Depression is something that affects many people in the United States every year, and I am no exception.
I am a statistic.
(Read more, as I understand this may be a trigger for some. I hope you read ahead if this is not a sensitive topic for you, as it was difficult to come clean.)
I’ve been going to therapy and counseling for at least five years now, sparked by my best friend’s suicide my freshman year of high school. I bounced around to a few different therapists, as it took me a while to find one that worked for me. At the time, my grief was overwhelming and I wanted nothing more than to make it go away. I didn’t want to draw pictures of my house and family like the one therapist wanted me to (lady, do I look seven? I want to talk about how to keep myself from downing a dozen pills like my best friend did.) I finally found a therapist that I really clicked with, pretty quickly, and she has been my go-to for about the last four and a half years.
Throughout the rest of high school, I struggled with my depression. Well, I struggled a lot with physical illnesses, which were terrible triggers for my depression. I had depressive episodes that seemed to creep around every corner, and they would hit me when I least expected them (or when I least wanted them to). The hardest part for me was seeing how happy everyone else was, and I thought that’s where I should have been too. I know others suffered, but they didn’t make it as apparent as I felt my depression was.
College was a bit of a different story. It was much easier to see my therapist, as I had my own car and her office is literally ten feet off of campus, probably less than three hundred feet from the music building. I went in a little more often than I had in high school, and I definitely needed it. I had quite a few relationship problems in the first few months, including getting out of an unhealthy one and a particularly devastating breakup with a good friend. I was also struggling a little bit to find my place in college, but that quickly became less of a problem.
But the depressive episodes continued. Though they seemed to just be another part of my daily life, I knew they were unhealthy. I made enough progress by the end of the school year, however, that my therapist and I agreed to just come back in on an as-need basis. I pretty much took the summer off from therapy, but I wound up back in her office quite often last fall.
I had sunken into the worst of my depressive episodes over the summer, mainly spurred by isolation and a jerk of a co-worker. I had no idea what to do, and I felt emptier than I had ever felt before. Even though marching band was fun, I still felt like I didn’t quite belong; I felt like I had to fake my happiness to be accepted by others, and it was hard to wear that face every day.
Especially hard for me were comments following Robin Williams’ death. I thought it would have been a great time for me to have open discussions with friends and family about my own depression, but I was shut down before I could even start. A good friend said something along the lines of “I just don’t understand depression. Like you’re just… unhappy? I get unhappy too. But then I get happy again. How can you be so sad that you kill yourself?”
That shut me up pretty quickly.
In fact, even today, I’ve opened up a little bit but still often refer to my medicine as ‘anxiety meds’ instead of an antidepressant, for the fear of the stigma attached.
Last fall semester, I finally made a choice for myself that was about five years coming: an antidepressant. I had been in a funk since the summer, sad and isolated and empty and… meh. Nothing could help, not my therapy, not my friends, not running, not academics. Everything felt totally worthless and meaningless. It got so bad that my procrastination escalated to a point I had never seen before, which led to anxiety and several panic attacks.
I was in the midst of my worst depressive episode ever.
I was referred to a psychiatrist’s assistant, and I had almost an hour-long appointment with her. I talked about my personal history with depression and anxiety, all my previous medical problems, my home life, my spirituality, my life at school. It was like the most draining interview I’ve ever had. When it was all said and done, I officially had a diagnosis on paper for the first time: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
We started immediately on a medication at half-dose (after my terrible luck with medications in the past). After a week, we bumped up to the full dose. And that Friday was probably the worst day of my life.
I feel emptier than ever before. I felt numb. I didn’t want to die, but I simply didn’t want to exist anymore. It was what should have been the most terrifying experience of my life, but instead I felt… nothing. I knew something was wrong, so I went to the counseling center on campus since I couldn’t get in touch with my doctor about what to do with my medication. I was two minutes late to a rehearsal (the day before a concert, nonetheless) but my director never questioned me about it. It was like he knew there was a damn good reason I was late.
I struggled through two concert ensemble rehearsals and dragged myself down to the football field for the last marching band rehearsal of the season. It was so difficult because I was just so detached from everything that was going on around me. Honestly, it was probably dangerous with the speed everyone around me was moving. Even when we did our post-rehearsal Barituba huddle, I didn’t feel a thing. I was surrounded by all these people who cared, and I couldn’t do anything.
Finally, as I was gathering my things to go home, I felt my phone ringing in my bag. I answered, and my doctor told me to immediately stop taking the medication. If the thoughts I was having were to persist, I was to get taken to the emergency room.
I never got to that point. I drove home (very carefully and very slowly) and sat on the couch with my mom until it was time to go to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I was okay. Not great, not good, but okay. Surviving.
I’ve been struggling with my medications since then. Some have helped with the symptoms but ruined my sleep patterns. I’ve lost fifteen pounds in about two months, which is odd considering I hadn’t lost any weight in the four months before that (even with marching band season in there). I took medication that ruined my sleep patterns and didn’t really help at all. I’ve dealt with issues with my psychiatrist and a terrible experience at one office, so I’m trying to find another before something goes wrong. It might even be at the point here shortly where I have to get off medication altogether. It’s been a roller coaster of annoyance and sadness and meh-ness, but I’ve survived.
And that’s all I can ask for.