Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Depression

If you have never truly struggled with your own mental health, it is almost impossible to grasp what it is like for others who are engulfed in their own struggle. Even if you have struggled, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the ongoing mental health battles of those around you. Unfortunately and often tragically, hindsight is 20/20.

I have watched someone close to me spiral into a deep hole that required hospitalization to dig out of, hospitalization that ultimately saved their life. I have watched someone I love struggle through untreated depression and classic signs of PTSD. I have now personally known 5 people who have committed suicide, the latest this month, a dear friend from high school and the first years of college.

There is nothing that can truly prepare you for the news that someone you love is gone unexpectedly. It is made all the more difficult when it is at their own hand. We second guess ourselves despite knowing there was often nothing we could have done, especially with those with whom we've lost touch.

For far too long I have been silent about my own depression. It began when I was in my early teens. Untreated for years, I struggled to understand why me. Why couldn't I pull myself out of it? My family, despite a history of depression and mental illness on my mother's side, never spoke openly about these things. It was a weakness to seek help. Counseling was considered pointless and a financial hurdle. It wasn't until I was in college that I realized how detrimental untreated depression was to my everyday life.

Over the years I have struggled with insomnia, anxiety, avoidance, poor coping mechanisms and motivation. It was not easy to complete my degree or do graduate work. I took a medical withdrawal one semester near the end of my college tenure that was as useful for my mental health as it was for my physical health. Healing after my spine surgery was slower and more difficult because of the depression that prevented me to get the rest my body needed. Chronic pain and depression go hand in hand; I am finally understanding this symbiosis. With the help of an amazing counselor, medication and friends who know the signs when I'm hopelessly falling into a depression that I can't recognize as it is happening to me, I am in control.

What I wish more than anything is that I would have been open about this with so many people I've encountered in my life. My story might have helped them. Each of us learn from our own experiences and it is so important that we share those lessons with those around us, particularly those who need to hear them most. Because I now see this importance, I have spoken recently with someone I care deeply for about depression and how hope is not out of reach. Those words should have come from me sooner. I can speak to depression, PTSD and anxiety in ways that someone who hasn't experienced them cannot. I can speak to the life events that can trigger periods of depression in a way that only those who have experienced chronic depression can. It's time I do that. And I am. 

Britt (1985-2016)
I hate that it has taken losing a dear friend and nearly losing a loved one to recognize the significance of talking about depression openly and honestly.

If you or someone you love struggles with depression, I encourage you to talk about it. Tell your story. Ask for help. Do not be ashamed. Do not blame yourself for something deeply rooted in your life experiences, an illness or even genetics.

What is in this moment is not ours to endure forever.