This week is Suicide Prevention Week, so I wanted to share my experience with the hopes that this blog gives some camaraderie to someone going through something similar and gives insight to those who love someone with depression. I think everyone has, or eventually will, have some sort of big life experience that will dramatically change who they are. For me, it was when I lost myself to major depression – and when I say lost myself, I truly mean that to the most extreme way I can possibly explain it. I fell into that darkness one person and crawled out of it an entirely different one. Below is what I learned from my depression Journey.
TW: This blog contains potential triggers for those struggling with depression, so if you are below 18 please ask your parents or an adult to read it first and they can help you decide on whether to read it or not. Also, you could ask a friend to read it with you. At the end of this blog, I have included a list of helpful resources for you to have in case you would like to have them on hand.
It was in 2016 during the spring semester of my junior year of college that a personal trauma flipped my whole world upside down and I was dropped into this deep, dark hole of depression that changed my life forever – I frequently call that period of my life that “the Doomsdays.” No matter how painful the Doomsdays were, I wouldn’t ever change what happened because I learned some key things that I sometimes remind myself of to this day. Here is what I learned:
No one can tell you everything you will experience with depression!
When you go into Google and look up “signs of depression” you will NEVER find a list that gives you the entire picture of what it looks or feels like. There was no WebMD article explaining why it was literally painful to breath at all hours of the day from the heavy weight on my chest, constantly making me double over in agony whenever I was alone. And I never saw any PSA about how every day my body would feel like it was getting heavier and heavier until it took an amount of willpower (that I didn’t always have) to lift myself off the floor or bed.
My takeaway: Take a moment to reflect on any new unhealthy behaviors you’ve recently taken on and write about them in your journal (or wherever else you work out your feelings). Even if they aren’t on any symptom list, could it be a sign of something serious going on with your mental health? And if so, is it time to seek professional help?
You might resort to dangerous behaviors that you wouldn’t have done before.
I was what my teachers and family members called a “good girl” before the depression. I had good grades, didn’t drink alcohol or smoke, and was overall very cautious of my personal safety. But once depression hit, not only did I let my grades drop but I started to drink heavily and began to find myself hanging out with people I barely knew late at night. Looking back, I am very lucky I didn’t get hurt either by alcohol poisoning or by someone else’s hand. But when I was that far deep into depression, I was secretly wishing for something bad to happen to me so wouldn’t feel the pain anymore.
My takeaway: Are you doing things that are potentially dangerous to your well-being, unconsciously, or on purpose? If so, take a moment to remind yourself that this phase in your life isn’t permanent and that you will eventually get better… BUT you need to keep yourself safe between now and then in order for that to happen!
You HAVE to recognize when you have reached your limit and when to ask for help!
I remember that day vividly – I was walking through downtown Savannah, GA to my next class at the library when I realized that if I didn’t get help right then and there, I wasn’t going to be alive the next day. Instead of going to class, I went straight to Student Counseling Services and told them I needed someone RIGHT NOW. That’s when I met the counselor who saved my life; an older gentleman with a gentle demeanor and a willingness to listen that no one else in my life had given me when I needed it most. Even when my mental breakdown went longer than the allotted appointment time, he sat patiently with me and listened to everything I had pent up inside.
My takeaway: I am alive today because of that one person taking time to listen, but he wouldn’t have been able to help me if I hadn’t recognized when I had reached my tipping point and sought out help. If you feel yourself slipping into a similar state that I was in, reach out to someone like a family member, teacher, or community member. Ask them to stay with you until you can get to a licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor so you can get the lifesaving care you deserve in times of distress.
You might need different things from your relationships than what you needed before you had depression.
Throughout college I lived with my two best friends. We did everything together – homework, video games, eating, shopping, late-night talks… EVERYTHING. When my life became a living hell, however, I realized that I needed more emotional support than what they could give. They both struggled with depression as well, so I was afraid to tell them what was going on with me out of fear of being selfish. At the same time, I was unjustifiably PISSED that they didn’t notice what was happening – I would find myself silently getting angry when one of them would complain about how sad they were about something I thought was trivial, while I felt like was rotting from the inside out. Eventually, the relationship soured, and I chose to walk away for the sake of my own mental health.
