I honestly don’t know where to start on this. The things I hear people say, the things I read online and on social media, and the misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental illnesses are confounding to me and cause me more despondency that I can put into words. I’m absolutely done with the accepting and ignoring approach; if all I do is make one person think, “oh, it’s different than what I thought”, then it’s worth it. For my sanity, I need to feel like I’m doing something, anything at all, to spread awareness and enlighten others. We’re told to hold our tongues because “you can’t change people”, but how can we accomplish anything with that mentality? I don’t wish to change people, my wish is to enlighten people and change how mental illness is viewed by society, not by individuals.
On my way back from class today, I heard two guys discussing a suicide that a news channel was covering. The first guy said, “did you hear about that?!”, and the second guy responded, “yeah, how do you hang yourself when you’re 6″6?!”. That was it. That was all it meant to them. It was simply fascinating, and not fascinating to them that the human brain can get to such a dark, hopeless place. No, there was no thought, no discussion, about what the men actually went through before his death, just how he killed himself. And that’s how it is.
When I was 10, I lost my first relative. To depression. To suicide. My friend said she was sorry and followed by asking how he/she did it. The next day at recess, another friend came up and told me she’d heard what had happened and how my relative had done it, like that was of any importance at all. I was ten years old, in mourning, and had people asking “did your relative really kill himself/herself?”, saying “your relative is going to hell”, and my favorite, “that was so selfish”. They were just kids, but what made them view suicide this way by age 10?
I grew up understanding depression; I had to. I’m named after my uncle that lost his life to depression, I lost a relative to it when I was only 10, and I could go on, but my family’s business is my family’s business. Simply, depression runs in my family like blood.
When I was 12, my visual impairment representative at school nonchalantly told me it was likely I would “get depressed” when I was 16 and all my friends could drive and I couldn’t because of my vision. I grew up knowing that Major Depressive disorder was generic and socialy influenced, so by age 14, I was practically just waiting for it to come. Thanks VI teacher, for the fear and pre-diagnosis.
I wish I could’ve told 14 year old me that it would be a long wait and that when it came, no amount of understanding could’ve prepared me.
Around age 14, I started experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD-how ironic). SAD is a form of major depression that is brought on by the diminished amount of sunlight during the winter months. The symptoms are mostly the same as the symptoms of major depression, but SAD typically comes with less hopessness and no suicidal thoughts because those suffering know it will end when spring arrives. This disorder is often referred to as the “winter blues”, which is total bullshit. This disorder is not one to downplay or ignore, as it is depression; it effects your daily life. However, I did downplay it and thought I was just less motivated and less happy because it was cold and ugly outside.
Although I’d been dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder for 5 years, Major Depression knocked me on my ass this past October. Yes, I have a mood disorder. Yes, I have been diagnosed with Clincal Depression, and I’m not ashamed of it. Nobody should ever feel ashamed, insane, or embarrassed by mental illness. I’m openly talking about it even though it’s “uncomfortable” because I believe it should no longer be an awkward topic.
With so much talk about suicide right now because of 13 Reasons Why, I really wanted to write this and truly explain how depression works and what it does to a person. Clearly, I can speak from personal experience. No, depression is not synonymous with everyone, but it’s frightening how similarly people with depression view things and feel.
I knew the warning signs. I knew what was happening to me, but I didn’t tell myself, I didn’t accept it. I knew there was a reason I had stopped doing the things I loved, why I felt insanely irritable, why I’d stopped caring about everything. It took until late October when I was in a rage/panic over the smallest thing, until I cried to my mom that I truly thought I was going insane, until my mom told me she was making me an appointment that I got it through my head that I was dealing with depression. Not some “winter blues”, not “some sadness”, not stress, but true Clinical Depression.
In my opinion, the warning signs go like this:
- Loss of interest in activities once found pleasurable
- Anger and irritation- major unexplained irritability
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Feeling like everything is the end of the world
- Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
- Changes in sleep and appetite
- Mood swings
To go into more detail, a major sign is losing interest in the things you once loved. I loved yoga, music, playing guitar, being outside, socializing, going out to eat, and just being out and about. In September, I became a different person. I wasn’t too busy with school to still do the things I loved, I just stopped. There was no big moment of change, I just gradually stopped doing everything simply because I had no desire to anymore. I’d even try to do a little bit of yoga and I would just stop because it was a chore to do sometching I loved. I never felt like going out and doing anything, even eating. I lost weight because I had no motivation or desire to get out of bed and get food. The food itself also didn’t sound appealing at all. I no longer sang in the car or danced around to music; I no longer saw goodness in the things around me.
I was totally content to keep the blinds shut on the window, sit in dim light, and watch dark shows. I was addicted to Dexter and Skins. I would get irritated out of nowhere and every little negative thing that happened was like a giant earthquake that added a new fissure to my very fragile shell. When people were completely happy around me, I felt that they were naive, that they simply had no concept of how cruel life could be. I felt ostracized because they saw the good in life while I got to experience all the bad. I was in a fishbowl of negativity. I was an alien with soulless eyes. While others smiled and laughed around me, I was drowning in my own mind. I’d smile and laugh back, but it was only external. My mind and body weren’t really connected.
