I’ve tried to write this post multiple times before. I’ve never succeeded. I’ve never finished it, because I constantly worry that talking about my depression will make me seem petty or weak, that because I don’t have it as bad as some people, people won’t understand why I just can’t deal with this seemingly little problem. But I’m trying to overcome that, to recognize that my feelings — my mental health diagnosis — are completely valid, and I’m allowed to acknowledge them. My experience is mine, and I don’t have to compare it to anyone else’s. This story is mine to validate
(Illustrated by Gretchen Cutler from You’re the Worst, which has produced the most accurate TV story line about depression that I’ve seen)
Let me start at the beginning. When I was 14, my mom came home to find me curled up on the floor in a corner of my room sobbing. It was the third or fourth time that month that it had happened, but this was the first time she had found me. She asked me what was wrong, and I half-yelled through a runny nose and continuing tears that I didn’t know. I didn’t understand why I was crying, but it just kept happening. She told me to tell my doctor at my upcoming check-up. After more tears and trying to explain that just working up the will to do things was hard, my doctor put me on anti-depressants, and I started going to a counselor. I was lucky: No one wrote me off as just “moody” or hormonal or whatever other excuses people use to explain away mental illness in teen girls. I got the support I needed, and because of that, it didn’t get worse. The meds and the counseling helped. They really did. But once I felt “normal” again, I stopped going to the counselor. Once I felt “good” again, I stopped taking the antidepressants. And by the time I graduated high-school, I felt like I had my “issues” fixed.
But depression doesn’t just go away. It sits dormant for a while and then comes rushing back all at once. I suppose “rush” isn’t really the right word. It creeps in and slowly weighs me down. It did that most of junior year of college. Slowly, it crept back into my life, making it harder and harder to do things: to get out of bed, to go to class, to write papers, to see and talk to my friends. That was the first time I had felt like that in a long while. The crying bouts returned, and eventually I went back on anti-depressants to get through the end of the year. That winter I switched meds because the original meds I had been taking made me so tired that regaining the will to do things was cancelled out by not having the energy. I’ve been on those same meds ever since. Sometimes I try to stop taking them because I think I feel okay, but it never sticks. And since I’ve moved to New York, the spaces between bad bouts have gotten shorter. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m in this city, or maybe because I’m getting older. But I’m not going to try to rationalize it. That doesn’t work for me.
I’ve had three really bad periods since I moved here. The first one was in my first six weeks in New York. I hadn’t started school yet and spent a lot of time lying on the floor of the tiny apartment I was sharing with three other people trying not to cry, and failing. I would have mild anxiety attacks on the subway; I’d start shaking and not be able to think straight, sometimes hyperventilate. It got better, slowly. I made friends and had people I could open up to. I took my medicine on a regular basis. I worked through it. Funnily enough, Hurricane Sandy hitting actually helped. It distracted me.
The second period was two years ago. It began when I forced myself to go to a friend’s birthday party, even though I had a panic attack on the steps of my apartment building as I was leaving. I was shaking and hyperventilating and crying, but I told myself that I should be able to support my friend on her birthday. My body was telling me not to try and interact with people or the world, but I tried to ignore it, to push past it. I ended up bursting into tears at said party and making a quick exit. Thankfully, my friend understood. She had gone through similar struggles, so she got that sometimes you don’t get to choose when you’re high-functioning and when you just can’t. That particular period culminated a few months later with my crying through a fight with my mom at a brewery in Portland.
Then there was last week, in which the crying bouts that had haunted my teen years came back in full force. A lot of things are changing at my job right now, and I tried to chock it up to that. But the truth is, I’ve felt it coming for a while. I’ve tried to keep taking my meds and maintaining self-care strategies that have worked for me in the past. But something just broke, and all the crying I’d been holding in until I got home or ducked into a bathroom stall came pouring out of me. I cried at my desk four times last week, prompting my co-workers to ask what was wrong. I answered that I was fine, it’s just a bad week, a bad month. And most people just chock it up to the changes that are happening around me, which is fine. But I know it’s not going to go away once the dust settles.
And that’s the most important discovery I’ve had to make, and accept, about my depression: It doesn’t just go away. Even when I feel okay or good or great, it’s always there, in the background. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I have to be the one to keep it in its place. Which is hard. Just thinking about finding a therapist in this city sends me into a whole anxiety spiral. That’s the issue, really —that taking steps to treat myself long-term makes everything worse in the moment.
It’s not that I’m unhappy with my life. I think that’s important to say. I really, really love my life right now. I’m in a great place with great friends and a supportive family. I’m so lucky, in so many ways. But my depression doesn’t care about that. It does what it wants. It doesn’t care that my birthday is soon, or that I’m supposed to get drinks with friends. My depression doesn’t give a shit about my plans. I’m not going to be able to just snap out of it when I’m in that place. And I’m working to treat it, to keep it where I need it to be, I can’t win depression, I can’t beat it, but I can manage it. But it’s a long process, and a hard one, and some days it’s just too much.
I’ve been wanting to write this for a while — to share with Z&S the thing that makes writing for this blog hard for me sometimes. This is part of me, and of my life here in the city. Maybe it doesn’t totally fit into the theme of the blog, but as usual with New York life, we make the pieces fit the puzzle, not the other way around. I’m happy that this feels like a safe enough space that I can talk about it. I’m glad to have created that in my life.