The Unpopular Aspects of Depression

Please be advised this article contains information about mental illness, self-harm, and suicide.

People don’t like to talk about the dark parts of depression. All you see on the Internet are pretty girls curled up in bed, crying and listening to sad music. People will post on Twitter, “Oh my god, I’m so depressed I got a C on my final exam.” Not only is this insensitive to people actually suffering from mental illness, but it generalizes symptoms of depression and makes them insignificant.

I was sixteen years old when I had my first depressive episode. My mother was in the hospital—I can’t remember what for, now—and I had a panic attack when my father told me. I couldn’t breathe, and it felt like my world was disappearing into a black abyss before my eyes. I didn’t eat for days and couldn’t sleep longer than a few hours at a time.

This pattern continued even after my mother came home. Things seemed to settle during my senior year of high school. I stayed busy with extracurriculars, I was taking classes that interested me, and I learned a lot about myself while applying to colleges. I still fell into some dark places, but I was pulled back out by friends and was throwing myself into theatre and tech work.

But it wasn’t enough.

I lived on campus at my university for my entire freshman year. I went to frat parties, I had an awesome group of friends, I kept my dorm clean, and I was studying harder than ever. I should have been having the time of my life.

What no one knew was that every night, after my roommate was asleep or at a friend’s place, I would cry myself into exhaustion. I felt nothing but emptiness. When I was having lunch with my girlfriends I would laugh and tell jokes, but I was feeling nothing. When I would talk to my boyfriend, Steven, on the phone I would tell him I loved him, but inside I felt empty.

I was ashamed. I was self harming, I was listening to the same music on repeat for hours, I was taking hour-long showers just to drown out the sounds of my crying. I was keeping to myself and going out less and less.

My parents and Steven had no idea how bad it had gotten. They knew I was feeling down, but they assumed I was homesick. Since I didn’t have a car on campus, my dad and Steven took turns driving me home every Friday evening and back every Monday morning.

I made excuses. I needed to do laundry, my sister had a dance competition that I wanted to attend, I missed my dog. It was all a cover-up. I couldn’t be at school. I couldn’t be alone there with my thoughts. But every Monday morning would come, and I would get myself so worked up that I would be physically sick.

It wasn’t until spring break that I finally told my mom that I was harming myself and having thoughts of suicide. With a history of mental illness, she launched herself into research with my dad. They looked for the best available young adult therapist in the state. We finally found someone taking new clients.

She suggested I see a psychiatrist, and I started seeing a doctor who really understood and respected me. Things were looking up.

I tried to be candid with my family and my boyfriend, but telling the truth about how you feel can be really hardespecially when mental health is so widely disregarded.

In March of 2018, I was feeling more alone than ever. Steven and I were living on our own in an apartment that we could afford, with a dog that we adored, and steady jobs and school. I was texting my mom every single dayusually multiple times a dayabout how I wanted to hurt myself. How I was too scared to get in my car to drive to school. How I would sit and cry and watch Netflix specials and eat three pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in twenty minutes just so I could feel something. How I couldn’t talk to Steven because I didn’t want to upset him.

I was hiding. I was closing myself off again. And behind closed doors I was broken again. I was worthless again. I was self-harming again.

Even after my psychiatrist recommended me to the best psychological health facility in the state, I was hiding. I didn’t tell anyone. The only people who knew were my parents, my boyfriend, and my two closest friends. Not even my grandparents knew until I had been there for a few days. I felt guilty for causing my parents so much heartache, and I felt shameful for staying inpatient at a hospital because I didn’t feel safe on my own.

But here’s what’s amazing: shame goes away if you tell it to. I spent eight days and seven nights inpatient, and six weeks in an intensive outpatient program. I learned that it is okay to be open about my illness. In fact, it was crucial that I was open about my illness. If I wasn’t honest with my doctors, with my caregivers, or with myself, I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

My metaphorically boarded-up doors were being taken down piece by piece. I was learning more about my disorder. I learned I had a team of experts at my disposal whenever I needed them.

My journey through Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder has been a continuous uphill battle. But the most important thing I took away from my stay in a mental health facility is this:

Even your bad days are one step closer to getting better.

Even when you feel hopeless and helpless, as long as you’re trying, you’re making progress. That’s what matters. That’s what counts.

If you are feeling unsafe or having harmful thoughts, please reach out to someone you trust. It can be a primary care doctor, a teacher, a friend, an auntjust make sure someone knows how you are feeling. And if you don’t have an adult in your life whom you can trust, consult the internet. There are countless apps, websites, and phone numbers for free (or very, very affordable) hotlines and safe spaces. I looked up a text line and it was life-saving. Whenever I felt really low, say, at three in the morning when my mom would have been asleep, I texted the hotline and they helped me understand why I was feeling this way and what I could do to distract myself from the paralyzing thoughts.

Mental illnesses are designed to make you feel unlovable and shameful. But you are in charge of you. Don’t let your mental illness tell you you’re worthless.

By Megan Clark

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