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My first step

Depression is living in a body that fights to survive with a mind that tries to kill it.

In 2005, what my parent and friend’s called a phase had reared its ugly head and I became incapacitated by my illness.  I was on the couch taking a nap after our Christmas feast while my mother and sister were in the room. I couldn't see my mother's face with my eyes still closed full of sleep but her voice was soft and wavered; I knew she was silently crying. “I was so afraid” she told my sister. “I can't believe she is here with us”. I stirred deliberately. The room became silent. I didn't want to recall the night I tried to take my life. 

People think depression is crying or dressing in black but people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb to a sadness that knows no beginning or end. You wake up in the morning just to go back to bed again. During the next few years, simple things became impossible. I felt heavy. The task of opening my dense eyelids and moving my fleshy thighs over the bed was insurmountable. I would never make it to the bathroom and even if I did, lifting my seemingly made out of lead arm to brush my teeth was out of the question.  But before I had even opened my eyes, waves of overwhelming sadness washed over me followed by reminders of all the things I had to do but wasn’t capable of.  I was drowning and I hadn’t even been awake for more than 10 seconds. 

The worst part about depression is how aware you are the whole time. You know it’s ridiculous while you are experiencing it. You know that most people manage to get out of bed and brush their teeth and have breakfast and get dressed and walk out the door and get to work on time. You know that each of these tasks isn’t necessarily difficult but depression has a way of making a mountain out of a mole hill. All of a sudden you realize that it takes 16 steps to walk to the bathroom, and once you get there you have to open the door and then grab the toothpaste and  then grab your toothbrush and then unscrew the toothpaste and then put the toothpaste on your toothbrush and on and on and on and suddenly brushing your teeth has become this complex ritual almost as challenging as climbing mount Everest and there’s no why you can do that says your brain. So you stay in bed. 

Deep inside, what I now know to be the amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for emotions and motivation) was growing darker and I grew more despondent and dejected. In 2008, I was blessed with a counselor who worked with me to help me understand mental illness. In one particularly memorable session she used a simple metaphor to illustrate neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize or rebuild itself according to stimuli. Think of the brain as a mountain with water running down it. The water is like a pattern of neurons firing together. When water trickles down the mountain it creates a groove. In an unhealthy brain, this groove or synaptic pathway leads to a variety of unhealthy thoughts which are only strengthened the more we think these unhealthy thoughts much like water running down a mountain over time creates a deeper groove that eventually becomes a stream bed. In order to change the course of the water an alternative groove must be formed. This is not an easy feat but with practice the more you use this new neuropathway the more your brain rebuilds itself and begins to recognize this new positive pathway as a primary pathway. 

My counselor has helped me come to terms with having a mental illness; as an overachiever it was a huge blow to my ego but now, my mental illness motivates me. My brain's neuroplasticity has allowed me to think more positively and if I can do it, so can the millions of others who are so close to losing their battle with mental illness. After more than 10 years of surviving, 10 years of  darkness, the funeral that I had felt in my mind was slowly fading. I finally had some control and with that control I have chosen to speak out about my experience and help others survive. This speech is my first step to a helping myself help others.