advantage of. All I could do is hold my head up as high as I could and survive while trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I obviously have trust issues and I am still working on them to this day. I pray my children do not spend their lives trying to escape a rough childhood. We all have issues and problems to deal with daily and children have a hard time adjusting to the truth of matters. ... Taking care of yourself and your needs should be a top priority! You cannot take care of anyone else unless you are healthy and happy first.
HER: How long before your diagnosis were you experiencing symptoms of depression?
CC: I had really struggled in my teenage years with feeling bad and stomach issues. I could not understand why I felt such physical and emotional pain that at times was unbearable. I had a little postpartum depression after my first son was born and did get on an antidepressant. I was on that medicine for a couple of months and I was able to adjust to life perfectly with our new family growing. In 1997, I had my second son and the depression crept back in a little but was able to control it and did not need medication at all ... I had fallen several times growing up and in a few car accidents that I had hit my head pretty hard but I never had MRI or CT scans to prove any trauma. Until 15 years later, when I was diagnosed with Acute Encephalopathy, and the neurologist told me I was in the early stages of dementia. That was a blow I was not prepared for. The neurologist asked me about falls I experienced, and the light went on in my head to research. In the spring of 2003, I was snow skiing in Colorado and fell on the ice while ice skating and knocked myself out. I awoke and never went to the hospital to get checked out. We flew out of Colorado a few days later and that is when my world started to crumble. Within two months after this fall, I was suicidal, my husband of 13 years had me committed to a psych ward, filed for divorce, and took custody of our three children. This was a major PTSD event and doctors could not figure out what was wrong as they only referred me to a psychiatrist.
HER: How did your depression affect your daily life?
CC: Waking up in the morning was a dreaded challenge. I found sleep was my friend. I did sleep a lot but waking up was terrifying because I did not know how my day would be as depression takes everything away from you, leaving you completely numb and at many times hopeless and hopeless. Yes, suicide was present, and I did everything I could to make those feelings go away. My body was in such pain on the inside that made it hard to cope. Doctors threw antidepressants and other meds to me over the past 17 years that never worked, but the side effects sure did. In reality I was what my doctor called "treatment-resistant."... The friends that I did acquire that knew the real Cara back before all this truly manifested within me, realize now how sick I really am. Sadly, many of those I lashed out at and flat out hurt now call me a narcissist because that is the exact persona I resembled at many times. But then, I would bounce back to normal behavior and could not figure out why my friends and family left me. I could be as happy as a clam with a friend and in hours become verbally abusive. My body was and has been hurting so bad on the inside and no one seemed to listen to me and I became a person I didn't want to be around. That is when I truly realized I needed to change and find out exactly what was going on inside my body. Listen, when someone is very sick on the inside they do not adapt well on the outside. Anything can make you snap. Though I do take responsibility for my actions, period. I had a seizure in March of 2020 and stopped all antidepressants. ... No one would listen as I was hysterical at times. I am ready to tell my story for other moms to see that they are not alone. You are never alone. Talking about your daily struggles to friends or medical staff is essential. Being heard is essential!
HER: You are now at a point where you feel to have potentially discovered a major factor in the origins of your mental illness. Can you explain what you have learned about what may be causing this?
CC: I believe the cause of my demise is from the head injuries, of course, but there is one potential cause I did not see coming. You see, in 2010 I lost sister Cynthia to breast cancer, and my 80-year-old mother was diagnosed with throat cancer. She never smoked or drank alcohol in her life but was fighting to just stay alive. Another sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at this time and she was tested for the BRCA gene mutation and was positive. ... Then the rest of us were tested and our results came back positive for the gene. This meant we had an 87% chance of getting breast and other female cancers. I knew in my heart I was not taking this lightly and chose to have a total hysterectomy and bilateral mastectomy in 2010. I had three amazing children and I was not going to let cancer take my life away from them. I was told that the saline breast implants were very safe and approved by the FDA. Well, that was so far from the truth as the toxins of the implant casing is silicone. Silicone is a slippery critter that leaks through your body causing severe fatigue, excruciating muscle and joint pain, liver, kidney, and pancreas issues, major depression, high anxiety, and psychosis. Therefore, I was referred to psychiatrists and therapists early on for the brain injury but had no clue the toxins were making me so ill. Blood tests always showed my liver to be extremely elevated yet, not one of my doctors asked or researched my medical records that they had on file.
