I want to start this article by telling you, the reader, a little bit about myself. I am a part-time model, an online writer, and an aspiring psychology/ business major. I’m athletic and love playing sports, I am physically healthy, I have an amazingly supportive family, an incredible network of friends, and the most devoted and amazing boyfriend I could ever wish for. I am a middle class, Canadian citizen who has never experienced significant trauma. So why do I battle with depression? Because depression doesn’t care about your life. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s an illness. It doesn’t care about how well or how badly your life is going, and no, it doesn’t make me ungrateful for the wonderful life I have. battle with depression
Depression is an illness, it can’t listen to how badly it hurts you when you silently scream and cry alone at night, covering your mouth to stifle any noise so you won’t disturb the sleep of your sister in the next room. Much like how you cannot imagine what loss fells like if you have never lost a loved one, people who have never had depression can sympathize with those they know who are facing depression, but they cannot empathize with it – they don’t know how it actually feels. my Battle With Depression
But that doesn’t mean you can’t help if you know someone who is depressed. I can’t tell you what they are going through, or how they feel – such is a curse of this illness; it is unique to each sufferer. There are so many things I would like to tell the parents of a depressed child – how different love feels, that odd feeling like we’re missing something and have no idea what is, and the guilt that sits inside of us like a weight. There are so many things I could say about depression, how it gets better, but I can’t say that for sure. Some depression is gone in a matter of weeks, some is chronic – it can last years, or a lifetime, so no, I can’t promise that it will get better, because I will not say such empty words.
Depression can lead to suicide. It can lead to a person putting themselves in dangerous situations, hurting themselves, or closing themselves off to people and activities they once enjoyed. Depression is confusing; it hurts its victim and everyone around them. When someone is diagnosed with depression, it is easy to see it as a permanent condition, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The reason for these labels is that they define a condition in need of treating. That doesn’t mean depression is hopeless – illnesses can be treated. Speaking from my own experience, one which I have kept uncommonly private, fought through, and gotten into fights about, here are some things I wish I could tell my parents about my depression.
I did not self-harm for very long, but I did go through a brief period of self-harm in my last year of high school. It would happen late at night, while everyone was sleeping, with my bedroom door closed. I became proficient at crying completely silently, and there was no mess to clean up, as I never bled very much. Everyone slept through the night, and I, a bit tired from lack of sleep, would simply drink my coffee and pretend nothing had happened. The injuries I inflicted were on my back – a place where I already had a few freckles, birthmarks, and stretch marks.
Even though there were fresh bruises and scars from my routine self-harm, I was very, very good at covering them up. I made sure I injured my back because no one could see it. I had a uniform at school, and at home and work I could easily cover my back, especially the centre and lower back, which was more hurt than the top of my back, where my shirt could easily slip down and reveal splotchy purple skin. My self-harm, despite occurring more than a year ago, has left a few marks, and continues to be a source of personal shame. I still hate that girl who hurt herself.
Thankfully, with all of the stretch marks on my back, no one knows I actually have some self-inflicted scars. But when I was harming there were signs. I would jump back whenever anyone tried to wrap an arm around me, my hugs were looser than usual, or cringe if someone patted me on the back, or react to noises like a belt snapping, I sometimes rubbed my sides unconsciously, and my muscles were often sore, especially when I had to stretch or perform athletically.
I tried to hide these signs as much as I could. And control my flinching and wincing, so I do not blame my parents for not knowing I self-harmed. Eventually I broke down and admitted that I hurt myself. My parents were shocked, they had difficulties accepting this, and began to check in one me much more – when my door was closed, late in the evening, and started noticing my little body pains. My self-harm was unconventional, and in a place I could easily hide the bruises on my body, but knowing the signs of self-harm is very important.
Self-harm for me also had nothing to do with suicide. I was so numb – to myself, to the world around me and I didn’t care about getting into university. I just kept working hard because I could shove myself aside and pour all of my energy into something productive. If I exhausted myself enough, I could just f all into a dreamless sleep, and wake up and exhaust myself again. I didn’t have to make time for anything else. And I didn’t have to care about myself if I could prioritize something I was made to think was more important.
