It has taken me a long time to open up about my depression. Even when I decided to write about it, I still put it off for months. I know that this is a generic blog post about mental health, but writing this is cathartic, and I know that by putting this out there, I may be able to help someone else.
I have always been a perfectionist. I’ve always wanted to be self-sufficient. When I was in second grade, I set my own alarm for 5:30 am (we walked to school so I didn’t even need to get up until 7:30), made my own breakfast, and sat in the living room waiting for everyone to wake up. I had a meltdown one day, asking why I had to get up so early, not realizing that I didn’t have to do this.
Fast-forward to 21-year-old me. Energetic, bubbly, confident. That’s how everyone has seen me my entire life. Outgoing, determined, caring. It was the beginning of my senior year in college, and I was crushing it. Networking with professionals, spending way too much time in the library, working ridiculous amounts of hours – but loving every minute of it. To others, I seemed in a good place. In my groove. I believed that most of the time. But when I closed my computer or walked home from work, I felt empty. I hated weekends because it wouldn’t be socially acceptable for me to go to the library on a Saturday. I’d have to go out to bars and drink with my friends; something that made me sweaty, tense, and annoyed.
Empty turned to loneliness, which turned to helplessness, which turned to worthlessness. Slowly, my depression crept in. I didn’t know that’s what it was. I assured myself that it was just me having a bad day. A bad week. In my journal entries, I called it a “funk.” I journaled a lot through the darkest parts of my depression. Looking back now, it was so obvious that it was depression slowly taking over my life.
I isolated myself. I felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone. I was supposed to be this bubbly, happy person. I uplifted people. I couldn’t explain to the people around me that those descriptions of me were a façade. I spent most of my time in my bed binge-watching Netflix or in the library making my head numb to feelings by requiring myself to make a 3.50 GPA. I didn’t know what made me happy. I didn’t have hobbies. The only people I did explain how I felt didn’t really get it. I thought I couldn’t trust them. I was too vulnerable, too embarrassed. Not only did I isolate myself from loved ones, but I avoided crowds at all costs. It made me tense, which I later learned was a form of anxiety. I avoided walking on busy streets and took the long way instead. I went to the library or dining hall or any stores during the earliest times possible to avoid people.
I look at all these signs now and wonder how I never knew that this was depression – how no one else saw how much I was struggling. That’s just it with depression: help is hard. Others don’t know how to help. Reaching out and saying “I need help” was the hardest statement I have ever made. Telling my mother I wasn’t okay was terrifying. I have tears in my eyes thinking about it now. My mother has four children to worry about; I didn’t want to put added stress on her. I had to pretend to be happy even when my life was dark because I couldn’t add stress onto someone else.
The winter of 2016-2017 was the lowest I have ever been. I’ve never felt like death was the answer – weirdly enough, in December, I made a huge list on ways to live longer. I never contemplated suicide; I’ve always wanted to live. Still, life was dull and blank. After lashing out to my family, crying frequently, and not being able to sleep past 6:00 am, I decided that maybe I should go see someone. After going to the student-led counseling, they referred me to the counseling center on campus. I saw a counselor once a week. She asked me if I had ever considered going on an anti-depressant, and I said something along the lines of “I don’t think that I need it.” She encouraged me to see a doctor on campus just to have a conversation about it. I did, and the doctor recommended that I try it out.
The Prozac the doctor prescribed kicked in halfway through my spring break trip to DC and NYC with my scholars program. I woke up one day and life just seemed so much brighter. I was laughing more. I had less headaches. I slowly opened up to the people around me. Coming back from spring break, I walked around Charleston smiling. I woke up smiling. I remembered that this is who I am. This is the bubbly, energetic person others knew me as. I had my life back. I could get out of bed and go on walks and be around people. I could laugh from my gut and my eyes lit up when I talked about my passions again.
During monthly meetings with my Odyssey team, I would make everyone go around the table and share one piece of good news. It makes me happy and it encourages team bonding. In our March meeting, my good news was that I had been battling this demon for these past months, and I finally feel happy again. Not only did it put smiles on our faces, but it started a conversation. Hearing “Me too!” and “What antidepressant are you on?” made me feel not-so-alone anymore. That night, writers sent me blogs and articles on depression that helped them through their tough times. I had a support group right next to me the whole time and didn’t even know until then.
I can’t even remember those few months of winter. My depression took at least four months from me that I’ll never get back. I can’t think of what I lost; I have to look at how far I’ve come. But I’m slowly progressing. I still get up at the crack of dawn, and relaxing is hard for me. I have to cut back on my to-do lists, but I don’t let myself set unrealistic goals anymore. The gym still makes me anxious. Crowded places still make me a little nervous. But for the first time in my life, I feel confident about the woman I am. I am smart, funny, passionate, kind, and beautiful. It took 21 years to realize this. It took the darkest side of depression to understand how amazing I am as a human being. In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” We can’t have the light without the darkness, you know.
You might be reading this blog post because you needed advice. You might be reading this because you were wondering how I could be so sad because I seemed so happy. To those who are not struggling with this beast personally, I’ll leave you with this: looks can be deceiving. You may not know how to help others, but all you need to do is be there. Hold their hand, give them hugs. Check in on them every day.
If you’re struggling with depression, I promise you that it will get better. Don’t be afraid to consider an antidepressant. I believed in the stigma surrounding medication, and if I wouldn’t have taken Prozac, I would have never gotten my life back. Reach out to someone – a doctor, a sibling, a friend, or a parent. Maybe even a professor. Let them know you need them. I know that it is the hardest thing you will ever have to do. Reaching out for help is being vulnerable, but you can’t do this alone, and you don’t have to. If anything, I am here for you.
I’ll leave you with one more Dumbledore quote that helped get me through it: “It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then evil can be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.” You can do this.