Depression is a word that people fling around on a regular basis. You hear it all the times with phrases like, “Oh my gosh, I was so depressed when our teacher gave us that pop quiz today.” The problem with frivolous usage of a serious word is that we’ve become clueless and desensitized to what the word actually means. I won’t pretend that I haven’t used the word incorrectly before, but recently I’ve learned that depression isn’t just a word. It’s a living thing.
My first experience with depression occurred during my senior year of high school. After a seemingly minor setback in my personal life, I stumbled down into a deep black hole that siphoned the joy and happiness out of my life. I had no idea I was depressed at the time, because I didn’t really know what depression was. My friends had casually used the word as a synonym for sad, so I came to understand depression as a feeling, not a disease. Looking back on that time in my life, it’s blindingly clear to me that I was depressed. I did not want to go to school, I did not want to see my friends, I did not want to get out of bed. I hated myself for being so sad and I was so embarrassed and confused that I never told anyone about it.
I made it through the rest of my senior year of high school and went off to college, where I slowly began to see my life in color again. New friends, romantic encounters, classes, and places infused happiness back into my life.
Three years later, after my junior year of college, I ended an abusive relationship with the person I thought I was meant to be with forever. His selfishness and manipulation had convinced me that our relationship was completely normal, when, in fact, it was toxic and extremely unhealthy. Several months later, I started suffering from crippling anxiety and sadness. I assumed it was a delayed reaction to the break-up — after all, he was my first love. But as my anxiety became more serious, I started to worry. I had always had obsessive and anxious tendencies, but I starting completing specific rituals dozens of times a day for no apparent reason. The rituals calmed me and gave me order, but did nothing to appease my anxiety and sadness. As the weeks dragged on, I fell into a much darker place than I had ever been before.
In the aftermath of a full-blown panic attack a few weeks later, I felt like my life was no longer worth living. I felt hopeless, alone, and miserable. I had never been so unhappy in my life, and this time, I knew something was seriously wrong. My pain and anxiety were so overwhelming and all-consuming that I became ambivalent to existence.
Two weeks later, at the urging of a friend, I saw a psychiatrist for the first time.
She changed my life.
I told her everything, and she was able to put specific labels on each of the conditions I suffered from. She immediately diagnosed me with OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and went on to diagnose me with adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is similar to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, in that it occurs after a traumatic event or series of events. In my case, the traumatic event was the termination of my relationship, which opened the flood-gates for my anxieties and sadness. Also, adjustment disorder often triggers acute depression, which explained why I was so miserable. I then proceeded to tell the psychiatrist about my struggles senior year of high school, and she noted that it was probably depression — as many people with OCD or adjustment disorder also have suffered from depression at some point in time.
After months of counseling, my OCD is under control (for the most part), but my depression still rears its ugly head in my life once in a while.
It is almost impossible to explain what depression feels like — mostly because each person’s experience with the illness is unique, and everyone’s mind and body react differently. My depression feels like a nightmare that I can’t wake up from. It feels like a black hole the lays dormant inside of me, patiently waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting to suck me back in.
My depression is one component of my identity, but it doesn’t share my face or my name. It is something else entirely. Something scary and dark and lonely and so completely unlike me. My depression is laziness and sitting and binge-watching Netflix because my body and mind are too tired to do anything else. My depression is panic attacks and anxiety and tremors and tears.
My depression does not define me, but it is part of who I am. If you’ve suffered (or still suffer) from a mental illness, you can probably relate. My depression is part of what makes me human. My depression has made me who I am. And while it makes some days excruciatingly hard, my depression makes me appreciate the days that I am happy, and the people I truly love.
My depression is scary and desperate but it is mine and I will own it. It will not own me.