Recovering the Optimistic, Compassionate and Articulate Self Once Lost to Depression

Sue Wright, recovering from depression
Sue Wright

"It isn’t a punishment, it isn’t a weakness,” says Sue Wright, speaking about her depression. She is proof, she says, that depression is a mental illness that can be effectively treated.

Sue can still vividly recall the day, 20 years ago, when walking to her office she looked up and suddenly saw “how blue the sky was.” Then it came over her, “I could see color again.” The gray veil of depression that had clouded her vision for so many months was lifting. Nowadays, as a licensed clinical social worker and practicing therapist, she sometimes shares that moment with patients who are experiencing depression. “I tell them, ‘I got through it, and so will you.’”

Sue Wright was a 40-year-old wife and mother of two, living in suburban Philadelphia and holding down a demanding job, when depression struck for the first time, seemingly out of nowhere. It was August, she recalls, when the spiraling down began. “By May, I began the long search for the right combination of treatments. In November, I took what I thought would be a month’s leave of absence from my job. It stretched to the following July. At Christmas, I asked myself how could I sing “Joy to the World” when I had no joy. I felt empty and desperately wanted ‘myself’ back.”

Gradually, haltingly, helped by a combination of medication, counseling and electroconvulsive therapy, and the support of a forbearing family, Sue began to heal. She returned to work, but even then, she says, “there were times when I would dip, then come back, then dip again and come back again.”

In her job working with a nonprofit social service agency, Sue saw many families struggling to get along. That experience, combined with her own struggle with mental illness, reset her course. When the program she directed was phased out, she went back to school, earned a master’s degree from nearby Bryn Mawr College School of Social Work, and, in her fifties, began a new career as a therapist.

However, another surprise change in course came when Sue’s husband, Ted, a Presbyterian pastor, was called by his church to serve in Africa. Leaving their grown children behind, the couple spent the next four years as liaison between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Presbyterian denominations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, preaching, teaching—and learning.

In Africa, where she had the opportunity to meet and work with people whose lives, aspirations and hardships moved and inspired her, Sue recovered the optimistic, compassionate and articulate “self” she had feared that depression had stolen from her. Today, the Wrights live in suburban Washington, D.C., where Sue is in private practice, and where, she says, “I work with children, teenagers, adults, families, couples. I use play therapy, marriage therapy, the whole nine yards.”

Through their personal and professional journey, and as long-time supporters of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, Sue and Ted Wright have become vocal advocates for the mentally ill and against the stigma and silence that often keep people from getting treatment. Sue has even mounted Ted’s pulpit to help foster understanding of what mental illness is and is not.

“I’ve learned a lot, both from my own experience and as a therapist, but the most important thing I’ve learned,” Sue says,” is never to lose hope.”

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Article comments

I come from a family with "it " and see its effects among my college students. It is regrettable that something so prevalent remains so shrouded, thus delaying treatments, thank you for sharing your story.

I remember depression when I was 3 or 4 years old -- I remember feeling that burden of sadness, too great for any child to carry. I am glad to read this story, and I am encouraged by it. I just don't know if at some time in my future -- I am now 63 - that I will be able to throw off this mood disorder. Bless you for posting this. I do identify.

last sentence----never to lose hope---very good---that is number one in any depression treatment---just now i have finished one book under the title--- Hope and Depression---the title of the book may be change---the book will be out within few days
Andal. N.

Hi Dr Andal- Is your book out? I would LOVE to read it.

And, thank you to all who contributed to publishing this article.

I think hope is what I "eventually" lost. Losing it is a process, just as regaining it is. Any and all information I can get on this subject matter (for my personal use only) would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

It 's great to hear your story it will save lives and give hope to many

Thank you for sharing . I have also recovered from Depression - God and meds and exercise - I ran a half marathon last year

(Tried to post yesterday from phone.) I come from a long line of "depressives," and was most moved by this article. We have family diaries dating to 1749 and the Prussian region of Europe talking about "melancholy" and handling it with wine and beer, citing (in part) the water supply. I teach at the college level, and have seen anxiety and depression's impact upon students. Thankfully, more universities have "Disabilities" offices to help students. And many instructors are trained to recognize symptoms (absences) to know to make general announcements about how to get help. Coincidentally, I suffered in November and this past week from what folks in the South call "Spells." Most of us grin and bear it when medication and therapy don't entirely do their parts. Thank you for this article. PS I lost my sister to mental illness three years ago and set up a fund for her. It's probably the best thing we sufferers and survivors can do -- support research. We also acknowledged in her obituary that she passed away at age 51 "due to depression." The stigma is a killer, too. To help the sadness we celebrate how long we had her. Kindest regards, LLH

Your story is an inspiring one. So glad to hear about your life and the hope you can hold out to people for knowing that depression can, finally, lift. I am curious about when the label of 'mental illness' began to be applied to what I am assuming is a form of major depression. Back in the days of my social work graduate school, mental illness was about psychotic depression, schizophrenia, bipolar illness - reality altering illnesses. It seems like the 'mental illness' label has been stretched to cover conditions that, while painful, severe, long lasting, etc. are in a different group. It concerns me because it may not, in the end, be helpful to people if they feel that their major depression, or anxiety disorder, or whatever, is a 'mental illness'. I would be interested to know what the thinking is about this.

Your story is the first I read. I was happy to see someone else getting ECT. I recently returned to therapy and feel very conflicted. My therapist says I am being financially exploited because I am still receiving ECT. I have been receiving it continually for 4 years. I am desperately searching for scientific guidelines as to how long it should go on. It completely changed my life for the better. Any thoughts?

I come from a so called "good" family. Two narcissistic parents, sexual abuse, psychological and physical abuse have left me, an HSP, Borderliner and a Fibromyalgia patient. I've gone through hell with every single symptom there is-depression, suicidal tendencies, depersonalisation, eating disorders- you name it. Some years ago I started learning about psychology, plus, I have two kids who needed me. I have overcome all these difficulties by talking to myself, cheering me up, relaxing, and so on. Two years ago I found out that my way of doing it, was just like Eckhart Tolle teaches it. Interesting is, that I am not at all spiritual or religious. I never had therapy and I always try to encourage people and tell them about my way and encourage them.We are strong and we can archive way more than we'd ever dream of.

i am having severe depression from last 3 to 4 weeks. i am 21 years old and studying in university. That is my last semester and from nowhere this thing struck me and make my life a living hell. i don't know what to do i cannot concentrate on my studies. I have no interest in anything anymore. i am a hostelide and i cannot go back to home because then my career will be finished. any help?


Can you provide more information about how you recovered from depression? I'm sure it would help me and any others struggling with this illness.
Thanks Lola

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