I woke up smiling today.
It was the first time in months I felt a grin that big. The sun was shinning, a breeze tickled my face as I stepped outside on my balcony.
It was almost like the sun and sky were smiling back at me, redeeming itself from the dark, cold, and grey months it put me through.
It smelled like spring, hope, a new beginning, and a time for growth. My heart felt lighter and I began crying, as I knew the worst was over. I made it through another winter.
It's such a simple, three-syllable word, yet its power is confined to those who've fully experienced it. Those like me.
It’s extremely personal, but I know writing has the ability to affect some sort of change, whether it’s small or large. I also know writing and reading others' personal stories of overcoming this mental illness has saved my life.
May is also Mental Health Awareness month, where health advocates from all over the nation spend their time focusing on spreading attention to the many mental health issues millions face. Today, more people die from suicide in the United States than from traffic accidents or homicides. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder affects 14.8 million American adults in the U.S.
The partial reason why I find it hard to expose myself this way, is because of the negative connotations surrounding depression. Depression, even after all the years of medical progression, is still widely misunderstood.
I remember writing (I keep several journals) about waiting for the bus back in February, and even though this past winter was far better than 2014, I still felt it was unbearable.
I often find myself questioning why I live here, and I try to justify that Chicago’s summer makes every bit of this suffering worth it. However, as each year passes, the thought of living somewhere constantly sunny and warm is more appealing than it ever has been… not just because of the weather, but because of my mental health, as my depression seems to always get worse in the winter.
Depression, no matter how many people tell you about it, you will never fully understand its wrath unless you’ve never experienced it firsthand. Depression is horrifying. It strips you of everything you are. It swallows you whole, tossing you into a bottomless pit of hell while drowning you in false promises of hope. Most of my life, I’ve been struggling to stay afloat.
All of my hope crushes, the overwhelming sadness never ends, and I cry countless times throughout the day. That may seem normal to many of friends and family, for they know I'm a hypersensitive individual who sheds a tear at any (and most) simple gesture.
Albeit this is true, this is a different kind of crying; one that drags me down deeper, where unhappiness eagerly welcomes me with opening arms and is accompanied by a never-ending hell of despair.
My depression started when I was in sixth grade. Even though teenagers go through puberty and their hormones are out of control, I always felt different. I was told all the time that I was such a happy kid and was constantly asked "what happened?" (by the way, thanks for those comments). I always wanted to be alone, my eyes showed no reflection of happiness and I only found peace through sleeping and self-harm.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of 12. Say what you want, but I believed my life would be short-lived. I was in therapy for most of my life, heavily medicated, and even though the depression eased, it was always there haunting me from the moment I woke up until I was able to go to sleep at night.
After I was old enough to take myself off of medication, because it turned me into a sluggish zombie, I found constructive ways to ease my symptoms. Physical activities like running, yoga, biking, and recreational sports have drastically helped me. But, despite all these hobbies I find myself involved in, during the winter, I turn completely powerless over my depression.
Even on my darkest days, trying to find a glimpse of hope or light can be seem far-fetched; then, on other days, I feel full of energy and ready to tackle my day. Now, I'll be honest, I haven't felt anywhere close to being suicidal in years... but that doesn't mean I should wait until it's at that point again to reach out for help.
Some days I am still just “off,” even though there’s no reason to be... and this has become extremely hard to communicate to close friends, my boyfriend, and family. More times than not, it causes arguments and I stoop lower than how I was feeling. I feel misunderstood. I feel ashamed. I feel alone. My depression has hauled me through some pretty drastic lows. Yet, again, no one seems to fully understand how and why I could possibly feel this way.
I grew up with a hard-working dad and mom who were very involved in my life and showed their love to me constantly, and two older brothers that I consider some of my best friends I have in this world. Our family never struggled financially, we had food on our table, a roof over our heads. I easily made friends, I was athletic and played sports throughout school… so, how could someone like me have depression?
The scary part is, which many of you may not fully grasp, is anyone who is anyone is a perfect candidate for experiencing depression's torment. It doesn't care what you do for a living, if you come from a broken family, if you're famous, if you're a man or woman, where you come from, or how beautiful you are. There’s no discrimination whatsoever.
I also want to clarify that depression and being depressed are two SEPARATE things. Being depressed because you got yelled at by the boss at work, had a fight with your significant other, or didn't make it to your spin class, is NOT the same thing as depression.
There are tons of over-generalizations, metaphors and misunderstandings of depression. I once had a roommate tell me that I should move to Africa and then my life wouldn't seem so “rough.” Let me hopefully not be the first person to tell you, I (and those suffering from depression) are not ungrateful. I know I am beyond blessed in many aspects of my life. I have a loving, supportive, and very close-knit family, I have a roof over my head, a job I enjoy, food in my pantry, beautiful friendships, and an amazing boyfriend I've had the privilege of spending many years with. I am not selfish, unappreciative, and my character is far from being flawed.
I do however have a glitch in the chemical makeup in my brain, which makes me this way. If you try to tell me that my attitude is the reason I feel like this, or my diet needs to be changed, or I need to try different physical activities (you know, since going to the gym/yoga, running, eating wholesome foods, or involving myself in recreational sports in the summer isn't enough), I seriously might punch you in the face.
I've realized my brain doesn't function “properly” or how a “normal” person’s brain may work... aka: someone who has NO idea how depression works, yet tries to make an analysis on how I’m supposed to feel.
Depression is something I have to live with and confront every single day of my life, regardless of medication or natural therapies I may be working with. I can’t simply “get over it,” and I most certainly don’t need a “reality check.” Your words are ignorant and incredibly hurtful. People who make such generalizations about those who have depression, or those who unfortunately take their life, clearly have NO idea what this feels like nor the slightest idea on how to try to understand it.
For years, the misunderstandings behind depression have led to massive amounts of people to suffer in silence. And, unfortunately, the only light shun on depression or other mental illnesses is when someone famous has tragically ended their life.
And even then, society is so quick to point a finger; to judge, instead of looking for a way to understand. This can cause an insecure feeling, an even more distant hope and fear to reach out for help. But, opening up does help. I can assure you that this disease is bigger than you, and it will not disappear from simply avoiding it.
I'd be lying and saying depression hasn't shaped the person I am today… I mean, how could it not? I am who I am and my depression is part of that. However, I will not be defined into a sub-group, a statistic, or a finger point. I full-heartedly know the true definition of strength. I am it. Me being alive today proves that. I wake up every day with my depression working against me, fighting me in everything that I do. But, I haven’t given up, I don't want to give up, and I know I never will give up.
Unfortunately, this isn't the case for everyone.
In fact, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) reports that suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans annually.
During the time of May and October (which is Depression Awareness month), and all throughout the year, I am hoping for more people to open up their minds, to fully listen to someone who might be suffering, and try to make progress in understanding depression and other mental illnesses.
If you or someone is suffering from depression, please understand you’re not alone. It’s never too late to reach out for help.