When I was 20 years old, I was diagnosed with depression and some combinations of different anxieties. I wasn’t medicated for it; I simply managed it with some weekly trips to a therapist. It seemed to appear out of nowhere; I was freshly back in the US after spending a semester abroad, recently ended a relationship, and I was trying to figure out where the “new me” fit in with my “old roots.”
Anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness can tell you this: it completely and totally sucks. You have no control over how you feel or your emotions. You feel like you have no control over your life. Everyone experiences it differently. I didn’t have “bad days,” but I didn’t have good days either.
I simply just existed in a vast space.
On really tough days, I wouldn’t want to get out of bed. I would call in sick to work, I would skip class, and I wouldn’t eat. If I had the energy to shower, I would stay in there for an hour until the water ran mind-numbingly cold. I spent a lot of time on my bathroom floor just staring into space and thinking about nothing.
I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I didn’t want to talk about it. Most of us don’t. We didn’t choose to have a chemical imbalance in our brains. We don’t wake up in the morning and choose to feel numb and nothing at all. I didn’t want to talk about it because the people around me didn’t know how to react, but also because I didn’t give the people around me enough credit. It seems that the only ones who know how to confront depression and someone who suffers from it are the ones who have suffered themselves.
Mental health is something that needs to be talked about because most people don’t know how to. You get a mix of reactions ranging from insensitive lines like, “Can’t you just think positively?”, to people who will calmly pat your shoulder and let you know they are there to listen and then there’s the people who will silently nod because they know all-too-well what it’s like to be in your shoes. Truth is, there’s no good way to react to depression other than to educate yourself on it and employ the classic art of empathy.
In my experience, it only took me a few months to pull myself out of that rut, but my God, did it take a lot of work. The scariest part of my depression is that I didn’t know enough about it to recognize that that was what was going on until I was in too deep to help myself. Because I normally have a happy, upbeat demeanor, I was good about hiding it. Everyone attributed the subtle changes they did notice to my recent trip abroad and the simple fact that “people change.” My trips to the therapist became more frequent because she asked the right questions and it was easier for me to do the one thing many of us facing these issues are thirsting for:
I don’t like having to ask for help and having to live my life with a complex support system, but it’s what I need, and in many ways, I’m thankful that I have that system. Though I’ve been “good” for a while now, it doesn’t mean I don’t have days or weeks where I feel it crash down on me again. I’m talking about this in hopes that it will help others. If you know someone who suffers from depression, this is my advice to you:
- Remind them that you love them.
- Don’t force it. Let them talk when they want to talk and don’t make them do things they don’t want to do.
- Educate yourself on depression, anxiety, and mental illness. Recognize the warning signs, especially the ones that could indicate suicidal intentions.
- Give them space, but watch for cue that call for help.
- Try to put yourself in their shoes.
- Ask the right questions, and not ones that will make them feel worse about themselves and their condition (I repeat, research)
- Don’t be pushy. Try to understand that it’s harder for them than it is for you.
- Be patient.
I think another scary thing about depression is that it’s almost like a virus. It will lay dormant in your system and strike again at inopportune times. It’s the monster in your closet. It terrifies me because I can feel it begin to engulf me, but I have no idea how to stop it. That’s one of the scariest parts:
to get better only to fall apart again
And you won’t have answers as to why you’re feeling that way. We do, however, have people in our lives who have shared similar experiences. We don’t choose this life. We struggle. We fight. It’s hard. We don’t want to talk about it. We need to talk about it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. We try to push people away, and when you’re on the other end of it, you don’t know whether you should give them space or not. And for my fellow sufferers:
Keep talking about it. Keep writing. Keep pushing through. The sun shines brighter and things get better eventually. Don’t push people away. Have patience. Find something that helps you and keep doing it. You’re not weak; you’re strong.
And for times when you’re not, please call National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Featured Image via Kaitlyn Mackinnon