I’ve heard depression described in so many ways—a big black dog, a black cloud, a boulder chained to your leg, a vast void of what seems like nothingness… And guess what? I’ve walked with all of those. I would add my own rather graphic portrait of what it can be like: sliding down a wall of razor blades while it snows salt down you. And then simultaneously feeling nothing at all. Sound confusing, terrifying? It is.
Depression first reared its ugly head in my life, at a clinical level, at the beginning of my sophomore year in college. I had spent the previous summer working at a resort and had one of those incredible summers that are tough to leave behind. I also fell in love for the first time. At the beginning of the fall semester, a sorority sister who was becoming a dear friend was killed in a car accident. Close on the heels of that loss, the first love from the summer decided to go back to his former girlfriend.
Getting out of bed became harder and harder. Going to class didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Except eating. Eating mattered a lot. Not surprisingly, I failed the majority of my classes. At some point in there, I remember visiting the kindly college psychologist and started my love/hate relationship with pharmaceuticals– Prozac in a starring role. I know the doctor told me it would take a while for the medication to kick in, six weeks or something like that, and I vividly remember lying on my bed in my room at the sorority house, watching the fan and waiting to feel happy.
It doesn’t quite work like that. A lot of that time is a blur. I know there were fun times in there—like the time I glued some eyes and a mouth to a bright green sheet, threw it over my head and walked around my sorority house. Or the One Act play I was in during the spring. Having something like that to focus on, with theater people to be around was a blessing.
It took a long time to bounce back from Major Depressive Episode #1. A different school, a summer spent in the mountains of Colorado, followed by two more summers and a couple winters in those same mountains. But eventually I figured it out. Journaling helped. I’ve always been a journal-er. I found exercise somewhere in there as well. I’d been athletic as a kid, soccer was my jam, but that dropped off as I got older and the number on the scale got higher. When I got a job with the YMCA that came with a free gym membership, another love/hate relationship began. I think Celexa may have been my co-star at this point, as well as some psychotherapy.
Though I wish people were more open to talking about depression, my parents have always been there for me and I don’t take that for granted. When so many worry that depression automatically = suicide, it has to weigh so heavily on a parent’s heart. I could never, would never do that to my parents. Believe me, I understand the inclination, I know how tempting it can seem but it’s never the answer. What’s that saying—a permanent solution to a temporary problem? Yeah, I get that. But unless you’ve been there, down that well, seeing the light at the top but unable to get or stay there in that light, you just don’t know.
It’s not enough to just climb to the top of that well. You have to climb out as well. Do whatever it takes to climb out—medication, exercise, clean eating, talk therapy, yoga, meditation, knitting. For me, it’s medication (still working on the love/hate on that one), exercise, clean eating, and healthy relationships. I’m very open with my friends about what I’m going through and I keep only supportive people around me. I’m not embarrassed to talk about my struggles. If it helps someone, it’s totally worth it.
There have been three or four Major Depressive Episodes in this life of mine. I also deal with the major job hazard of my chosen and beloved career as a credentialed Veterinary Technician—a herniated disc in my lower back. Adding chronic pain to the stew that is depression takes the game to another level. I’ve finally found the delicate balance that is medication/exercise/chiropractic care /a low sugar diet and I’m riding that wave. I still journal regularly and re-read previous journals from time to time. I have a very good relationship with my parents. I’ve got a tight group of awesome people I keep close. I live in a place where it’s so easy to be outside year around and nature is my church.
You could say it’s a pebble in my pocket these days instead of a boulder I’m dragging behind me. My depression is a black dog at heel beside me. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with popping a pill every day because that is something my body responds to. I’ve come to terms with the fact that emotional eating is something that I constantly battle. I’ve been winning that battle lately and learned how to be friends with food. Well, maybe not friends with food, we’re more like frenemies, but that’s fine.
What I’m not okay with is not talking about depression. I’m not okay with anyone feeling like there’s something “wrong” with them. It’s a disease. It is what it is. If you have it, you have it, it doesn’t have you. Find what works for you. It may be a fluid process so expect to try a lot of different things. Talk about it. Be open and honest with those around you so they can help you if things start to go grey. Journal about it. Write articles about it. Ride horses. Find what works for you.
My story is important. So is yours. Keep telling it.