I have been depressed for a long time. I’m not 100% sure when it started; sometime in my early teens. I have spent over a decade of my life dealing with this insidious disease, and I think, after a while, it became part of my identity.
I mean, of course it did, right? Depression isn’t a quirky habit that you pick up and then drop a few months later, it isn’t something that you try on and then decide isn’t right for you. It is something that you don’t get to pick. For a long time, I thought it was my own fault that I was depressed. That I couldn’t “just choose to be happy” like so many people desperately wanted me to.
A little part of me kind of … liked it. I felt like being depressed made me a special snowflake, somehow. I felt like it made me a little bit different. Like no one could understand my special brand of pain because I was depressed.
I hate being depressed, don’t get me wrong. It is awful. Feeling hopeless, like life isn’t worth living, even when your life is actually great, is one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had. To look around you and know, intellectually, that you are damn lucky, but to still feel like you’re living in a pit of despair is a war zone of guilt and agony. How dare I be unhappy when I have so much? It’s terrible. Which makes me feel even worse to think that some part of me wanted the depression to stick around for a while longer so I could continue thinking that I was special. But depression is not a simple problem, and deeply ingrained thought processes are not so easy to change, and I am learning to cut myself some slack.
Six years ago, my doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I carried that prescription around in my wallet for a long time. Months. Eventually, I lost it. (Maybe on purpose, I don’t know.) I never did fill it. I had a vehement opinion about taking medication; it was great and life-saving and life-changing for other people, but it wasn’t for me. More than any other aspect, in my mind, depression had come to define me. Maybe I was afraid of giving that up. Maybe I was afraid that being happy because of a pill meant that I was fundamentally broken, and that I would be living a lie; like, “I’d rather be myself and miserable, than be happy and fake.” I never could quite parse out why I was so resistant to the idea of medication.
Fast forward six years. I have been battling depression for all of those six years. On and off. I have done yoga and exercised daily, changed my eating habits for the better, started getting enough sleep. I have practiced meditation and gone into therapy. I kept a gratitude journal and practiced bringing mindfulness into my life. I changed careers. All of these things worked, for a little while. But, inevitably, I would end up right back there in that pit of despair. I think it turned into a kind of hubris, believing that I could do it on my own, that I had to do it on my own, even long after it became clear that I could not do it on my own.
And so, a few weeks ago, while laying in bed, tears soaking my face, I said to Bryan, “No matter what I do, I always end up back here.” There was a pause. “Maybe I need to try medication.”
Last week I went to my doctor. She asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms, how I was feeling, what life was like for me right now. She flipped back through her notes. She said, “The first time we talked about this was in 2009.” Flip flip flip. “Then again in 2011.” Flip. “And 2013.” I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had thought that dealing with it on my own made me stronger or something, healing myself by myself. Like I wore my constant suffering and struggle like a merit badge. She closed my file, laid her hand on top of it, fixed me with a kind smile. “You have done enough on your own.”
I had to get here on my own. I spent a lot of time over the past 13 or so years suffering. But I made a lot of healthy changes in my life too in order to help with it. And there is no one in the world that could have said to me, “You have to take this medication. This is the right and only way.”
I’m willing to try it now. I am willing to see if it will help. I am willing to see if there is the possibility that I will not have to suffer with this illness for the rest of my life, a belief that has plagued me for years. Every day now I take a little white pill, and I stare at my reflection, try to see if I feel any different.
It has only been six days, but I am seeing a difference: for the first time in a long time, I feel real hope.