An Ocean of Sadness
People ask me what living with depression is like. I don’t know how to verbalize it other than to say, it’s like slowly drowning in an ocean of sadness. One wave can seem to suddenly sweep me far out to sea where no one can hear me scream, or see me flail as I desperately try to keep my head above water. The threat of being taken out is real. Some days my brain tells me it would be so much easier to stop fighting. To relax and let the warmth of oblivion be a welcomed relief. However, I decided long ago that giving up is not an option. So what can I do? I keep fighting.
I’ve probably been depressed since I was about five years old. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 15 and I finally asked my mom for help because I was so scared of what was happening to me. I went to a psychiatrist and she gave me pills. I wasn’t ready to really talk about the problem or work on it, or even take the medication she gave me, so I eventually stopped going and self-medicated to get by. Before long, I felt I needed illegal prescription medication to do anything. To sleep, to wake up, to keep functioning at the extremely low level I was barely existing at. I started self-harming just to feel anything other than the hollow emptiness inside.
Then something shifted, and I started feeling better. Sadly, this was just the start of my first manic episode. It feels so good at first. I can function again! Then, “Wow I can function better than ever!” Then, “I don’t need sleep or food or anything but this awesome grandiose power. Take that depression! I’m not depressed, I’m on top of the world!” What a hard fall from “on top of the world.” Before I knew it I couldn’t concentrate. I had weird visual and auditory distortions that plagued me. Particularly high pitched tones that felt like torture until I wanted to claw my own brain out. I was erratic, unsafe, anxious, having panic attacks as the energy surged through me. I was saved only by a tragic incident that sent me spiraling quickly into another long-term depression.
I somehow made it to college avoiding my problems and self-medicating to kingdom come. I would alternate between insomnia and not being able to get out of bed. These years were very foggy due to my mental state and the drugs and alcohol. I had full on disordered eating and nightmares that I’m sure also contributed to the lack of memories. Sometimes I still grieve for the lost years of my early adulthood. I floated through my life trying to put on a happy smile and be a “party girl” to disguise the real reason behind all my substance abuse. At night all alone I would cry until I would dry heave and make myself sick. I was still cutting myself to try and externalize some of the pain I felt.
Finally, manic episode #2 came about and my life imploded. I tried to see a school counselor because I was scaring myself. I knew something was wrong. Even my depressed friends didn’t have all these symptoms I had. I didn’t understand it. I’d never heard of bipolar. When the counselor suggested I was manic and needed to see a psychiatrist I abandoned treatment again. I couldn’t function at school any more so I had to drop out. At this point I was raped and I hit my rock bottom. I was convinced my risky behavior caused me to be assaulted and I buried myself in shame. I knew I didn’t want to live any more. My plan was to try overdose on pills and alcohol because I was too scared to try any other way. Then, one of my family members attempted suicide. My sister found her passed out in a pool of blood. When my sister called me and told me what she went through having to give her CPR and try to save her life, I realized even though I wanted to die, I couldn’t cause my family to experience that pain. Now I had no “out.” I was pressed up against the choice to actually try and get help. I took the medication the psychiatrist offered and I moved back home. I began therapy that I continued weekly for many years. I slowly learned strategies to manage my life. I began the real fight for life.
In the years since then I haven’t had any more full-on manic episodes. Though the fear of them still haunts me. That I could ruin my life and everything I’ve built in a few short weeks of mania is a constant reminder of why I work so hard for my mental health. I continue to deal with depression, but so far I haven’t been as low as I was at my bottom. Probably because once suicide isn’t an option, the only choice is to fight like hell. I’ve since been diagnosed with PTSD, OCD, generalized anxiety and bipolar 1. Along with therapy, exercise, healthy diet, strict schedule, spiritual program, support groups, etc. I have a pretty great life.
People see me smiling and when I say something about my mental illness I’ve heard egregious responses that people don’t realize are hurtful. Things like, “Oh you don’t seem like you have a mental illness. I knew someone who was really crazy.” Or, “Are you sure? You seem so normal.” I’m not crazy or not normal because I have a mental illness. I don’t have to be suffering from my all my symptoms to still be struggling with that condition. Or maybe I am deeply suffering, I’m just trying to keep going. If someone shares their story with you, please just listen.
This is a daily fight. If I get lazy, complacent, or even if I do everything “right” I’m still affected by my diagnosis. But I am so much more than that too. It’s a part of my story, but not my whole story. I wanted to speak up about my experience to help lift the stigma. Be patient. There is no quick fix. Thinking about fighting my whole life can make me feel exhausted and lonely, so I try and just take it one day at a time. If you or a loved one are suffering with mental illness, please reach out and get help. Just acknowledging it and talking about it is such a relief. I may still suffer, but I don’t have to suffer in silence.
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