I’d be up all hours of the night just thinking. When you’re depressed, everything is an overanalysis. I’d wonder why I was being tested, why I was the experiment to see how much one person could handle before breaking completely. I used to hate being alone, but my dorm room quickly felt like a zoo exhibit where everyone watched me deteriorate. I’d feel like I needed to escape and sit in darkness where I’d stare at the floor, a wall, the sky. I could stare wth emotionless eyes for all of eternity. At my worst, I would double over because I didn’t have the strength or energy to sit up. My body, the hole in my chest, the weight of my life was too heavy to support when I was alone, when I had no reason to pretend. I would claw at the ground, desperate to escape my own mind. I did not consider suicide, but I felt that death would be easier than a life like the one I was living. I knew I couldn’t live that way forever. I knew it was depression, but I could never distinguish what was really me and what was the depression, which led to overthinking and stressing, panicking, circling my thoughts into insanity. I would be in the car and imagine getting in a horrible wreck, then I’d freak out and wonder why I thought that-did I want to die deep down?!
It truly felt like a downward spiral that would never end; I thought I’d get to the bottom and completely fall apart. Every day was a chore. Pretending to be myself so I wouldn’t scare my friends and my boyfriend felt like holding up the planet. I felt guilty, worthless, hopeless, empty, and too fucked up to function. I didn’t miss my friends, my parents, my animals. What was wrong with me?!
I was so tired, so so tired of being me. I hated everything about myself. I would cry and want to scream into the careless, sleeping city while I walked aimlessly at 3am. I would wish I was anyone but me. I had no control over anything in my life, so I colored my hair “as dark as my mood”, as I liked to “joke”. Anything to be less like me. I’d look in the mirror and see a living dead girl, hollowed out and detached. I was living, but not really. I remember looking out my window thinking, “life has taught me how to find bittersweet beauty in darkness and loneliness”. That’s the kind of thinking you do when depression keeps you up till 6am.
Does it sound dramatic? A little too deep and disturbing? That’s depression.
Only it’s worse in your head. There are no words to accurately describe it. You feel insane. Detached. Lost. Pathetic. Weak. You feel like Pandora’s entire box of horrible things, plus more.
What’s truly devastating is that loved ones can’t do much to help. They feel like they need to walk on eggshells, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know if/when they can mention certain things, they’re exhausted from the mood swings, and they start to feel lost too. They’ll feel hopeless because they’re not enough to fix you. My boyfriend would’ve destroyed himself in order to fix me if he could have. My depression was damaging to our relationship and to all my relationships; I can’t imagine loving me and trying to help me through that. My loved ones are truly amazing for being there for me in those dark months without losing their sanity as well.
Never destroy yourself trying to save someone that you cannot save. Never destroy yourself by believing you can be the cure for depression. Simply be there and get someone the help they need. You have to live your life, too.
Even more, medication is not magic. You have to want to get better. You have to try, which is the hardest thing in the world. You have to hold on to the unfathomable belief that it will get better even though your mind sees no light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll have good days, and you’ll have bad days. And when it’s bad, it’s bad.
Tell me someone that chooses suicide over that seemingly lifelong torture is selfish. Especially when that someone doesn’t understand what’s happening to them. Someone that chooses death over what they believe is humiliating to their loved ones is not selfish. Wouldn’t you prefer death over losing your mind? Because that is what it feels like.
A person that survives a major depressive episode is not weak for being depressed in the first place, they’re the strongest people I know for pulling through hell on earth, for getting help and fighting tooth and nail to find themselves again.
Depression is genetic, biological, and social. It’s not a matter of weakness or strength.
A person that commits suicide does it to escape their torment. They truly feel they are doing everyone, including their loved ones, a favor. They’re not selfish, weak, or uncaring. Understand how unbalanced a brain has to be to think that way! Understand that a person without an illness or impairment cannot successfully take their own life. Try to imagine how hopeless you would have to be to even consider ending your own life. Try to imagine seeing no peace other than death.
I felt the way I did even though I grew up understanding depression. I felt that way even though I caught it and started medication early on. Imagine, just imagine, what it’s like for those that have no idea what’s happening to them. I don’t know how anyone could live through major depression without an understanding, without treatment, support, therapy, etc. I was fortunate enough to be educated on the illness, but it shouldn’t be that way! Everyone should be well educated on mental illnesses and how they really work. We should spread awareness, speak openly, and eliminate the stigma.
It’s so easy to mock “emo” people, “suicidal lunatics”, cutters, and those scary depressed people, but is nearly impossible to empathize with them and understand what they’re going through. Somehow it’s easier to claim a person ended their life just to get attention. Honestly, if you believe a person can take their life just for attention, you’re the crazy one.
How can people talk about it when they’ll be misunderstood and mocked? How can a potential suicidal school shooter make others aware of their instability in time to help them? How can anyone come out as part of the LGBTQ+ community without experiencing depression when they’re told they’re sinners and abominations, when they’re denied equal human rights?! How can people feel comfortable to speak up and reach out for help in today’s society?
There is no stereotypical depressed person; it can happen to anyone. I’m a white, American female that grew up with wonderful, caring, married parents and a large group of friends. I played sports, went on vacations, was well-fed, well-clothed, and I enjoyed life. Yes, I was diagnosed with a life-altering disability, but that doesn’t mean I’ll automatically live with depression. Your typical “emo” kid is not the poster boy for depression; people that you think live wonderful lives can and do deal with depression. Never ever tell someone their life is “too good” for them to be depressed. I have been told that before and I still don’t know exactly how to respond.
Maybe you’ll read this and think I’m a weak, suicidal lunatic with issues, that I’m a drama queen, that I had a “princess complex” and couldn’t handle the reality of life. If you do believe that, you’re entitled to your opinions, but you’re close-minded and sorely mistaken.
There’s so much more I could say, but this would never end and then nobody would read it. Truly, if just one person reads this and takes something from it, it’s worth it to me.