Depression is part of my life. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t admit this. Depression is still one of those whispered words. However, I’m not ashamed. It’s something I want to talk about. It’s something we should all be able to talk about. I don’t believe suffering from depression makes me deficient or that there’s something wrong with me. Depression for me isn’t just an episode or something that comes and goes. It’s always there, but with a great therapist and medication (also something I’m not ashamed of), I’m doing okay. Some days are better than others, but I would dare to say I’m pretty emotionally healthy.
It’s been a long road though. I went to see a therapist for the first time at 15. My mom had enough insight to know that whatever was going on with me wasn’t just typical teenage angst. At that age, I had already been through a lot, but this deep sadness I had didn’t seem linked to one specific thing, and it wasn’t something I could really articulate yet. I couldn’t just have a good cry and be back to normal. I couldn’t get happy. I didn’t really understand how therapy worked then. I was scared and had no intention of being open with someone I didn’t know. She was a very nice lady and didn’t pressure me to talk about my feelings. It was a good first step.
As my teen years progressed, life got even more complicated. I was thrust fully into adulthood after my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Gone were worries about boys or popularity. I was watching my mom die. I had to be strong. I had to quell feelings of fear. I had to survive.
At 17, I started going to a new counselor who was a really wonderful woman. Eventually, I began to trust her. I also began to understand how therapy works. It’s not simply about going in and talking. Part of it is, but it’s about what you do with the words and feelings that start pouring out. It’s about redirecting internal dialogue, learning coping mechanisms and being open to change. Although cognitive therapy helped, there was still a lot of crippling darkness. By 18, I would begin taking an anti-depressant to help. Medication didn’t solve everything or make me feel “better.” It just kind of got me to a point where I could function better.
When I went away to college, I stopped therapy. I thought I was capable of facing the world and had learned some tools to manage the depression. And honestly, I felt like it was a stigma to be depressed or go to therapy. Very few people knew that I had been in therapy or was on medication. It wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast. At that time, I was ashamed and embarrassed. Even though I knew therapy was a good thing. Why couldn’t I just get through life on my own? After all, I was beginning to understand that the only person who would always be there was me.
So there I was on my own, coping. Just not in a healthy way. I tried to push darkness and worry away. Then my mom died, and the world kind of stopped. I had just turned 19, halfway through my freshman year of college, and I just kind of froze up. I have never been the same. But I did a good job of seeming fine. I was the person that wouldn’t fall apart. I was the person that didn’t need help. I was the person that would survive. But those people that really knew me, knew that I was not okay. They knew that I was pushing them away and fading away. So one of my friends made me find a new therapist. I agreed to go back to therapy.
My next therapist got me back on meds and met with me sometimes twice a week. She was a very smart lady. I wasn’t going to lie my way out of this or hide things. We talked a lot but also did a lot of role play, where I could have conversations with people in a safe environment. But in a way I told her what I thought she wanted to hear. I still wasn’t convinced I needed therapy. I had a right to be sad. It would pass. This was a whole lot of denial. But we believe what we want to believe about our lives. We build our own house of lies. And feelings were just too much. I didn’t want to feel them or talk about them. My preferred feeling was numb.
So I quit therapy again. I was fine. I was making my way through life, graduating college, surrounded by lots of friends. Feeling like a pretty normal early 20-something. Except my life was nothing like my friends’ lives. I bought my first house in college and that was my home. There was no other home to go to. But I had my life together. I got a job, met a great guy, made plans for the future. And then I was married and working in the industry I wanted to be in. I had a nice house, a closet full of beautiful clothes and plenty of money in the bank. Why would I be sad?
Then I turned 30 and realized everything was a charade. My preferred feeling was still numb, and the truth was I had dealt with nothing. A friend recommended a therapist, and for the first time, I think I was really ready for therapy. I connected with my therapist like none of the others. It was here I began to learn how to save my life. And she helped me feel feelings, which was something I had avoided for over a decade. It was overwhelming, even paralyzing. I started to understand that feelings aren’t permanent. It’s okay to feel them. It’s good to feel them. They don’t last.
It took me years of focused therapy and trying lots of meds before I fully became aware of everything that had happened to me; to look back over all the pain and loss. I’ve dealt with some things better than others, learned a lot about forgiveness and acceptance. But I’m not “cured” or no longer depressed. It doesn’t work that way. Even after you become aware, depression doesn’t disappear. It’s been 8 years since I first walked into my therapist’s office. I still see her every other week. It’s a good gut check. It’s a time I can be brutally honest about my choices, my past, my fears and most importantly my hopes.
I’m not perfect! I consider myself to be beautifully damaged. And I know that “damaged” may seem like a negative word. But we’re all damaged. Life changes us. It beats us up a lot, throws us down dark holes, surprises us with grace and shapes who we are. I don’t let depression define me, but I accept it as part of me. There’s nothing “wrong” with me or anybody else who suffers from mental illness. So it’s okay to say it out loud. To say, “I’m depressed.” If I can say it, you can say it. If you’re depressed, get help. If you are getting help, keep at it. After all, you’ve already made it through the worst. Now go find your best.