When I was diagnosed with depression, I felt sad.
But I always felt sad, and that’s why I was at the clinic, with a doctor asking me all sorts of questions.
“Do you have a hard time getting up in the mornings?”
“Do you sometimes stay in bed all day?”
“Do you have trouble falling asleep?”
These and so many more, a checklist of how sluggish I’d become. I felt a hollow sort of shame, as I mumbled “yes” to all these questions. Depression had eaten me alive. Swallowed me up, inhabiting my body and controlling my movements.
It felt like such a cop-out thing to say. So cliche. “I have depression.” It felt like an excuse, a poorly disguised evasion– or justification. I used to say it so offhandedly, as a throw-away term to deepen the meaning of descriptions I gave. “That depressed me.”
Now what depresses me is the weight of living. Simple tasks like showering become monumental, getting out of bed almost impossible. The effort of normal, day-to-day routines are suddenly complicated. Each task is broken into parts, steps that seem too hard to complete. It is so difficult to explain how regular things seem enormous and draining. The word depressed is really what describes it best. It’s like moving in syrup. Heavy, crushing, and sticky– everything takes more effort. Even enjoyable things, things I know would benefit me, are like asking me to breathe underwater. It’s not that I don’t want to– I can’t. It’s impossible.
I’ve heard others describe depression. None of them sound precise to me. Mine feels like sitting in a car, in the desert. The steering wheel is there, you’ve got your blinkers, windshield wipers, even FM Radio– but there is no ignition, no gas or break pedal. There is no landscape other than sand. No destination ahead, no accomplishments behind. You’re at a standstill. There’s nothing you can do.
I suppose, furthering the car analogy, that overcoming depression would be getting out the car and pushing. But imagine pushing a car in a desert, sun blazing– hot, sandy, dry,– and lonely. Only now there’s a hill, and you must push the car up forever and ever, no end in sight. That is how I feel.
At eighteen, I should be at college, having the time of my life. I should be giggling with friends over cute boys, should be working towards getting a career. But to me, college is big and scary. Everyone seems apart from me, almost on a different plane of existence. I am here, and they are there– an untouchable, swirling stream of fast-paced talking– about Netflix, and boys, and homework. I feel buffeted in those eddies, drowning rather than whirling along with my life. My first semester of college was dreadful. Each step to the classroom made me sick to my stomach. I’d sit in a new spot every day, saying ‘hi’ to those around me, trying desperately to find some sort of connection. But I just muddied the waters with my floundering, and to me it felt obvious that I was splashing in the deep end, heaving and gulping for air. I lost concentration in class, my eyes blurring and words slurring. I’d write down some sort of notes and stumble along to my next class. While I couldn’t seem to make any new friends, my close relationships were also suffering.
“So, what are you up to?” is such a loaded question. Every relative, every friend, everybody asks that question right after “hello.” I steel myself for it every time I talk to someone. Smiling, I say: “Oh, I’m taking a semester off from college. I’m working at Lagoon this summer.” They smile back and ask more questions. What they don’t know is that “one semester off” is quickly stretching to two or three. The thought of returning to college makes my heart race, and I feel physically sick. It disgusts me. I’ve always been able to do hard things, and enjoyed trying new things. But even turning on the computer to search for new colleges, colleges that might fit me better, is too difficult to do. Again, regular tasks are shattered, fragmented into tiny pieces that are just so hard to do. And it’s frustrating! Googling new colleges, is that hard?? NO! But to me, pressing the button to turn on the computer, clicking the icon to get to my desktop, opening the browser and typing into the search bar is so hard. Even thinking about it makes me want to cry.
