Joker says: “And here we go…”
There’s no other intro I could have used to lead into the topic of depression with, really. To be clear, I’m not making fun of a mental illness but rather easing into it by doing what I do best: quoting a psychopathic fictional character who was easing Batman into doing what HE does best.
Makes sense a bit more now? No?
Well let’s move on.
Yes, I’m going to do my best to tackle this incredibly taboo topic because it absolutely needs to stop being a topic that society deems as taboo.
Disclaimer #1: I’ve never been clinically diagnosed or medically treated for depression. That said, I’ve dealt with it on and off for most of my life. And sure, you may be shaking your head at my self-diagnosis, but therein lies the tell of battles fought against the darkness: I’ve never sought help to get better during the times when I absolutely should have. I don’t suggest you do the same and I will explain in, yes, another bulleted list, reasons as to why and how I was able to overcome.
Disclaimer #2: What works for me might not work for you, so please, visit your doctor and take yourself and the illness itself seriously. I need you to read that line again… did you read it again? Good.
Depression is a silent killer and I’m tired of it getting a misconstrued, misunderstood rap. Depression doesn’t imply that you are weak, or faltered or a failure. It doesn’t make you less than worthy or less of a person, nor does it devalue your place in the world.
It’s a sickness. Depression is a sickness and what do we do with sicknesses? What do we do when we are ill? We see a doctor. We treat the symptoms first and then begin to work our way backwards. (Note: just because I didn’t follow this statement, doesn’t demean my struggles or make them any less, fyi.)
This is where psychiatric and psychological treatment get mixed in. We should work with physicians and counselors to face our demons and bring the shadows out into the light. Because that’s what depression hates the most, isn’t it? Being talked about, being poked and prodded and ripped from its cozy little dark home within your mind. Depression doesn’t want you to get better because then it’ll die—it’ll fade away and rust over until it becomes a nothingness so vast that even it cannot compete against. And then your quality of life improves. You get better.
Disclaimer #3: I am not a doctor. But I know plenty to verbally accost this disease and have experienced enough to get away with what I’ll share with you later on.
(Quit with the disclaimers already, amirite?!)
It’s now time to admit to and name my own devil’s, time to share how others have helped me, and explain what I’ve done personally to combat depression. After all, everyone has a story to tell, remember…this is simply my own.
I won’t mention my experiences with bullying as it was featured heavily in a past blog of mine but suffice it to say, the contribution to the emotional instability of my youth was great. That said, so did teenage hormones and I won’t discredit the gigantic impact they have on a 12-15 year old girl, either.
Rather, I’m going to move more into the mid-to-late high school/college era in the hopes that it lends to a clearer image of my life walking alongside the big D. I’ll also try to be as abridged as humanly possible, but I’m a verbose kind of girl, so I apologize if this glimpse of history drones on and on…
When I was 15 years old, I started dating my first real boyfriend. He was an immigrant from Poland, attending my all-girls high school as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student, and we got on perfectly with one another from the get-go. This would be my sophomore year, if memory serves me right.
Anyway, P and I dated for a while and it was during those first six months of teenage love that I found myself spiraling down into a deep depression, one that ultimately caused an eating disorder. A fairly nasty one to boot: I completely stopped eating for two whole weeks. I went from a healthy 5’2” 117 lbs. girl to 101 lbs. in exactly fourteen days. My parents were beside themselves; I was carted off to gastroenterologists and general practitioners left and right. I had tests done on my blood, stomach and yes, even my rectum. All results: normal.
It was on that fourteenth day that my father, then defeated by what he understood and had been taught all his life, said words I never fathomed I’d hear: “it’s in your head, Jack.”
He was right. It was in my head, because my physical body was fine, aside from it being starved. And for my father to admit that, knowing what it took for him to say those words and mean it, was the most painful thing up to that point in my life.