I didn’t enjoy sports or fashion anymore. I didn’t enjoy much of anything; least of all waking up and going to a school that policed how I dressed, how I thought, what I wrote and when I wrote it – a system that told me when I could take interest in which topics, that forced me into a mold of school, job, retirement, with no way around this cycle. School told me when I was allowed to express which emotions, when I could eat, when I could alleviate myself.
I hated the pity in the eyes of the counsellors the school sent me to – their soft voices and careful questions, the way they would, more often than not, take me back inside to talk about my problems if I ran outside, and always had to know where I was when I craved privacy. It had me longing to run away from the school grounds and not come back. I took more sick days than I ever had in my last year of high school.
There were parts of school that I loved – a lot of teachers were very understanding if I suddenly left class for a long time –professor I who never taught me once saw me hiding and brought me tissues, and didn’t ask me any personal questions. I did have suicidal fantasies, but I never really had the drive to act on them. Even though suicidal thoughts of any kind are dangerous, there is a difference between suicidal thoughts and intentions.
2. I may need help with my eating, and trust me, I already feel awful about my lack of self care.
I got into a lot of heated debates with my mom about my eating. Depression often creates habits, and one of those was the fact that I almost stopped eating. My mom was concerned, as any caring parent would be. But instead of constructively making an eating schedule, or keeping snacks around, we would end up in battles about how I wasn’t eating enough to support my body. These arguments were a constant source of stress and embarrassment for me. My mother constantly tried to ask how she could help before becoming frustrated, but the truth was I had no idea how she could help me. I didn’t even know how to help myself.
Owing to the fact that I had previously struggled with my eating, my parents became increasingly concerned about my lack of eating . I constantly played sports, had busy days full of classes, and had long commutes if I wanted to go home for the weekend. When I was home from university, they noticed that my eating habits were erratic. And I rarely ate as much as I was supposed to. I have always been underweight. They were very concerned that with my surplus of physical activity and stress, I wasn’t giving my body the nutrients it needed to cope with my schedule.
They were right. I would never admit it. Because my parents are absolutely amazing and supportive. They even helped me buy groceries to make sure I had healthy food to eat. But almost every night I barely made enough dinner to eat considering I saved most of it for leftovers. Nearly every night I went to bed hungry. Even though I had the available resources to never go to bed hungry. I ruined my diet because I was too depressed to function normally.
3. Please, don’t get tired of telling me I don’t have to be sorry – no matter what anyone says, I will always blame myself.
I know it can be annoying or redundant to keep telling someone that depression isn’t their fault. That saying “it’s ok” a thousand times a day when I say “I am sorry I am so messed up, I am sorry I am like this”. I need to hear it. I feel so guilty for the way I feel that I constantly need to be reassured that I have love and support around me. Depression causes a massive amount of anxiety, self-loathing, and misery, so yes, I do need a little bit of consoling. I will never come out and say this, because of my guilt. It feels selfish to need extended support. I certainly do not want a “pity party.” I am surviving through my depression as best I can. A little support goes a long way.
No matter how often you tell me it isn’t, I may always feel like my depression is, to some extent, my fault. I will always feel guilty for bowing out of social gatherings, spending so much time in my room, away from people who care about me, and feeling as though I can’t express love. Depression doesn’t always mean sadness, either. It means anxiety, self-loathing, and a lack of confidence, guilt, anger, and a lot of avoidance. It can be so easy to agitate someone over nothing, there are days when I cry for no reason, or get agitated for no reason, at the tip of a hat. Some days I can explain what has made me upset, and some days I can’t. I will never stop feeling guilty about all of the isolation and anger. It is now a part of me and I hate it.
4. Love is different when I am depressed.
You may feel full of love for me. I love you more than I can express, but with depression my emotions often feel dull, like watching paint dry. It is so hard to love when you feel empty. Even though I still love my family with all of my heart, loving in sadness is so different loving in happiness. Love amidst sadness feels subdued and quiet. So I still crave the strong, vibrant love I remember feeling before my depression set in.