“So, what are you up to?” Oh, nothing. Literally nothing. Getting out of bed involves throwing off the covers, swinging my legs over the bed, standing up– I’m already exhausted. My day hasn’t even begun, and I already want to cry from frustration. This never used to be difficult! But the thought of then walking to the closet, picking out a shirt (all the options are so frightening. What if I look stupid? What if what if what if) and starting my day make me feel useless, frightened. I sit in bed most of the day, cry a couple times, finally throw on some clothes (who knows if they’re clean) and don’t bother to brush my hair. Then I’ll usually get back in bed. Fully dressed, ready to conquer the day (ha ha ha) and cry a little more. After I get out of bed, what then? Then there’s the whole rest of the day to fill. I am useless, I can’t function in society and I am not contributing anything to this world. The constant chant of “I’m not good enough, better to just give up” carves a space for itself at the back of my mind, a constant companion. Days blur together and bleed into a indeterminable lump. I have no idea, no answer to the question. I am ashamed of my own inability to do regular things. I’ve been swallowed up, consumed by sadness. I don’t even know what I’ve been doing for the past year.
The best intentions and plans get crushed under the weight of my misery, my lack of motivation so severe I can’t even do things I want to do. Writing to a dear friend over seas, a young woman so close to me I call her my sister, became insurmountable. I composed letters to her in my head, kept up a running dialogue of what was going to go into my next letter– but when I sat down in front of a piece of paper, suddenly huge waves of insecurities would wash me away. I hadn’t written in so long! What if she was angry? I tried, I really did, but the letters just never got written. Some I wrote, and then never put in envelopes. The few I did send were filled with my words, and the sincere hope that she would like them when she opened them. When I discovered that some of the letters had been lost in the mail, I was crushed. It had taken so much effort, and to me the Post Office’s failings felt like a confirmation of my own hopelessness. When she returned, she told me: “I wouldn’t have minded if they were small letters. I just wanted to hear from you.” I knew it, logically. But my head and my heart feel so heavy, the effort it would take to do things I enjoy is far outweighed by my anxiety.
What I do enjoy is loud music and long walks. I’ll blast music straight to my eardrums, feeling a sort of dread that I’ll go deaf– (but of course, it feels like I have no future, so what does it matter) and start walking, walking, walking. I go for three or four walks a day, shuffling along paths I’d know blindfolded, trying to capture the feeling of forward momentum that is so absent from my life. Each time I yell from the front door, “I’m going for a walk!” it means I’m giving up on the task I had set myself, and trying to feel something. One foot in front of the other is the only thing I’m capable of. Time goes on, a relentless pace of days into weeks while I stay still. I feel like a zoetrope, wheeling around and around, but it’s only the illusion of motion.
I have no idea how long this has been going on for. I’ve tried to identify a place where this started, where I ended and this intolerable despondency began. But I can find no trigger, no date, and no end in sight. Having a mental illness, for me, means not being able to see past the bleak horizon. I needed help to even get help. I wasn’t able to reach out, stuck in a syrupy, thick cloud of grief.
My Mom rescued me. She threw me the lifebuoy I needed, in the form of medication and counseling. My anxiety prevented me from really wanting to change, because change is uncomfortable and frightening. At the clinic, my doctor prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant. I was so worried. If the chemical imbalances in my brain were fixed, what would be left? I was terrified. I mumbled, “I don’t know that this such a good idea.” My mom held my hand and said, “I know.”
Weeks later, still on medication, I can say that it has really helped. I have less oppressive thoughts, and less recurring thoughts. I have more clarity, and am more cognizant of what makes my depression worse and how I can combat it. I’ve gotten a therapist, even though I was embarrassed to ask for one and admit that I needed therapy. Therapy has changed my outlook on depression.
“It’s still an illness,” my therapist tells me, “Just an invisible one. Your brain doesn’t take in serotonin like it’s supposed to.” But to me, it still feels fake. The words “I have depression” feel like they don’t apply to me. It feels hollow, just like the rest of me. So, here I am, owning up to it. I do have depression. And it’s awful! It’s really terrible. And the worst part of it is, I feel like it shouldn’t be happening. I feel like a statistic, like a failed life.