That darkness was winning, and by then we all knew it was. There was a true sense of impending doom, a gravity-pull towards death that felt so deeply real to me. It was terrifying; to be honest, I’m choking up writing this because I can remember still, nearly twenty years on, how scared I was to die and how close it was to being a reality. And maybe I’m dramatizing this a bit because those teenage hormones were as fervent as ever during those days, but it doesn’t make that experience any less horrifying.
Anyway, on the fifteenth night, I was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep for the hunger, so I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen just to look at the food in the refrigerator. I didn’t take anything out, only stared at it, remembering how it all tasted and wishing I was strong enough to take one fucking bite of anything in there. I don’t recall how long I stood there, but eventually closed the door and left, empty handed and hungry still.
By the time I made my way into the living room though, I was too weak to walk back up the stairs. So I laid down in the center of the room and stayed there for a few hours. Just, laid there. I kept thinking that that night would be the final night, one way or the other. That my body couldn’t feel any worse, so I’d either succumb or fight back.
I had school the next morning (I already missed two weeks of classes because of the illness) and all I kept thinking about while on the floor was being in homeroom and imagining the slight breeze from a reaper’s cape. Just waiting there behind me. How terrible a thought—how horrible to even write it.
My thoughts began to shift after that and I suddenly felt something come to me. And while I won’t go into details about what exactly I felt, know that I am here, writing this, because of it.
That next day, after not sleeping a single wink, I dressed for school and was sat at the dining table with my parents by six am. I sat there and ate four corners of a pop tart. That was it. Four corners. One pop tart out of the two in a pack. Mom and dad cried. Dad hugged me and said he knew I was fighter, that I could beat anything if I believed I could. Mom didn’t say much, but I knew she was happy–that’s just her way.
I went to school that day and everyday after became a little bit better. I would look at myself in the mirror and put a game-face on, repeat “you can do this” a hundred times or so and go out into the world. It worked. That’s what worked for me in that time. That and the fact that the fear of giving up was worse than any fear of food.
Yes, the above was how my war against depression started and while I won’t tell anymore stories as detailed as that one, the next great battle came to visit while I was in college. That initial experience wasn’t attributed to my first “true love” (he wasn’t, obviously) as P was merely an innocent bystander caught in the mayhem, but the second bout certainly came about because of a boy.
Imagine all of the same from above, only I ate slightly more than nothing, if only to hold the weakness at bay. I hated the weakness that hunger brought. Back then I had my university studies and worked a full time job and we all know that appearing depressed in public is the worst thing of all, right? –eyeroll– So I busied myself and maintained a facade of “pretty-funny-fit-college-girl” on the outside while completely crumbling on the inside.
You see, this boy, A (different A than my fiancé A!) ruined every ounce of the fight I had built up from the ages of 15 to 18. Just wiped it away and knocked me back to square one. I suppose you could say it was my fault for giving so much of myself to said boy, but no, fuck that—it was him. Big giant asshat, he was (perhaps still is?).
I digress. This case was marginally worse than that first one, only if for no other reason than it lasted years. Literal years. I was 105 lbs. soaking wet during it all, and the ups and downs and ins and outs of a on and off again relationship were brutal. Though, I’m sure the majority of us have been through this at least once. For me however, it was hell. Pure hell. I lost friends, lost my sense of identity, abandoned self worth and purpose and while I know it’s no trouble for me to blame A here, it was easier to crave darkness and pain rather than seek out the light back then.
So I carried on and lived in this murky, aimless existence for a great long while. I failed out of college, ended up working three terrible jobs, until I forced myself to grow up and accept that I screwed my early twenties to shame. Accept that I went off the path and won’t ever find it again. Well, that path at least. Because you can never go back.
Later on still I met someone new (in between A and fiancé A) and that didn’t work out either. But it wasn’t real and when it ended I was happy. Simple as that. Then I met current A and started working an alright job and Bella came along and life improved.
I know I’m skipping tons of gory, uncomfortable details, but I can’t tell the same story twice and expect a different reaction. In the end, everything that happened, happens and I couldn’t change it for all the trying I might have done.