HER: Now that you feel you have a lead on getting your mental health in order, what is your next step?
CC: My next step is to get the implants explanted as soon as possible. However, there are so many people hurting and extremely ill that the surgeons are overbooked, making explanting a long process. I now have my explant scheduled for Feb 4, 2021. It couldn't get here soon enough. On December 31, 2020, I had a biopsy of my liver. Cancer could be back in my path again after dodging it 10 years ago, but I am very hopeful that when I explant my symptoms will be 90% gone as the other women in my group have disclosed.
HER: You mentioned that you are a part of a few different support groups online where you met women who have had almost identical experiences to yours. Can you tell me more about these groups?
CC: I was at my wits ends in August of 2020 and I received Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatments to my brain for depression and anxiety. It was a breakthrough treatment and my depression and most of my anxiety were in remission, but my body seemed to be shutting down inside. My blood tests and mental anguish was very different, and I started searching through my medical records over the past 20 years to figure out why. I was scrolling through Facebook and ran across a group of women who were suffering from Breast Implant Illness (BII). When I read these ladies' stories, it was like I was reading my own biography! It completely blew my mind and I started asking questions within the group. My first post about my story and how I was and continued to be brushed off by doctors as being crazy and zero hope for a normal happy life. Then I was diagnosed with a Functional Neurological Disorder in October 2020. I asked every single doctor I had if my saline breast implants could cause my symptoms and every one of them smiled and said there was no way this was the culprit. After posting this in my group of ladies who suffered like me, 750 ladies commented on that post! I was blown away. I just sat and cried reading their stories of how their children and family left them, of the marriages lost, the amazing careers they had to leave due to their illness, and they too were shuffled to a psychiatrist and put on antidepressants. Yet, their doctors couldn't figure out why their blood tests were elevated. I finally felt that I had a voice and a mission to tell my story.
HER: What would you tell another woman who is battling depression?
CC: I would like to tell these women that they are not alone! Your brain can get be your worst enemy during episodes of depression and no one seems to understand you. If you have depression, please share your true feelings. I journaled daily about the ups and downs and after reading them and sharing them with my doctors, I started to feel a bit better and was able to move forward. Now, my journey is quite different from the average, but I found out about myself and what makes me tick. Do not be afraid to say 'I have depression' as our collective mental state as a country needs to be addressed with the pandemic. You are not crazy, you are not mean but you are angry. Angry that you can't find happiness in things that normally made you feel over the moon. There is hope in a better existence. Peace in your heart is a simple step away but you need a solid support system of family and friends to help you find your true self. You need to advocate for your own health. I had a brain injury all my life that was not diagnosed until I was 47 years old. Over my lifetime, I had major falls and car accidents that made this injury worse to the point of suicide attempts that I am no proud of. I never wanted to end my life because leaving my children was something I did not want to do at all. I wanted to attend my children's weddings, see my grandchildren, travel, and live a quality life. That is why God kept me here and I know this deep in my heart. ... You don't want to share your struggles with your children, even in their adulthood, because they don't want to hear it. I believe in order to fully understand a person, you need to hear their story and fully understand all the struggles they survived. Someday, my kids will understand. I just pray I'm still alive to share my trials and tribulations with them. I have a very long life ahead of me and I will do everything in my power to conquer.
Crews continues to document her mental health journey on social media. She hopes that by doing so, other women will feel empowered to advocate for themselves and realize they can find ways to manage their depression and anxiety. Her full, unfolding story can be found on Facebook by searching for Cara Crews in Hot Springs.