I worry about the reception my declaration will get. Of course, depression is a multi-faceted thing. It’s hard to understand from the outside, and hard to watch. In my head, the chorus to my Greek Tragedy shrieks, “You can’t have depression! You can’t have depression! You still laugh, you still make jokes! You’re trying to get attention. Explain how you have depression if you can still smile.”
My answer is: kind of. I kind of laugh. I kind of smile. Nothing I do feels genuine anymore. I’m not living life to the fullest. I’m exhausted all the time, and can’t carry on a conversation with out racing several sentences ahead, trying desperately to say the right thing. I’ll be excited for something, and then I’ll just sort of… remember. Remember that I’m just pathetic, and just despair. My mood averages out at morose, and swings from perky to miserable. It’s draining. I’ll sometimes have inexplicable bouts of anger, just angry at my situation, at myself, at other people who are so damn happy.
I never used to understand depression. (I’m not totally certain I understand it now, but now I know how it feels and can be empathetic.) When people said, “I have depression,” I always thought of it as an excuse. “So, you’re sad. Now pull up your big girl pants and keep going.” Now, I feel bad for brushing off people who had invisible illnesses. Though I always tried my hardest to be sympathetic, there was always a thought in the back of my mind: “It’s all in your head.” And yes, mental illnesses are in someone’s head. But it’s more than that. Mental illness is inside your brain, woven around and into and through the gray matter, all tangled up in your appetite and self-worth and motivation. That’s the worst. Your brain is you, really. It’s an organ that can be damaged like a leg can be broken. I must remind myself of that every day. Depression is a VALID illness. I have depression. And it’s not a cop-out, an excuse, or a justification. It’s a fact, the same way I have brown eyes and crooked teeth. I’ve just got to work to keep it under control, understand it and cope with it. It’s not going to go away. But I’m going to grow bigger than it, swallow it up with my ambitions and plans and excitement until it is a tiny -blip- of my personality.
Depression can sometimes feel like darkness, with only a bright spotlight shining on you– scrutinizing your failures and blinding you to your successes– each an isolated case with the same label, coincidences with no connections. But that’s wrong. There are other people struggling with depression (like me) and who are working (like me!) every day to have a better outlook on life. My feelings of shame and inadequacy are shared by others. And the more you talk about the self-disgust and guilt that depression brings, the less hold shame has over you. So this is me, unfurling my banner with the words “I HAVE DEPRESSION” written in big red letters on the front. I have depression. But depression isn’t who I am. It’s holding me back, but I’m chomping at the bit to be free of it. And though I may have bad days, relapses, and periods of hopelessness– I can beat this. I know I can. I may forget that sometimes, and need some help remembering– but I can. Because I won’t believe that this (depression) is my lot in life. I refuse to let this fear and anxiety control my destiny. I need to change my mentality, have compassion for myself, and remember that depression is an illness. My brain is sick. And though I’m not in a hospital, or have crutches, or a cast, I am allowed to start small, and readjust to the basics of loving myself. My therapist told me, “The amount of compassion you allow yourself is the limit of sympathy you will allow yourself to receive.” I know that to be true. I am working to be able to look at myself in the mirror and have a plan for my destiny.
If you have depression, I’d encourage you to seek help. When you’re swallowed up by sadness, it can feel like drowning, and you’ve no idea what to do. Please ask someone you trust for help. Medication can really improve your symptoms of depression and anxiety. Therapy might be the right choice for you. Even though it’s hard, ask someone you love and trust for help in getting the right attention for you.
Here are some crisis hotlines I found on addiction.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Depression_Hotlines . Click the link for more helpful info about these hotlines.
- Suicide Hotline
- National Suicide Prevention Helpline
- National Adolescent Suicide Hotline
- Postpartum Depression
All Types of Crisis
- United Way Helpline
- Youth America Hotline
- Covenant House Nine-Line (Teens)
- The Trevor Helpline (For homosexuality questions or problems)