To shift this around a bit and move away from novellas, I think now would be a good time to list a few catalysts for some of my ongoing, recurrent depressive states over the last decade:
- I lost my job right before A and I had Bella, and it took me five years until I ventured out to work again. Then the job I DID get was caring for young children in a center where I was both wholly unqualified, completely unappreciated by the operators and the pay was below abysmal (but I quit to start this blog, so: improvements!)
- My Medicaid insurance forced me to have Bella in a terrible hospital (the maternity ward closed one week after I had her, to put it in perspective). This lead to my getting sick after the c-section, thus pushing forward all my irrational fears with health into overdrive.
- A and I didn’t have our own place for the first four years of Bella’s life, nor were we in a great place in our relationship either. Then of course comes the lack of personal financial stability, which still dampers me to this day.
- I’ve never finished college but have attended two universities in twelve years.
- I have a car that on its last legs and can’t do a damn thing about it and don’t expect or want A to either.
- I am overweight and mentally so screwed up with issues relating to eating habits from my past that I, in all truthfulness, don’t know how to change. I am so desperate to be a healthier me… only have 0 clue as to where to start. And have 0 interest in paying money for classes or videos I won’t watch.
Really the list goes on and on and while I know these featured hits are typical things in life that heaps of people struggle with (please don’t tell me about everyone who has it worse—I’m fully aware of what the world is like for other people, cultures, etc.), they are what impact me.
How I respond to the pull of depression and what it means on a larger scale is what this blog is about; when it strikes, for whatever reason and lasting for however long, the downs versus the ups seem to be worse the older I get. If I don’t catch myself, I’ll end up right back to that fifteen year old girl, only instead of starving myself, I’ll overeat and that’s equally as harmful.
So how have I dealt with it all this time? How do I thrive and get beyond the darkest times without a physician’s help or the aid of medicine?
Here are a few tips, or a throw-together guideline if you will, that I’ve used time immemorial:
- Don’t give up. YELL that at yourself one thousand times if you have to. But don’t give up. No matter what the issue is, no matter how dark and bleak the outcome looks, keep going.
- Share you story. Tell others what you’re going through. Ask them flat out if they’ve ever experienced the same. Most of the time, they have and they can and will help you because they know how it hurts.
- Realize that it won’t last forever. What bothered you a year ago, what brought you down six months before that, all of it is most likely no longer the thing that weighs on you now, so understand that it will eventually let up.
- Know that you aren’t alone. If you can’t share your story, or are too afraid and ashamed to tell others, just know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I can listen if you have no one else. Take this entire blog as a proverbial shoulder to lean on if you must.
- Write, create, move, walk, run, just get your physical body outdoors. I know, sometimes even sitting up in bed can be the biggest challenge and if that’s where you are in your life, do this anyway. Then put sweatpants on and make your way to the door of your choosing and step outside. Sit on the door ledge if you have to, but breathe in the air and feel the sunshine on your skin. Do it everyday at the same time. This will get easier. It’ll be something you look forward to, and it’ll help. I promise.
- Put your game face on, look yourself in the mirror and repeat after me: “You can do this.” Because you can. You can do it. I believe in you even if you don’t.
Closing thoughts: Please don’t downplay your issues or your struggles. They are real to you just as these have been and continue to be real for me. I’m fortunate enough to have an incredible family and friends who know when I’m at my brink and pull me back, but if you don’t have that, go and see someone. Hell, even if you do have all the familial support you’d ever need but know in your heart it isn’t working, go see a professional. That is what they are there for. They won’t judge you or think less of you for seeking them out. And you’ll get better. Slowly, steadily, you’ll be you again.
So there it is: Depression is a monster and this blog is proof of it. It is real, it is terrible but it is conquerable. No matter the way you beat it, via self-help or a trusted professional, you can win. You can do this.
Can you relate? Do you have a mental system in place to fight the lows when they come to visit? I’d love to hear. And be kind please, this took quite a bit out of me to put into the world for all to read. <<