This can make it feel like my emotions aren’t valid, or are weaker than they should be, even though my emotions are just different. Your unending support and patience means a lot to me, and helps me feel comfortable about my own self-worth. Crying is also a very good sign when I am depressed – when I am crying it means I am still capable of acknowledging, and feeling my emotions strongly. If I am too tired to cry, I usually feel a numb kind of void where my emotions once were. Although it is difficult to explain, this is a much more difficult sensation to cope with. When I feel numb is when I fantasize the most about death. And when I feel like going back to self-harm could be a valid option.
5. I never used to sleep in.
As someone that has constantly been accompanied by anxiety and OCD, my behaviour is championed by routine. As a child, I used to love getting up early, and having the whole, long day ahead of me. I am usually up by 7:30-8:15, and feel guilty/ anxious when I sleep in. Even in summer, if I have the day off of work, and nothing to do, sleeping in always feels like an absolute waste of time.
Now though, I have settled into a habit that perturbs me – lately, I have been sleeping in until just past 9 am, which is later than I have ever slept in – even when I had the flu, or had a day off. My sleep is a mess – some nights I am up late, and rise early, and I barely sleep. Some days I want to sleep until a better day comes along, and this has made me into a very erratic sleeper. Depression often makes people tired, and messes up even the most disciplined sleeping schedules. So yes, sleeping in may become a bit more common.
6. All of my mental health disorders play a role.
I have not only depression, but anxiety and OCD as well. When my depression is worse, I become more anxious. When my anxiety kicks in, I cling to whatever I can control. And my OCD kicks in, making pointless routines, superstitions, and behaviours so I can feel in control.
The extended time I put into my OCD is exhausting. It makes me feel anxious when people see my acting on my compulsions. A lot of my energy is devoted to my compulsions, and pretending I have my compulsions under control. This drains me, so I feel more depressed again. All of my mental health problems exist in tandem, and they each feed into each other. This makes it difficult to separate specific behaviours as being caused by my OCD, or my anxiety, or depression. Because most behaviour are created by a combination of my mental disorders acting as one giant mental health block.
7. When I tell you I need help, I usually say it too late.
I take full responsibility for this one. My parents always ask me if I need to see a counsellor, or need therapy for my disorders, if there is a friend I can talk to, how they can help, if my medication is working. They try so hard to allow me to feel comfortable being honest with them about my health.
The thing is, when I eventually end up asking if they have the contact information for me to see my counsellor again, or talk to my doctor, I am at my wit’s end. I am extremely private about my mental health, so a doctor is the absolute last resort. Going back to my guilt, I always feel like I need to be the solution to my depression – to heal myself, and manage myself without any help, because asking for help is a sign of weakness. It requires other people to take care of me, and this could make other people tired or anxious, and I do not want to push my emotions onto them.
I always wait until I am at my worst to ask for help. Because asking for help makes me feel stupid. It has become my desperate, last-ditch attempt at fixing my problems. I know that getting help even when I feel better, to better manage my worst points, would be the best way to go about managing my depression. Even though I always feel like therapy is a waste of time if I do not feel as bad as I possibly can. I need to work on seeking constant help to make my best days as good as I can make them, and make my worst days more controllable.
8. Depression is a cycle.
Like a business cycle, an ocean wave, or the phases of the moon, depression is a cycle. There is a slowdown before my lowest point, a time of worsening when I finally hit my lowest point. And a long period of recovery as my health rises to its’ peak. This is a place where I feel best, and then it drops again until I hit rock bottom. The time this cycle takes varies. It is hard for me to tell when I am recovering, because the low points feel so awful. It takes the most time for me to climb out of a low point and go into recovery mode. When I slow down again after my peak I never know how long it will take me to hit rock bottom. I always have an impending sense of doom that leaves me very anxious.
9. I am working my hardest, I promise.
If you ask me to ride a bike, I can do that, no problem. If, while I am biking, I meet uneven terrain, my ride becomes harder. Being faced with scorching sun, no water, and not knowing when I will be able to stop makes biking hard. If you give me weights to carry while I bike, and keep telling me to watch out for turtles, the weights will slow me down. And when I do not see the turtles immediately, I will become increasingly anxious about the fact that they may show up on the road and interrupt me. Biking sounds simple, but can easily become much more difficult. This is what depression is like.