My takeaway: Because of this experience, I have learned what my needs are when seeking out new friendships. Will this person be there for me if my life falls to pieces, and can I be there for them when their life is in turmoil as well? Some friendships survive our Doomsdays and sadly, some don’t. But it’s those losses that help us learn what friendship truly means to us.
I learned one other thing from this experience: I now know that grief and sadness cannot be measured or compared from one person to another. There is no way to calculate the intensity of someone’s personal pain, so it was unfair of me to think my pain was greater than theirs. Sometimes I wonder if they were also silently resentful of me like I was to them.
It is okay if your life plans changed after depression.
Before it happened, I was studying animation at one of the top art schools in the country. I was excited for my future, dreaming of how I would one day see my name on the credits of some big 3D animated movie from Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks. The school workload was intense, especially when I was working a full-time job from 4AM to 2PM, but it was so worth it to me at the time. I wanted to move around the country for different animation contracts, and I was excited for projects that would keep me up for all hours of the night with intense deadlines, big budgets, and constant work work work! After the Doomsdays, I found that I no longer had any of that desire and that I now needed a stronger sense of stability. Since those days, I have put much more focus into self-care (like getting plenty of sleep and time away from working) and dedicate much more time to my mental health than I did before.
My takeaway: If you are finding that your dreams and goals have changed since experiencing depression, you’re not alone. It’s going to be hard, especially when you are reminded of what might have been. You’ll get comments at family Christmas parties where someone asks “Oh, you were going to go into the so-and-so field, right? How is that going? When is that going to happen?” and you’ll feel like garbage for a little bit after. But in the end, it’s totally okay if you didn’t follow your particular dream from years ago – because you were a completely different person then! What matters is finding a dream for who you are now.
There is no “moving on,” only “moving forward.”
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I started to fully acknowledge how deeply that time of my life affected my mental health. Random things will trigger me into bouts of anxiety, sadness, or anger (no matter how good the day was going beforehand) and I can feel myself getting sucked back into the mindset I was stuck in during the Doomsdays. I’ve recently begun having more conversations with myself when I have those moments and they usually go something like this:
“Why did this particular smell of air-freshening spray make me feel so angry? Maybe because it reminds me of the living room where my friends and I would spend time together and thinking of that reminds me of the guilt I feel for how I acted. I wonder if I am still worthy of any friendship now…”
“Why am I struggling with anxiety when I am not working on something productive? Am I still struggling with feeling like a failure for not achieving my original career goals? Will I ever be able to achieve my new goals if I couldn’t even follow the old plan?”
It was only once I had reflected on what I was feeling and dug deep into why I felt it that I was able to start moving forward with my life and improving my mental health. Because of this, I now know more about myself and what I need to work on in order to be happy.
My takeaway: Eventually down the road, you will need to talk with yourself about that time in your life. I really hate the phrase “moving on” because, in my opinion, that is just not possible. But there is “moving forward” if you know how to use your experiences to your benefit. If you pretend it didn’t happen, then you won’t be able to cope when it comes back with a vengeance. In order to truly heal, you need to really reflect on everything that happened, how it changed you, and how you can use the information to protect your mental health in the future. Talking to a mental health professional can be helpful if you don’t know where to start, so seek out a psychologist if this could be a possibility for you.
I hope this blog was helpful to someone in some way, whether you are trying to understand your own Doomsdays, or you want to understand someone else’s. Remember that this is only temporary, and you will be happy again soon. Use what you are learning from this time in your life to your advantage. And don’t be afraid to ask for help in the meantime.
With lots of love from someone who has been there,
–BetterHelp for online counseling services
–IMAlive for online volunteer-based service for suicide intervention, prevention, awareness, and education.
–National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for when you need to talk to someone during an immediate crisis.
–OK2Talk for online community where teens and young adults struggling with mental health conditions can find a safe place to talk about what they’re experiencing by sharing their personal stories.