Um, so. I’m not exactly sure how to begin this post.
Any time I see someone write really honestly and openly about their experiences with depression, I think to myself, “I wish I had the courage to write that.” And I suppose this is my attempt to fulfill that.
Everyone’s experiences are different. But here is my story. It’s not for sympathy or pity. It’s so people know they’re not alone in feeling this way. And while that may seem like a cliche, I know how much it has helped me just to have someone say that they understand what I’m going through.
I’m not sure I can really explain the full history of my battle with depression here or anywhere else, but I will give it a shot. Let me first say that clinical depression is a mental illness that does not need a specific event to trigger it, but I think for many — such as myself — there is some event that you begin to link with your depression in order to better understand and cope with it. For me, it’s nothing terribly unusual in American families. When I was 13, my mother and her third husband (my first step-dad) separated and divorced. I became very introverted and lost a lot of my friends. I don’t really know why — children are cruel, especially at 13, and someone who cried all the time and who had moved to a different part of town to live in low-income apartments wasn’t exactly the best person to be friends with at the time.
I was depressed, whether clinically or because of the divorce only, I couldn’t say. I felt a lot of resentment toward my mother that I’ve continued struggling with to this very day. But as high school continued and I made new and better friends, the depression didn’t go away. It got worse every year. I felt completely out of my depth, mentally and emotionally. I was constantly plagued by feelings of low self-worth, helplessness, sadness, and unworthiness. But while I knew my life had changed in some significant way, I attributed it at the time to just being a teenager, albeit a very insecure one. What teenage girl hasn’t worried about what she looks like, about boys, about her grades?
It’s true that many of these feelings were “typical.” I felt low but I’d assumed I’d grow out of it, especially once I went away to college and got out of my hometown. I knew I was depressed, but I didn’t think I had depression. One is a mood or a state of mind, another is an illness, thus they are very different. I felt the need to constantly stress this fact to myself.
It’s easy to see now the symptoms of clinical depression dating back to my early teen years, but we can be forgiven for not understanding mental illness at such a young age. Indeed, the very words “mental illness” once triggered a sort of terrifying response within me born out of the social stigmas against mental health issues.
Once you come to accept that depression is an illness, that it’s something you don’t always have control over, then it takes on another dimension. But the truth of it is most of us feel like we “should” have control over it. We should be able to control the negative thoughts, the crying, the fatigue, the listlessness.
I’m in a place in my life now where I’ve literally spent half of my life battling something that’s internal, that maybe manifests itself in certain ways to other people but that nevertheless cannot be articulated to anyone else. Depression takes many forms for many different people. Not everyone who is depressed is suicidal. I myself have never been what I would call suicidal because I’ve never contemplated it in any real way, never thought about how to do it, never made plans. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt that I’d be doing everyone in my life a favour if I were dead. And not only that, I’ve thought myself so worthless, so unimportant that no one would actually care if I were dead. It doesn’t matter if I have friends, family, anyone depending on me or claiming to love me. Depression makes it so that you can’t help feeling so little, so low that your life is but an unfortunate blip best skipped over. I struggle with these feelings on an almost daily basis.
And here’s the thing about depression: It doesn’t really help when people tell you that you’re “wrong” to feel so bad about yourself. I appreciate people telling me they love me, that none of what I believe about myself is true, that I’m pretty, that I’m smart, that I’m worth something. But I can’t lie to you — it doesn’t really help, in the end. The depression eats at me every minute of every day, and no one can “fix it” for me.
As I said earlier — depression manifests itself in different ways. I didn’t start seeking help for my own depression until I was in college. That’s mostly because even after I realised I had a problem and that I needed help, I didn’t feel comfortable approaching my family about it. There was really no way for me to go to a doctor before college without telling my parents why I needed to go. In my freshman year of university, I finally went to the student health centre not too long after I started and sought help for my depression. A doctor told me then that I was suffering from clinical depression and that going on antidepressants might help me. The very thought horrified me. I didn’t want a take a pill. I wanted my life to change. I wanted to find a way to feel better about myself, to not resent everyone I met, to not feel so absolutely horrible all the time. I rejected the offer to go on antidepressants from the get go and when she suggested group therapy, I quit going all together.
A few people who read this blog may have gone to university with me or known me during that time. If so, they will know what I mean when I say that I had definite highs and lows (as many do). I spent several months of my sophomore year in particular engaging in destructive behaviours to cope with my depression. I also started having panic attacks for the first time, which in hindsight is not surprising, but at that time, I had never pinpointed any kind of anxiety underlying my depression.
My junior year, though, I reached some kind of plateau. I wasn’t happy all of the time, but I was in a good state of mind. I don’t think my depression disappeared, but somehow I felt able to manage it. This includes the period of time when I studied abroad, and the period after I left, when I was certainly quite depressed. But overall I look at my junior and senior years as probably the most “successful” periods of my battle with depression, when I was able to feel good about a lot of areas of my life.
However, the 2 years that followed undergrad were a real low point for me. A lot of it was indeed being stuck in a job where I was emotionally and psychologically bullied by my employer. I was also in bad health. In 2010, I finally decided to go on antidepressants for the first time. I started out with 20 mg fluoxetine (Prozac) a day, which my doctor increased to 40 mg after I was still experiencing very bad bouts of depression. After talking to her about my sleeping problems, which I had had for years, I was also put on clonazepam (Klonopin) to help me sleep, which is a medication mostly prescribed for anxiety disorders. This was the first time that I realised anxiety played a major part in my depression. I can’t tell you how much this diagnosis has helped me understand some of the issues (especially related to insomnia and poor sleep) that I have suffered from. I really think my doctor did a good job of helping me in any way she could with my health problems.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t force me to take care of myself. I was once again in a phase of my life where I engaged in self-destructive behaviour, only this time it was taking an noticeable toll on my physical health as well as my mental health.
So here we come to 2012, and the tail-end of my year in Manchester. As I’ve said many times in previous posts, I thought Manchester would “fix” me. But here’s the thing: that’s not how depression works. I’m writing this post because I want people to understand that I’ve been through the ups and downs with this problem. It’s true that we can exercise. It’s true that we can find someone we love. It’s true that we can find a better job, a better place to live. But depression is internal. It’s something you can’t just shake free. It’s something that people who suffer from it can’t always control. I’ve lately come off Prozac and gone through bad withdrawal symptoms as I quit it cold turkey (never, ever a good idea). I’ve not only reacquainted myself with the negative feelings I had before my antidepressants, but also the withdrawal on top of that. The insomnia is worse. The numbness and tingling in my limbs as I try to sleep. The crying. The increased anxiety. And the depression. I’ve felt like I could do anything to myself and it wouldn’t matter, that I could disappear off the face of the earth and that after the initial shock, no one would really care. I feel that way. I honestly do.
I guess this is long enough. I’m not entirely sure what the point has been except to share my own experiences. I’m not looking for someone to help me. I’m not looking for someone to tell me I’m not x, y, z. I’m just trying to say that I know. I know how you feel. It’s hard loving someone who has depression. It’s hard being our friends, being our lovers, being our family. We aren’t rational. We aren’t grateful. We aren’t so many things. When it gets so hard and you want to smack us and tell us to shut the fuck up and just smile and get over it just know that one day, maybe we won’t feel this way, and we’ll love you all the more for sticking with us through it.
Depression is an illness that no one asks for. Speaking for myself, I know that I want to get better, even if I seem to relapse into my lowest, most self-destructive points.