The following is a reflection about my experience of depression. It is quite personal and deep. However I think it is important to talk about these subjects because it can help us realize that we all struggle in life. More importantly, I hope that it can bring you something of value – whether it be a sense that you are not alone, or maybe it will help you better understand someone in your life who also experiences depression.
I was clinically diagnosed with depression at the age of 13 or 14, while in the midst of some very difficult life moments. The diagnosis (I feel) came rather quickly because I was crying a lot, cutting, but mostly because my father had a history of depression. Now I could write in length about why I think that this situation was unfair, however I will save my professional medical views for future posts.
For over a decade, I have been in and out of various therapist’s offices and have tried multiple drugs (prescribed, and some times not). I have tried my darnest to find ways to cope with this all too familiar feeling of failure and deep sadness. I worked my butt off in school and chose a career where I could fulfill my need to help others. I invested in my health by hiring a personal trainer and working on improving my nutrition. I read self-help books (and by read I mean I would buy the book, read the first few chapters, and store it away on my bookshelf with all the other unread books I already owned). I dabbled in meditation.
But mostly, I resorted to the coping mechanisms that were actually hurting me the most, because frankly, that’s the best that I could do. Those included (and still include; yes, I still struggle): binge eating, isolating myself in my bedroom or apartment, seeking sexual encounters, picking at acne and ingrown hairs, ripping off my toenails, hours on end of social media. However the worst one of all (which I am only now conscious of) is the constant, persistant, endless negative and self-deprecating chatter in my head.
Just an aside, that I feel extremely vulnerable sharing these things with the outside world. In fact, the most difficult part of my struggles with depression has been accepting the fact that I am fucking struggling. Accepting the fact that I need help. Accepting the fact that, although I have had a really hard time managing this depression, I do not need to feel ashamed of it. It does not make me any less worthy of my own and others love (as I type this, I notice the little voice in my head trying to push through with some negative wisdom. Not today sucka!).
So I moved to Kingston in August 2016 to go back to school. I left my full-time job as a RN, I left my dad’s home, I left my family and friends, I left the city that I knew so well, and I left my boyfriend of now 3 weeks. I thought I had it pretty well together at that point. I mean, I was a year out from a burnout, I successfully prepped for a bodybuilding competition, I hadn’t taken any medication for depression in a few years, and I had a boyfriend (because lets face it – in my head, that was a huge indicator of success).
However it didn’t take long until I found myself in a pretty dark place (literally and figuratively). I lived in a tiny apartment with a “window” that faced a brick wall and offered only glimpses of natural light. I struggled so much with anxiety and panicked feelings about my lack of worth and ability to successfully complete this intense program. By November, I had gained a lot of weight, my apartment was a disaster, I spent all my time in bed, finding it hard to do things as simple as showering or brushing my teeth. That was all stuff I was used to though. And I would never let the outside world in on the embarassing state of my affairs.
What really bugged me though was when I started being unable to concentrate on school work. That was where I would draw the line. Maybe because that was something that I couldn’t hide from the world? Something that would sell me out as a pathetic, depressed, lazy individual. So I called my doctor and started back on antidepressants. “These are new!”, she reassured me, “And they will work really well to help with concentration and depression”. So I took them beccause, well, what else could I do?
The rest of the two years in Kingston pretty much went like that. I felt a bit better on the drugs; able to concentrate in school and maybe a little bit less emotional. I pushed myself to put a smile on when I left my apartment. I showed up 110% in school and in clinical. I would clean up my act when my boyfriend came to town (god forbid he got a real glimpse at the mess that I really was). Overall, I was pretty successful. I actually thought I felt pretty okay too.
Fast forward to September 2018 when I moved in with my boyfriend. I was so excited and happy to be starting this new chapter of life. “Everything will be better now” I told myself. However September to January were some of the toughest months ever. In retrospect, I see that it’s because I was no longer able to cope with my depression in the ways that I had previously been used to. I now shared a place with my boyfriend. I could no longer escape to my apartment to binge eat, sleep and pick at my body. It sounds so weird to say this but literally, those were my coping mechanisms. And I could no longer resort to those.
I fought so hard to keep it all together, put my best foot forward, and smile; because for God’s sake Michele, you have it all now. Just be happy.
But I wasn’t and it all came grumbling down in January at a vision board workshop (read my previous post for the dirty details ).
It’s been months now since I first stepped out of my own head. It has been slow progress. It has been uncomfortable. To actually share what is really going on inside my head and inside my world. With my friends, my family, my trainer, my life coach and most recently, my therapist. I realize that those two years in Kingston were really terrible because I spent SO much time alone, that all my thoughts and the conversations in my head went essentially unchecked for two full years.
I feel compassion now, for myself during that time. I felt angry at first. Mad that I let myself go down that dark path. Upset that I couldn’t just get my shit together. I actually still get moments where I feel angry. But slowly, those feelings were replaced with feelings of sadness. Sadness when I think of how freaking lonely I was and how much I suffered. And most recently, the sadness is slowy being replaced with compassion. I look back and realize that I did the best that I freaking could. I really did. And I survived.
As I continue to climb out from the deep, dark, depths of my head, things are becoming more clear. I understand myself better. I understand others better. I understand life a little better. I am not done climbing. But with each step up that I take, I gain confidence in my ability and strength to keep climbing and get over any obstacles that will cross my path. I am starting to believe again, that Power Lies Within Myself