If everyone were biking, depression would be the added challenge of the harsh sun, or the terrain. Other people may not notice, and can handle this easily, but I cannot. I have tasks that I have to complete. But they are made harder if my plans change and I have to adjust, or if external conditions challenge me. Some days, the sky could be clear and the weather warm and inviting, the terrain flat and even, and I still won’t be able to get on the bike. When a person is depressed, everything could seem to be going well, and they will still be depressed. The fact is, you no matter how easy or hard your own bike ride is, you have no idea what my bike ride is like. It is hard to deal with change, and hard to deal with life.
I am still trying my absolute best to get good grades, stay healthy, be social, get enough sleep, manage my stress, keep in touch with friends, etc. Even little things like calling home can make me anxious, and add up to become very taxing. If I feel too tasked, I may give up on everything. Or let a lot of little things slide, and these add up eventually. So please don’t be surprised if my grades change, or my routine changes, it is just me coping with depression.
10. Please never – EVER – laugh at whatever inspires me to keep going.
I know you don’t get anime, but I love it. One of the people that kept me going even when I wanted to die is someone I will never meet. I will never talk to, and never forget, Erza Scarlet from Fairytail. A fiery redheaded wizard who fought to protect her friends, had rock-hard morals, and wasn’t afraid to express her confidence in her appearance and skills. Erza always went out of her way to help other people; even she had to die to do it.
Erza’s backstory is very unique. She was enlisted into slavery as a child, and accidentally discovered her magic abilities when the only parental figure she had was killed. Erza was raised in extremely harsh conditions, abused, and the device she was forced to work on was a device of terror. It caused her to lose friends, and would prove to be the destruction of people she loved. Erza tried to always make friends, and protect people. This was regardless of if she loved or hated them, and show unyielding mercy and kindness to her enemies.
She didn’t need to be the strongest wizard, she was happy being strong enough to protect her friends. Even if she was never recognized for it. And admits to constantly relying on others to make her stronger. Despite going through so much, and having justifiable emotional pain, Erza is one of the strongest characters in the series. In all of her strength though, she cried alone too many times to count.
Eventually, Erza realizes that crying doesn’t make her weak, and learns to open up to her friends. It was that crying alone, that feeling of pathetic weakness that I could relate to in Erza. In her fears of letting others down, in her night spent weeping I saw myself in her. Erza was me, in a strange way. I felt her pain in my own when I felt like I was letting down others. Or felt like I was a burden.
The point is that so many things – characters, books, songs – inspired me and kept me going. All of these characters and artistic expressions taught me something that I really value. So please accept my fictional heroes, no matter who they are.
(Shout out to Arren – an inspiration of mine – from Tales from Earthsea)
I know this post sounds extremely pessimistic. I have just told the tale of a young woman who can barely get up in the morning. She cries alone at night, and barely sleeps, eats, or goes outside. Her behaviour hurts other people, which hurts her and drags her deeper into a cycle of emotional turmoil. Some days I feel nothing at all, and some days I feel so much that I am overwhelmed. I am sure reading this has overwhelmed some of you. Thank you – to anyone still reading this – for getting this far. The thing is, no matter who sticks it out with us, when they leave, we are still stuck with this horrible illness. We are always stuck with ourselves. And if you hate yourself, of course you will constantly be looking for a way to escape, even if it hurts.
There is one side of depression I still haven’t mentioned. Even if it is a horrible illness, there is a sick kind of beauty in it. Depression has made me appreciate my supporters even more. I love in a way that feels new. When I feel anything, I feel all of my emotions in a melancholy, Saturday-morning kind of way; they are quiet and soft, and beautiful. Even though I get tired of being melancholy, it makes those quick sparks of love, joy, and creativity I used to feel so often feel special.
I see beauty in the ugliest things and in the saddest of faces. I see the world in a way that I have never seen before. And I help more people. I am more sympathetic, and caring, and cautious. So many artists have used their experiences with depression to create charity initiatives to aid efforts centered on mental illness. The more we talk about it, the less scary depression seems. I hope all this talking means that the next generation of depressed teenagers can endure less bullying and misinterpretation. And are able to get the help they need to survive their illness.
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