Depression means different things for different people. Whether it’s something you’ve dealt with your whole life, something that was triggered by an event, or something that frequently comes and goes, one thing is certain—depression steals so much of your life.
I suffered from mild depression most of my life, but a particular event triggered a massive breakdown that lead to a diagnosis of major depression—something I’ve been battling for the last two years.
Before experiencing that massive episode, I was a completely different person. I was fun, adventurous, and passionate about the things I loved. I traveled the world, cared about social and political issues, and spent as much time as I could with my family and friends. I would experience depressive episodes here and there, but it was never to the point where medication was being prescribed, where suicidal thoughts became actions, and where hospitalizations were a reality.
My life has changed a lot in the last two years. Depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all illness. For some, it can last for days and for others it can last for years. For me, the best way I can describe depression is by looking at this illness as a physical being.
I imagine it as a monster. A monster that grabs you and throws you in a dark and stale room. As hard as you try to escape, the door is locked. So you sit in the corner and wait. Wait for any light to turn on, any window to open, or for that medication to kick in, finally opening that door and setting you free.
As hard as I fight depressive episodes, there are moments where the symptoms are so strong that it feels as if nothing can alleviate the pain. During moments like these, moments that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, parts of my life are stolen. Moments and times that could be spent living life are taken from me. Within that two-year time frame from when my depression became full-blown to the present time, these are some of the things I’ve lost in the fire.
1. It steals your family and friends…
When I’m in the midst of my depression, I become this ugly and negative person. My family and friends do as much as they can to support me but of course, there comes a point where it becomes too much. As much as depression changes me as a person, I’m also aware of what it does to those around me. Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s irritability, moodiness, and sometimes anger…things that make it difficult to be around a person.
With that being the case, I tend to withdraw and isolate myself. I always assume that it’s contagious, so I do what I can to stop it from spreading. This of course, strains my relationships. I’ve lost friendships because of this and people I was once close with now keep me at an arm’s distance. The thing is, you can’t really blame them. I’m well aware of how difficult it is being around this and even more aware that these symptoms can get out of control.
2. It steals your pride and distorts your self-image…
Depression has convinced me that I’m ugly, worthless, and unlovable. All of my insecurities come out, which has caused other monsters to surface. Monsters such as eating disorders, debilitating anxiety, and panic attacks that come out of nowhere. You’re convinced that everything is your fault, that you’re the reason why terrible things happen, and that you’ve become this hassle and annoyance to those around you. This distorted self-image can be so intense that thoughts of death sadly emerge. For those that drown in these thoughts, suicide can easily become a reality. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide accounts for more than 44,000 deaths a year. For every successful suicide, there are 25 attempts that are made. Unfortunately, I’m included in those statistics, with two attempts spanning the course of ten months.
It’s easy for these thoughts to spiral out of control. With the experiences that I’ve had, I now know when to ask for help. This is when I reach out to the two people I know—people I consider my “emergency” contacts. It’s when I reach out to my therapist or when I talk to my doctor about adjusting my medication or trying something new. Half of the battle is reaching that point and having the strength to ask for help.
3. It steals your physical health…
When someone I haven’t seen in a really long time compliments me on my weight loss, they usually ask if I’ve been working out. Usually, when this comes up, I smile and say yes. In reality, the thirty-pound weight loss that I’ve experienced in the last two years is both a combination of extreme depression and a self-image so poor that it enables bad eating patterns. What you really want to say is, “Thanks. It’s the depression.”
When you’re in the midst of it, your appetite becomes nonexistent, your energy is so low that getting out of bed becomes a chore, and body aches and pains become a daily occurrence. And if you’re put on medication, starting something new or adjusting your current dosage—a different kind of physical trauma can occur. The side effects of starting or adjusting any medication can include anything from manic behavior to experiencing tremors throughout the day. The side effects usually go away within time, but when you are in the throes of it all, it can feel never-ending. As much as depression affects your mental state, it can affect your body just as badly.
4. It steals meaningful moments…
There have been several moments in the last two years that should have been amazing. Moments that should make you smile when looking back at them. One of those moments was being a bridesmaid at my niece’s wedding. It was the first time my whole family came together like that in years. It was an event that should have been filled with laughter and joy, but unfortunately, depression stole that day away from me. What I remember most when I look back at that wedding isn’t the dancing or the bride walking down the aisle, it’s the emptiness I felt.
Instead of living in these moments, the heaviness of depression outweighs any laughter or happiness that you should be having. It robs you of the enjoyment, the excitement, and that infinite feeling of being alive. When looking back at those photos, everyone sees this beautiful person with a big smile looking like she’s having the time of her life. Me, I see the loneliest person in the world who’s dying on the inside. That in itself is pretty depressing.
5. It steals your youth…
“You’ll never be this young again” is what I hear constantly from friends trying to get me out and about. Instead of these statements inspiring me to begin living my life, they make me feel incredibly guilty and regretful. I’m aware that I’m letting these years slip away. It destroys me knowing that I’m spending my youth fighting this illness instead of having fun like normal people my age.
I know what that feels like. I know the excitement, the happiness, and that need for adventure. I know what it’s like to be in love, to feel beautiful and worth it. I am aware that these last few months have been wasted and that these are times of my life that I’ll never get back. That’s what’s so difficult about managing depression. Even when you do have the energy to get out of bed and be with your friends, everything is forced.
You force yourself to have a good time, you force yourself to smile and laugh, you force yourself to be that young carefree person that’s expected of you. When depression is there, it’s nearly impossible to “snap out of it,” no matter what’s going on around you. Depression steals all of it. It steals the time you could be spending enjoying life. It steals your weeks and months and years. Time doesn’t care about your struggle; it stops for no one, not even depression.
Whether this monster was just a phase in your life you eventually got through or whether it’s a constant battle that lasts for years, the one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that feeling you get when the heaviness lifts. That beautiful moment when you think to yourself, “I feel a lot better.” It’s that moment when the door finally opens again, and you finally feel that light that you were deprived of. You hear yourself genuinely laugh, which can feel foreign, but great at the same time.
Because you know that this monster can come back at any moment, you hang on to this newfound relief, never taking this feeling for granted. Although depression is still a constant that continues to steal so much from me, I haven’t given up. I’ll continue to see a therapist, continue taking medication, and continue fighting until the intensity of it subsides. I know this monster will always be a part of my life, coming and going as it pleases. But for now, I’m doing the best I can do to make those waves of depression a lot shorter and a lot less frequent. For anyone else who suffers through this, it’s the only thing we can do.