Dealing With and Overcoming Depression- A Personal Story
It Started Early
I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. Of course when I was little, I didn't call it that. I was unhappy. I had a hard time with change. I had this overwhelming feeling that my family would be better off without me. That's a hard thing for a 7year old to think and feel. Did I have a reason to feel this way? No. Did my parents love me? Yes. But somewhere inside me I felt unwanted. My mom found me once, sitting on the edge of my second story window when I was about 8 years old. I don't remember much of that event, except that I was thinking that they would be happier if I wasn't around. She took me to a child psychologist, who said I was fine.
Put on a Happy Face
I was a perfectionist in school. I tended to throw myself into my work, anything less than 100% felt like a bad grade. I had friends. I went out. And when I was out, with people or completely consumed by something I probably was happy. Sometimes its easy to push back those feelings inside, to shove them so far back there that even you can't feel them for a little while. But when I was alone, in my room at night without so much to keep my mind busy, those feelings would creep back. When I was 17, soon after graduating high school, and after a falling out with my best friends, I broke. You can only put on a happy face for so long before you just can't anymore. And that is the point where I was.
The Attacks Begin
When I was 17 the panic attacks began. I had always been an anxious child. I had trouble in school with standing up in class. I hated to be the center of attention. I cried when my friends popped up from behind a couch at my surprise 6th birthday party. But when panic comes out of nowhere it is an overwhelming feeling. Your heart races, you are scared, you can have sort of an out of body experience.
My boyfriend dropped me off late one night after a movie, I walked into my dark house and freaked out. I called my boyfriend back and eventually he persuaded me to wake my dad up. I don't think he knew at the time that I had any sort of trouble emotionally, but having been through anxiety and depression himself, he helped tremendously in finding a therapist and talking to doctors about possible medications. And it all helped for a little while- until it didn't anymore. We spent the summer across the country with my mom, hoping that the change of scenery would do me good. And I started college in the fall, so with something to fill my time with I was able to repress all my feelings again and put that happy face back on. I was "happy" for all intents and purposes. I made it through my fully scheduled freshman year in my pre-med major with a 4.0. And I signed myself up for a full summer course load as well. If I had enough to think about and learn- I wouldn't go crazy.
I can honestly say- my boyfriend- who was 18 at the time- saved my life. I have said over and over there are not many 18 yr old boys who would put up with all the crap I was going through. I was borderline suicidal. I wouldn't talk half the time. I cried all the time. Talking about my feelings has never been my strong suit. But he held me. He pried pills from my hands. He took me to therapy appointments. He loved me- no matter what.
There are different types of people in this world. There are those who regard depression as a made up disease and will tell you to just be happy. To get over it. And then there are those who understand it when all you can say is "I am not happy". They don't try to fix you. They don't take it personally. They are just there for you. And I encourage anyone out there suffering from depression to surround themselves with the latter.
Things Go From Bad to Worse
Looking back, I can see where I went wrong. I ended my first full year of college 5 credits short of being a junior. I filled my summer with Organic Chemistry and Physics. And in between my classes and my job, I was falling apart. My mind was going full throttle and that can only last so long before burnout occurs. So when I started my second year of college with another full load and many classes that required large projects and presentations, my anxiety started to spike again. Life moved on, I got engaged- to that same boy who had stayed by me for so long. But then one night near the end of semester we had fight. It was small, it was meaningless and I couldn't for the life of me tell you what it was about. But whatever it was caused me to get up and leave the room and seek the solace and solitude of the bathroom. That's where I found my razor. And that's when the cutting started. And I found the release I had looked for for so long. I wasn't suicidal, I was in pain. I was in so much emotional pain that no one could see and half the people didn't believe existed. But this pain was real. It was physical and no one could ignore it. Cutting made it real.
I am lucky. I am surrounded by people who love me. At 19, sitting in the bathroom with a handful of superficial cuts on my arms and legs, my fiancé found me. He didn't understand. He was mad at the situation. He pried the razor from my fingers. But in 2 days time the thoughts of cutting consumed me. I couldn't concentrate in class, I couldn't concentrate at work. It was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. I walked into my dad's office at work. I showed him my cuts and he called the hospital. I spent 5 or so days in the hospital. It was annoying. It was depressing. They put me on 2 antidepressants. But it broke the cycle. And when I came home I didn't go back to the razor. And I also didn't go back to school. I had to take the pressure off of myself. I had to focus on me instead. I found a new therapist, one who actually helped me. The new medicines worked. My mom told me later that if she had known how medication would have affected me she would have put me on them sooner. She said I was a different person. I talked. I laughed. I smiled. And I won't say I never cut again- I did, but not to the extent of the first time. And even today, 13 years later it still crosses my mind every now and then. But for the most part, I felt like I was getting better. I was happier than I had been in a really long time.
Antidepressants get a bad rap. I don't like them still. I have an overwhelming feeling of guilt when I am on them. That I have to take a pill to be happy. But most of the time, if not all the time, depression is a physical thing. An imbalance in your brain chemistry. You can't fake your way out of that. You can't smile and be happy and actually BE happy. Sometimes you just have to take the medicines. Then once things aren't so bad, wean off and work on the rest.
Upward and Onward
Medicine was a good thing for me when I was 19 and unable to cope with what I was experiencing, but as time went by I got married and we decided to start a family. So I weaned myself off the meds not wanting to take them for fear of potential harm to my future unborn babies. I took it slow, and I was okay. I was actually still happy. I knew I was at risk, and when I became pregnant I could feel those feelings try to creep back in. I made it through my first pregnancy and postpartum period medicine free. Motherhood suited me. But my second baby and the one after that I needed the help of antidepressants once again to get me through both the pregnancy and postpartum period. I was always able to wean myself off of them after a few months, but during that period of change I needed help. My fourth and fifth children were much easier on me, and I think it has a lot to do with me growing to know myself much better and being able to communicate my feelings more easily.
Today, at 31 years old, I have been off of antidepressants for almost 6 years. I know myself and my reactions to certain situations well enough to keep a watchful eye out for negative thoughts and emotional upset. I know that change and me just don't mix- moving when I was a kid, transitioning to college, having babies- all caused me to relapse in to my old ways. I recently moved to a new state. I left behind my friends and my home for the past 10 years. It's been hard on me. I have had bad days. Days when all I can do is look at my husband and say "I am not happy". And it doesn't matter that I have the family I want and my life is everything I want it to be and more. I am just not happy. It's a feeling inside that I can't shake. I have support. I have the knowledge that this is temporary and that as soon as my brain can re-situate to a new normal my emotions will even out again.
What Can You Do?
Depression is hard. It's hard work. It's genetic and chemical. It's not the same as being depressed that- you lost your job, you have no money for bills, or you lost your love. It's inside you, a feeling, a hurt, a pain. Even when you have a reason to be happy- you aren't. Bottling it up inside will cause it to come exploding out of you. You need to talk to people who are positive. Get out and exercise. Eat healthy foods. A healthy body and spirit can do wonders for emotional health.
And most importantly you need to realize you are not alone. Even when it feels like you are. People all around the world, probably people close to you, have experienced the same thing. Talk about it. Don't feel ashamed and hide behind false emotions, because chances are when you let people in they can help to heal you and you can help to heal them.