Depression is a word I tend to avoid.
It’s something I don’t really talk about. Because talking about it makes it real.
Instead of facing it head on, I mask it. I refer to it as darkness. I pass it off as a “tough time in my life” or a bad day, week, month, year. I cover it in metaphors in an attempt to make it sound prettier than it truly is. Because if it sounds poetic, it can’t really hurt me.
But the fact of the matter is, avoiding it hurt me even more.
By avoiding the words, by never saying it out loud, by never admitting:
I am struggling with depression.
Five simple words that were–and still are–anything but simple. By avoiding these words, I believed I was preventing it from being real. If I never spoke the words, this didn’t need to be my reality. But with every passing day, pretending it wasn’t happening only gave the depression a stronger control over me. Instead of only being a part of my narrative, it became the whole thing; it took away every lovely, good, and light part of me.
Depression stole my story, effectively removing me from the narrative entirely.
For most of my young adult life, I was fighting a nameless darkness. When it first began, I’m not sure I realized this all-encompassing sadness had a name. There were the same excuses every time–high school is tough for everyone, teenage girls are mean, stress and lack of sleep, the reality of bullying, high school heartbreak. I can look back on these moments now and understand adolescent me a bit better: she deserved to understand what was happening in her mind, her heart, her life.
Following those years, I can pinpoint the exact moments when my life was overcome by darkness. By a sadness that was more than sadness. Periods of time that were triggered by sadness, leading into weeks of feeling nothing at all. In my early college years, these periods were brief; I was surrounded by people who were able to save me from myself without even realizing it themselves. I never needed to explain or put a label on my sadness; it was a part of who I was, and as long as I had my support system, I was more than capable to dealing with it. I was twenty years old and still unaware that this was not normal. The sadness, the emptiness, the darkness should not have been normal.
No person should live in a world of darkness and accept that as their normal.
At age twenty one, I lost all sense of normal. The brief moments of darkness that I was so accustomed to stretched out from days to weeks to months. The darkness was strung together with small moments of light–few and far in between. One moment with great friends on my birthday, another falling for a boy who was always leaving me behind, accepting my dream position on an executive board, and a final moment with my best friend on a vacation in a small beach town surrounded by strangers. I say final moment because that was the last true memory of light I have before I lost control of my own story.
It was August 2015 when depression took over my narrative.
Nearly three months passed before I came to terms with my darkness. In those three months, my life was a blur. Every day, I struggled to get myself out of bed. I forced myself to go to class, to meetings, to coffee dates with friends, to live my life. Those days, weeks, months are blank to me now–looking back on it all. It was like watching my life from the outside; the person living my life was no longer me. Three months into the darkness, my very best friend listened to me on the other end of a phone–miles and states in between us, but she knew from my words (or lack thereof) that something wasn’t right. There was something I was not saying–something I was avoiding. She sat up with me until three in the morning, as I sobbed and fell apart, as I finally found the words to explain my life.
I have depression.
Admitting this to myself and to another person was a liberating moment. As soon as the words fell from my lips, as soon as I let them exist openly in the world, there was a small shift in my universe. There was a weight lifted from my shoulders that I hadn’t realized was weighing me down. My darkness was still with me; it stayed with me for nearly a year. From twenty one to twenty two, I struggled and I fought. I had moments of extreme lows, moments that I didn’t want to come back from, moments where I just wanted to say “you win” and curl back into my blankets, moments where the dark was too much to handle. In that year, I lost a lot. A lot of battles with the dark, a lot of goals that I didn’t have the energy to fulfill, a lot of dreams that I watched crumble, a lot of friends who walked away and I didn’t stop. But most of all: I lost me.
I am not sure I will ever have the words to describe what depression feels like. It’s the feeling when you’re trying not to cry–the tightness in your chest making it hard to breathe, the clamminess making you break out in a sweat while simultaneously being unable to get warm, the rapid heartbeat causing you to hyperventilate in order to continue breathing at all. It’s how it feels to be trapped in a dark room–there’s no entrance or exit, there are no visiting hours, there is no source of light, there is only darkness. It’s a constant state of drowning and no one is there to save you. It’s screaming and no one hearing you.
It is feeling nothing and everything at the same time.
Feeling too deeply, feeling nothing, feeling everything, feeling empty.
It is watching your life happen without your consent. It’s life moving forward and you’re not there to participate. It is missing out on your senior year of college, it is losing your best friends, it is choosing sleep over socializing, it is watching everything slip away. Worse, it’s knowing all of this is happening and not being able to bring yourself to care until it’s too late. It’s not being able to apologize because they don’t understand what it is like to be trapped in your own darkness and not have the words to ask for help.
It’s wandering in circles in the dark, in the woods, hoping to find the way out again.
August 2016: I started over. I’m finding my light again. I am happy, for the first time in a year, and I am terrified of losing myself at any given moment. I know there will always be a chance of slipping back into the darkness; I know this, but something is different now. Because there is a label on it now, because I know the signs to look for, because I know how to move forward from the darkness, I am going to be better.
I might be okay today. Tomorrow. Next month. Next year. Five years.
But there will always be that fear of getting lost again. It will always be there. Darkness will always be there. I am not naive enough to think–to allow myself to believe–that I’m in the clear. Just because the fear is there, the chance is there, the darkness is there just out of sight–doesn’t mean it can stop me from living in the light now.
Depression stole a lot from me in the past year, but it’s about time I take it all back.
I’m putting myself back in the narrative.