I’ve struggled with severe clinical depression since I was twelve years old. I first realized something was wrong when I couldn’t get out of bed one bright Saturday morning. It wasn’t like me and looking back on that day, no child should feel that their life isn’t worth living. But that’s exactly how I felt that day and so many more days after that. Since then, I have gone through 20 years of on and off therapy sessions, multiple iterations of medication regimens and way too many days struggling to pretend like everything was okay.
Generally, when people describe me they use words like “perky,” “optimistic,” and “sunshine.” I’m glad I’m able to project such a positive image, but I wonder what it would be like if they spent a day inside my depression. How terrified they would be if they knew that one time I tried to end my life by speeding towards a light pole or that the slightly raised white lines scattered up and down my arms are self-inflicted? How hard it would be—and has been for many friends— to understand that without a steady regimen of SSRIs and exercise, it’s unlikely that I would have stayed alive this long.
I’ve learned through the years, how to recognize when I am slipping into a depressive state. I’ve learned to give myself time to feel and then keep trudging through it. The various therapists throughout my life have said that I come by this depression honestly— though I’m not entirely sure how one would come by depression dishonestly. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder with alcoholism and spent time in psychiatric wards. I spent much of my young life taking care of her, learning to walk on eggshells and wondering which mother I would wake up to each day. One therapist compared my life to a war zone, indicating that I didn’t know stability or peace because I always had to be on alert. My job became talking my mother down from her manic episodes, tip-toeing around when she was hibernating through a depressive episode and enjoying her when she was in a rare normal state. I did this until her death in 2007. Beyond that, when I was thirteen, I was witness to a traumatic event in which my best friend’s older brother murdered her parents and attempted to murder his siblings. I was attacked by him when I tried to intervene. Therapists have diagnosed me with PTSD from this event, though I’ve primarily packed the emotions in the back closet of my mind.
You may be noticing a pattern here—therapy. My parents were big proponents of therapy and as soon as the incident happened, my mom rushed me to her therapist. I’ve continued to go on and off as my depression becomes worse or certain events necessitate it, like my mother’s sudden death. It doesn’t always work the way I think it should. Sometimes I get annoyed hearing the words coming out of my mouth. It seems like a broken record. “I’m depressed.” “I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.” “I’d rather not be alive.” “Living just doesn’t seem worth it.” I hate burdening someone else with these thoughts. Isn’t it enough that I have to deal with them? I’ve had great therapists who allow me the space to voice these thoughts in a safe environment and I’ve had others that haven’t been as helpful. About eleven years ago, I finally agreed to try medications. I was incredibly resistant to the idea as I had seen my mother struggle with medications and was fearful that they would turn me into a zombie like they did to her. My fears, while couched in personal experience, were unfounded. My condition was entirely different from hers and the medications I’ve tried haven’t changed my personality in such a profound way. It did take years to find the right medication, but now that I’ve found it I’m reluctant to try anything different.
Even with medication and an exercise regimen, I’m not immune to slipping into depression. In fact, part of living with clinical depression is knowing that it is just around the corner, hiding under a bed like some terrifying monster. I wish I could give everyone some happy ending, but the truth is there is no happy ending. Depression doesn’t have cure. It isn’t something that you can snap out of regardless of how many times people insist that you can. Instead, there are peaks of happy moments and valleys of depression. Part of living with this is understanding that and trying to remind yourself of the happy times when you’re deep in that valley.
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