First and foremost, I am not writing this for pity or praise. I am not being brave or narcissistic. I am writing this, one, as a sort of catharsis, and two, because there are some people in my life whom I think deserve an explanation.
I've been struggling with depression since I was about 19. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back now, it seems pretty clear. The thing about depression is that it doesn't manifest in the same way for everyone. It doesn't always derive from a traumatizing incident or prolonged abuse, and it isn't always feeling sad or suicidal. It's usually a lack of emotion in general. A flat, muted outlook. I've described it before as wearing sunglasses all the time. The bright things aren't particularly bright, and the dark things are especially dark. There is often some form of depersonalization as well. Feeling as if you're not real, like you're watching your life happen without actively participating in it. That's one of the worst parts, I think.
In my case, I just happen to be genetically predisposed. It's literally in my blood to go crazy.
A few years ago, I started having panic attacks, so I went to see a therapist. Panic attacks, by the way, are both terrifying and incredibly inconvenient. Anyway, the psychologist I saw thought I just had some normal stressers, issues with motivation, and that I didn't know what to do with my life. Which was true, but I was 21. Who the hell really knows what to do with their life at that age? So, he suggested I take a career test. And it was total bullshit. Career tests basically ask you what you're interested in and, through some crackpot "scientific" calculations, they repeat to you what you're interested it. I already know what I like and don't like. A test telling me that I may be a great music teacher one day didn't help in the slightest. I can't read music. I never could.
So, after a few sessions, I stopped going to therapy. I kind of figured that this is what my life would be. Never feeling anything completely, never being interested in a relationship with anyone because I didn't care enough, pretending to be excited about things when I really just wanted to be home taking a nap. It seemed bleak, but I'd quit my job as a nanny and my panic attacks were more or less gone. I thought I was getting better. For the next couple of years, I just carried on. I had been told many times that I should see a shrink and get on some meds, but I was totally against that. I didn't want to just FEEL better, I wanted to BE better, you know? So, I did the things they tell you to do when you're depressed. I exercised, I tried to eat better, I did things with my friends even when I didn't feel like it… It may have worked for a while.
But early this year, it got to the point where nothing I did worked. I felt shrouded by it. And the worst thing about depression is that after a while, it becomes more of a comfort than a detriment. If I got help, who would I be without my depression? What would I do? My depression had been a constant presence for years, something I could cover myself with, fall into, and drown in. It was heavy. It made me a liar, and an Oscar-worthy one at that. I was always "fine" even when I wasn't. But I finally decided that it wasn't a weight I could carry anymore. I went to see a psychologist first, and right away, she said "yeah, you're depressed, girl." A few weeks later, I saw a psychiatrist. We talked about my options vis-a-vis medication and I made sure she knew that it was my last resort. I didn't want anything extreme. So she prescribed a low dose of Prozac. At first, I didn't have any side effects. I was eating well, I was sleeping fine… apart from having some really weird and vivid dreams, I felt normal. Apparently, for a lot of people, it's an absolutely magnificent medication. For me, not so much.
One night in August, about two weeks after starting Prozac, I had a bit of a break down. I was watching Doctor Who, as usual, and I felt fine. And then I got up to go to the bathroom. Suddenly, everything was wrong. EVERYTHING. I wasn't real. Nothing was real. I couldn't feel anything and I was absolutely terrified. My brain was thinking awful things and I was afraid of what might happen if I was alone for much longer, so I drove myself to the hospital, checked myself in, and spent the night on suicide watch. I wasn't feeling remotely suicidal, but I guess, when you go into the ER with mental health issues, they don't want to take any chances.
I spent the next four days in a psych facility so I could stabilize. My first day there is a bit of a blur, but after that, it wasn't so bad. I was prescribed a different medication. Wellbutrin, twice a day. They made sure I could tolerate it before they let me go home.
Lemme tell you, psych meds are no joke. My hands shook for weeks. I couldn't eat properly and lost a bit of weight because of it. I've been on Wellbutrin for a few months now. My side effects have gone and I feel okay.
I am not, by any means, saying that medication is the right choice for everyone. I'm still not even sure it's the right choice for me. Right now, I am constantly at my baseline. Never overly thrilled about anything, never terribly upset about anything. I am steady. It's a fairly boring steady, but steady nonetheless.
It could be a lot worse. I know. I've been worse.
Here's the thing… Depression is serious. It's not a joke to throw around, it's a real medical issue. The fact that there is still a stigma around mental illness makes it so much harder to have one. Or two. Or six. For the longest time, I felt like I couldn't even talk to my family about it. I had friends who said "but you have such a great life, what do you have to be depressed about?" And that's just it. I mean, there are a hell of a lot of things to be depressed about in the world. War, inequality, the full TWO YEARS between seasons of Sherlock… But depression itself is chemical. For me, at least. I know I have a great life. I'm incredibly lucky to have the things I have and to have been where I've been and seen what I've seen. Telling someone that they don't have anything to be depressed about just adds onto the depression because now, there's a lovely layer of guilt wrapped around it. I felt guilty being depressed. I have a good home and a loving family and friends who would be there for me in a second. I have food and running water and electricity. What do I have to be depressed about?
And yet, here I am. Depressed.
I know I'm not fixed. I'm nowhere near having normal emotions. I still sometimes forget that I'm real. I still haven't had real feelings for anyone in years. I still struggle with motivation.
But I know what I want to do with my life now. My laughs are almost always genuine. And I've got some fantastic stories.
Depression is real, it's serious, and it's painful. I have been fortunate with mine, but a lot of other people haven't. Please, please, PLEASE, if you are depressed, talk to your doctor. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, call a friend, a family member, a doctor, a hotline, ANYONE. You are more than your depression. And your life is worth more than what it would take to end it.