This is a long story about my long struggle with depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and panic diroders. If you want to skip to my advice scroll down to the bottom. It is not easy writing about something so personal, not to mention taboo in our society. But, having come out the other end of depression 4, yes 4 times, I feel it is my duty to now help other people do the same.
I poured over internet sites about depression, looked for any kind of hope during my lowest lows. I wanted anyone to tell me that, "yes, I have been severely depressed and I am FINE now, I am cured, I live a happy life". So here I am to say that to you. I suffered my first bout of depression in my second year of university. I had a rough time after leaving high school. All my friends moved away to other university towns and I was left alone in my city. School was significantly more difficult than high school had been for me. Class sizes were overwhelming and I was naturally a very shy person. So of course, I became isolated. Not by choice, actually it turns out I love people and thrive on being social. However, my social anxiety made it impossible for me to meet anyone or make new friends in university. By the time it sunk in finally, in second year, that I would be essentially alone during the entirety of my four years at school, I was entering what would be a long and incredibly hard battle with depression.
Winter time made it that much worse (as is common because sunlight and serotonin- the happy neurotransmitter) are positively correlated and so for the next four years, come January I would sink into a depression for months at a time...each year worse than the previous year. Each time around April or so, when exams were over, stress was alleviated and my friends came home for the summer, I would pull out of it slowly. The summers were super, I was 100% depression free.
However, after two years of this rollercoaster, my fourth year of university was proving to be more hopeless than the previous years. I guess I figured, if I am going through this every year, will I ever be cured? There is no hope for me! My self-esteem was sinking lower and lower. I started to fiercely believe my thoughts that told me "you have no friends", "you are a boring girl", "no one wants to waste their time with you", "you are not smart", "you have no future prospects", "no one will want to date you". These thoughts were with me literally all through my waking hours. I used to go to my bed for salvation, to shut my eyes and drift into sleep to escape from the torment that I suffered all day long. These thoughts were obsessive and I could not make them go away.
In the winter of 2014, my depression reached an all time low. No matter what task I was doing, the thoughts were with me. I could hear every single one of them, all day long. The voice that nagged and chipped away at me telling me I wasn't good enough, that people were judging me, that people saw "through me" and thought I was pathetic and so so boring. I became paranoid at work that all my coworkers were talking about me all the time, always negative things. I became paranoid that my boss thought I was doing a terrible job, that he may fire me at any moment. I thought my customers thought I was incompetent. That everyone I spoke to thought I was lousy company, even for the 5 mins in passing that we asked each other about our days, out of courtesy. All I could contribute was "good", when anyone asked me. I literally couldn't OR CONVINCED MYSELF that I couldn't think of anything else to say.
The entire 7 hour shift at work I waited for the end when my dad would pick me up and I would feel "safe". I am lucky because I had the support of my parents throughout. They knew what I was going through. I could talk to them about how I was feeling, how down I was. And of course they saw. You cannot hide when you feel so low. It affects every part of your life. I even felt comfortable telling my friends I was feeling very "down". Though year after year, it became harder. I could tell that it was starting to become a burden on my parents. They wanted to help and support me more than anything in the world, but they did not know what else they could do to help me.
The second year my depression came back I started seeing a psychologist at my university once a week. It was so nice to talk to someone who understood the illness. She diagnosed me with depression, social anxiety and general anxiety. The third year I went back to her, she asked me if I wanted to try medication because at that point I was sleeping about an hour a night for a month straight. My thoughts were screaming at me day and night. I was on antidepressants for a week before I decided to go off them. Mental illness is an illness. Medicine is needed for some, for sure. However, though it definitely may have alleviated my symptoms, I decided to go off the medication. I knew I needed to get a hold of my thoughts. I needed to correct how I was thinking. My therapy was called CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which works to examine the person's thought pattern to try and figure out what about their way of thinking is causing the distress. Usually it is an underlying set of beliefs about the self, others and world that is distorting their perspective on these things. It is usually an 8 week treatment. I saw this therapist for two years, predominately in the winters when the depression came on.
When the depression came on a fourth time in the winter of 2014, I saw no solution to it. Hadn't I already been to treatment for the past two years? Why was it coming back again? How long would this go on for? I had finally lost all hope. But I begged my mom to go back to therapy, to talk it all out one more time. This was hard for her, she was starting to feel desperate as well. I ended up not going back to therapy. I suffered my worst bout of depression from January all the way until probably June of 2014. In August, I had planned an extended trip to Europe with one of my best friends. Finally, getting myself into a completely different mindset eventually shifted my perspective on EVERYTHING. But it took time. I sit here today a very happy girl. As I usually am at this time of year. However, come January I am confident that I will not let me myself slip back into depression. I finally have all the tools and wisdom from my past experiences to arm myself against it. So here is my advice to you:
- Know that everyone goes through hard times, though many people do not talk about the turmoil and anguish that sometimes goes on in their head. So know you are not alone in feeling down about life, or not liking yourself, or struggling. You are not crazy.
- Know that your difficult situation will pass. Not to say that you will never feel down again. but it will pass. You have to have hope. No matter what.
- Know that you can talk to people. Most people will gladly listen and try to help you in whatever way they can. If you feel like you have no one in your life, maybe a teacher or trusted parent of a friend, a help phone like Kids Help Line or even an online forum may help you feel less alone in your suffering.
- Know that people love you. Whether it is family, friends, teachers, people you've only vaguely known, someone out there cares for you.
- Know that you are valuable. You have something to contribute to this crazy world. You will find your place eventually. You are a worthy human being. Just because. You do not need to accomplish anything. You are worthy as is.
- You can have a happy life despite your current struggle. You do not have to struggle forever.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. We often feel the need to appear as though we've all got it figured out, but let me tell you, most people do not. Most people do not really know what they are doing. But it is easy to think otherwise these days with social media, it seems like everyone is living a picture perfect life. It is for the most part a facade. Everyone has a dark side. Talking about yours may allow someone else to feel comfortable to share theirs with you too.
- In extension, do not feel afraid to seek professional help if you need it. It does not mean that you are weak or a "lesser" person because you need help. Talking about feelings and emotions needs to be encouraged. it is normal, our society is slowly catching on to this (too slowly).
- "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" and finally remember, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
We need to be kind to one another, encourage one another, love one another and help one another. I think that is why we are all here. There is always hope and you are needed in this world, in all the ways that make you and only you, unique.