LOOK AT THE CUTE PUPPY AHHHH POOR BABY
And no, I don’t mean the delightfully morose and adorable character from Inside Out.
I had an interesting conversation with my therapist today. We started talking about my depression and how long I’d gone without acknowledging it.
There are a bunch of reasons for why it took so long for me to finally tell someone I felt like I was suffering from depression, the first and foremost being that I didn’t believe anything was wrong. Sure, sometimes I wondered if everyone always felt like this. If your average person woke up in the morning wishing the sun wasn’t shining and feeling like there was an invisible force holding them down in the bed. If it was normal to want to hide away from everyone else by yourself instead of engaging with society. If it was common to burst into tears for seemingly no reason.
But for the most part, I thought that it was the way everyone felt. I remember when I was in high school I went to ask one of the guidance counselors if they thought there was any chance that I was depressed. The response? “Absolutely not.”
So there was proof that I wasn’t depressed, right? A professional had told me there was no chance that anything was wrong.
However, there was a little voice in the back of my head that whispered “Something’s not right.”
In my darkest moments, I considered the possibility that the guidance counselor was wrong.
Though not with such a fabulous mustache.
What if I was depressed? Was I broken? Was there something different about me in a thoroughly negative way? I was somehow less of a person, right? I was fundamentally flawed, right?
This is the second reason I didn’t say anything for so long. Besides the predominant belief that I was fine, I also desperately wanted to reassure myself that everything was okay. This isn’t because I thought badly of people who I knew were depressed. In fact, some of the people I most admire suffer from mental illness of one kind or another. But I was just so consumed with the need to put on a facade for the rest of the world that I didn’t want to tell anyone just how sad I really was.
The third reason? I was afraid. Having the courage to admit that you’re struggling is one of the bravest things you can do. It’s in human nature to want to appear strong, confident, and assured.
(Still working on perfecting that hair toss like Bey)
I wasn’t sure where to begin. What if they thought I was making it all up? What if they thought I was stupid? What if they laughed at me? What if they didn’t take me seriously?
And what if they did? Would I have to take medicine? Would I need a therapist? Would I experience that cliche care that people seem to associate with mental illnesses.
There was so much uncertainty and worry that only served to further the sadness I was feeling. I felt isolated and cornered.
Then, one day, I did it.
I still remember exactly how it happened. With tears in my eyes, sitting on the living room couch next to my mom, I blubbered that I was worried I might have depression.
The instant the words left my mouth I felt a hot rush of shame sweep over me. And immediately after that, fear washed through my body. But then a feeling of relief suffused me. I had finally done it. I had put words to what I was dealing with, and now I was going to get the help I needed.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the end of the story? If it all ended happily ever after with sunshine and rainbows and chocolate chip cookies, because, let’s be real, everyone loves chocolate chip cookies?
Real life, unfortunately and fortunately, is not such a simple fairy tale.
I would love to tell you that ever since then it’s been plain, smooth sailing. That I got help, started taking meds and talking to a psychiatrist like is the standard procedure for a depressive disorder. That I have since been able to manage my depression handily and now smile my way through life so much that my cheeks hurt.
This is not true. It’s also not realistic.
Part of why mental illness is so demonic and stigmatized is because it doesn’t get better the same way a physical ailment does. Say you have a cold. You’re sneezing, coughing, and have a fever. So you go to the doctor and they tell you to have lots of fluids and rest, and eventually, the cold disappears. Or say you break a bone. You get it put in a cast and spend several weeks letting the bone heal itself until it’s all better.
Mental illness doesn’t work this way. As someone who suffers from multiple disorders, not just depression, it’s been a difficult path to learning this.
Yes, I take various medicines for my illnesses. Yes, I regularly see someone with whom I speak about what I’m going through and my feeeeelings (for some reason, every therapist I’ve ever worked with has loved to drag that word on forever). Yes, I am definitely in a far better place than I was when I had nothing with which to manage.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have bad days. There are mornings where I wake up and decide I’m going to go back to bed and sleep in until noon because the thought of getting up is just too overwhelming. I’ve refused countless invitations to eat lunch or go out with friends because I was consumed by the want to hole up in my room by myself.
As I’ve said before, my eating disorder is sort of the ultimate manifestation of my depression, anxiety, and OCD. This triple threat (and definitely not meant in a good way at all) is sort of the perfect breeding ground for an eating disorder. I was depressed and dissatisfied with the way my life was panning out. I was anxious about where it was headed and worried that it wasn’t going in the right direction. And I desperately longed to exercise control over every little facet of it.
So what was the magical solution? A rapid spiral into the anorexia that had been brewing for several years. It was just a few months until I found myself being shut into the back of an ambulance for yet another trip to the hospital, riddled with IVs and with a blood pressure that had the staff shaking their heads in disbelief.
I’m proud to say that I’ve come quite a ways from that girl. That girl was a shell of a person. She was so overwhelmed by her mental demons that she forgot how to live.
Here’s the kicker: sometimes I still wish I was that sick.
Doesn’t that just royally suck?
This is the sad truth of it all. Logically and realistically, I have no desire to be that girl again. Waking up each morning in a hospital bed to someone asking me to offer up an arm so that they could draw my blood like a really persistent, friendly mosquito, was miserable. Eating meals with the nutrition facts covered up to try and avoid sending me into a tailspin under the watchful eye of the nurses who observed my every move was hell. Being wired to a heart monitor that would send off an alarm when I did something as simple as brush my teeth or stand up was excruciating. Looking so thin that you could probably snap me in half like a stick with a little flex of your muscles (which way to the gun show?) is not something I aspire to any longer.
This doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t still sit in front of a plate of food and want nothing more than to just engage it in a staring contest, which it always wins (you know, since food doesn’t blink). Or sometimes wake up in my own bed instead of one of those dastardly residential beds that were barely big enough to roll over in and wish I was back in treatment. Or sometimes throw an absolute tantrum about having to take several pills every single morning and night. Or sometimes sit awake at night in pitch darkness, contemplating the inevitability of mortality and the ease with which I could land myself back in a life or death situation again.
But deep down, I know I’m stronger than my mental illnesses.
To anyone else dealing with depression or any other mental affliction, or anyone who thinks they might be suffering from one of these monsters: please, do not be afraid or averse to seeking out the help you both need and deserve. Do not think that you have to fight this battle on your own. And most importantly, never forget that you are also stronger than your illnesses. Just as they do not define you as a person, they do not control your whole life. You can overcome them. True, there will be times where they beat you, and quite soundly at that. You’ll end up a pile of tears more than you want. There will be countless struggles ahead of you where you grapple with the voices in your head.
But never stop fighting. Never give up.
You are so much more than that. You are beautiful, powerful, unique, and special. Never let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.