The first time I experienced depression I was 13. The cumulative effect of life’s woes took me to a place of despair that I could not understand or explain. Knowing that this wasn’t right, I hid these feelings and pretended I was fine.
Around 16 I got mono and these feelings became more pronounced. My mind began to shape the world into two realms. The one that “normal,” people existed in, and the one that I existed in that was dark and heavy. After a period of about a year where I didn’t leave my house, I once again got the strength to pretend and went about the actions of daily living.
I will tell you that my life was wild and crazy. My childhood was filled with hardships that would take me years to accept and even longer to forgive. For a long time, I would take this foundational dysfunction and unconsciously run my soul into the ground because I simply didn’t know any other way to be. That’s all a TV movie for another time.
I don’t know if I was depressed because of the conditions of my life, or because of the inherited tendencies from the people I came into the world with, but the fact remained that for decades I was on a lather, rinse, repeat cycle of destruction and difficulty, trying to drink away the hurt feelings, covering them up with anger.
I didn’t know I was depressed. I only knew that it was emotional pain. I thought I was the only one. My life followed the principles set by the Man In Black in the Princess Bride. “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The bottom line is that poor life decisions, plus low or imbalanced neurotransmitters are not an equation that can ever add up to happiness. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of misery until you decide to step outside of it. Although you may have made mistakes and poor choices that have contributed to your state of mind, you did so from a place of not yet understanding that these choices were available to you. Happiness doesn’t need to be an elusive concept for a chosen few- it is a birthright for everyone, and for some, it will take more work. The acceptance that I am one of those work-for-it people has brought me peace and understanding.
Part of my denial was an outright refusal to medicate. In the holistic circles that I lived my life within, there was a strong conversation about how antidepressants were bad, overprescribed, and unnecessary in most cases. Although I understand some of these conversations, I cannot express how dangerous these viewpoints are to people who genuinely need help. A walk in the fresh air and eating clean are both important pieces of health YES, but in a clinically depressed person, they will feel more like a failure when they try the advice of well-meaning folk, only to awaken with the same fog blanketing their existence each day.
A person who is experiencing hopelessness and/or worthlessness needs help. Today. Every day the stigma of depression and anxiety becomes less because of the courage and strength of those who have experienced either speaking out. Removing the secrecy and shame that has kept so many hidden will save lives and make this planet a better and happier place.
I will tell you that I lived through crippling pain and denial to realize a few decades in that I wasn’t actively doing anything to make it better. So, I cleaned up my diet, stopped drinking (don’t panic, this is what I needed for me, it’s different for all of us), took supplements, exercised, meditated, and tried to condition my thoughts positively. I got out in the sun, did liver cleanses, and colonic hydrotherapy (yep, I wanted to feel better that badly).
Did it help? Yes. Did it cure depression? No.
As a Health Coach, I like to look at the whole picture when someone is suffering. Food, sleep, health conditions, medical support, exercise, community, therapy, and faith. I’m not trying to convert you or tell you your business, but I would encourage you to look at 12 step programs- they tell you flat out that a belief in something greater than yourself is one of the greatest support systems possible. Laying your life, your worries, and your troubles down to God, the Universe, or whatever language gets you there is powerful in connecting to your purpose.
It was this faith and trust in God that got me to go to the doctor and to be honest for the first time. To ask for help. To prioritize my happiness before the happiness of others. Food, exercise, family, faith, and medicine- it took all these things to shift a life pattern that I had essentially given up on, it had been so long. I’m so glad I never gave up. I almost did a million times.
When I was 13 and contemplating actions that were so sad, I was driving with my mom and a Beatles song came on. In the chorus, it sang “Tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.” And this piece of verse came to me through my life many times and I didn’t know why, but I was drawn to it. It partly saved my life and brought me to a place where I can dance in the rain, and always, always, follow and bask in the sun.
It’s estimated that 264 million people globally suffer from depression. If you or someone you know is suffering you’re not alone. Tell someone you trust today, and reach out to your doctor. Call a hotline. You deserve help, you deserve happiness, and you deserve joy. If you’ve suffered, share your story, help destigmatize depression and anxiety and save a life by encouraging others to come forward. Live life in the light, we want to see you shine.
Never, ever, ever give up.