I survived severe COVID-19 disease, but depression almost took my life. When I found out I had contracted COVID-19, I was stunned! I am young and healthy, and consider myself an exercise fanatic, but I experienced symptoms so severe that I needed to be hospitalized.

Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, where I live, did not have any intensive care unit facilities and my health condition was quickly deteriorating. Through a medical evacuation, I was airlifted to Europe where I spent a month being treated for COVID-19, and I have since returned to Brazzaville, but continue to live with some long-term impacts of the virus, such as hypotension.

I can’t just stand up from the bed or a seated position. I have to take my time and stand up but it’s something I’ve learned to live with. The confinement for an extended period of time led to severe depression. Depression; that deep-rooted, unseen pain that paralyses every inch of your being, spirit, soul, mind and physically cripples you, but you gotta keep moving because that’s what the world expects from you.

It’s been a year since I gathered the courage to talk about my post-COVID depressive episode. Recalling that gruesome period still sends chills down my spine as tears roll down my cheeks, a heavy chest, shivers down my arms and legs. Mental illness is real and everyone is a candidate.

After an agonizing two-month COVID-19 journey, I returned to my family and they are my whole life. A beautiful moment, yah? Nope!! This was very far from the truth. I returned with feelings of emptiness, sadness, pain, numbing. Because my family had been through their own agony while I was away, I CHOSE to protect them from the pain and baggage I harbored. A week into my return home, my life progressed from bad to worse; I was silently dying away.

Everybody has bad days but with depression, every day is a bad day. I am on the extreme end of extroversion and socializing is one of my greatest strengths. This time, I spent days on end in bed, unwilling or even unable to move. I was fatigued and could hardly eat or drink.

The feelings of emptiness, fear, anxiety, lack of or too much sleep, do not describe the person I had always been –bursting with energy, the life of the party! Something was TERRIBLY wrong. I preferred to go back to ICU for 10 years than feel this way for an extra minute.

I couldn’t do this anymore so I decided to seek professional help. I went to see a psychiatrist without my husband’s knowledge. During my narration, she asked, “are you sad?” I said, “no, but I am not happy.” Then she asked, “do you know what sadness means?” It was at that moment, it occurred to me that actually, I didn’t. Then she said to me, “everything about you describes sadness. Look at you crying; you aren’t the person we know from the media. You have only known joy and happiness, that is why you can’t tell what sadness is.” And that is when I was slapped in the face with a diagnosis of “SEVERE DEPRESSION.”

Mental illness is treatable. I was determined to get back to the shining star I had always been. I started therapy and anti-depressants. My husband became a full-time doctor, pharmacist, nurse, counselor, friend, prayer warrior, spent nights awake as I slid in and out of panic attacks. He spent days and nights reading about depression and how to help a depressed spouse -God bless him!

We underwent family therapy to help my children understand what was happening to their ever jolly mother. Never underestimate children, they immediately swung into action and got me back to my feet. Friends and family, SALUTE!!!

So many people out there are struggling with mental illness. Everyone is a candidate. It is treatable. I hope my story helps someone to seek care. Get your COVID-19 Vaccine while at it!!