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My struggle with depression—and why it does get better

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My struggle with depression—and why it does get better

Graphic by Selina Ding

Graphic by Selina Ding

Graphic by Selina Ding

Graphic by Selina Ding


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The author is a male senior at Whitman. Warning: this article deals with sensitive topics including self-harm and suicide.

 

I’m “normal,” at least on paper. I have plenty of friends, am in a couple clubs and try to keep my grades up. I’m one of the people you pass in the halls or sit next to in class, but don’t really notice. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll reply “good” or “fine,” because I am—at least I am now. But inside, I harbor memories of my past of when things weren’t “fine,” and it seemed like there was no way out.

This was me, freshmen year.

Life was a terrible monotony. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, ever. Not in my classes, not in the hallways. I managed to go whole school days without talking to anyone. At lunch, I would sit alone in the middle of the cafeteria amid the buzz of conversation. That was always the worst part. While I sat with earbuds for company, I was surrounded by all these people who were laughing happily with their friends. I would get away from the situation by walking laps around the second or third floor. At the end of the day, I made a beeline for the bus to get home.

My time at home didn’t help. I rarely did my homework or studied. When I did my work, I did it last minute, because I just didn’t care enough or about life in general. In the evenings, I sat in my room, staring into space. It was like a jail cell to me. I wallowed in my own misery. Sometimes—if I worked up enough willpower—I would read a book, watch some TV or go on a walk.

Life itself was draining me. I felt exhausted in spite of consistently getting nine hours of sleep. It was a different kind of exhaustion. I never tried to stop this isolation because I was simply too tired to change.

At the same time, my mind was in a constant self destructive cycle. I was constantly afraid and paranoid. I was sure all of my classmates hated me, but at the same time I was sure none of them so much as noticed me at all. In my mind, I was the definition of a failure: an overweight piece of sh*t with no friends, no skills and nothing worthwhile. I was incredibly lonely and isolated, and the idea of spending time with a classmate outside of school or having a friend was foreign to me.

It was like I locked my brain in a tower with only negative thoughts for company. I never tried to come out of my cage, to make a friend or to do something new. My fear held me in check. It wasn’t worth it to try to make friends because I would inevitably fail, I thought. No one would want to be friends with someone like me. So I didn’t try. My inner monologue was worked against me, convincing me over and over again that there was no hope of success, only failure. It never stopped, that voice; it was a symphony in my head.

By November or so (the days have merged in my mind), I didn’t care anymore. I wanted to die and vanish off the face of the Earth so that I didn’t have to deal with the life I was living. This was a change for the worse. At the beginning I wasn’t suicidal. There were a few things holding me back; I was mostly worried about hurting my family. I just wanted to die in some accident like a sudden heart attack so that it was easier for them to cope. That way it wasn’t necessarily my choice. Around November, though, I remember not caring about classes I took sophomore year because I’d be dead by then. I became actively suicidal. I didn’t care what it took; I just didn’t want to exist.   

It all culminated one day in January. I was faking a sickness so that I didn’t have to go to school, like I’d done many times before. Then, for some reason, my brain decided slicing open my arm with a meat knife was a fine idea. I’m still not sure why I tried it. Maybe it was a suicide attempt, maybe it was an attempt at self-harm—I honestly can’t say. What I can say is that due to either a dull blade or a lack of weight on my part, the knife ended up not cutting through my skin, only leaving a small scar.

That was a turning point. I put the knife away, sat down, and dragged myself to school. The moment I tried to cut myself, I realized that I had a problem and needed to get some help.

I started seeing a therapist. It took a lot of effort to work up the courage to do so. I didn’t want my parents to know I was struggling—I didn’t want anyone to know. But it wasn’t an option anymore to not get help. I wasn’t ready to tell my parents yet, so while they knew I was seeing a therapist, they didn’t know why. I hated therapy, at least at the start. Talking to someone about my feelings for hours at a time, multiple times a week was the exact opposite of what I wanted. But over time I realized how much it was helping. I was forced to break out of my inner monologue and look at things from a more critical perspective. After a few months, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of living, but I wasn’t suicidal anymore. I started to see the upside to life.

I started talking more with other people, especially an old friend from elementary and middle school that was in a few of my classes. It helped my mental health a lot to restore a friendship. It also helped convince me that maybe my inner monologue was wrong and that I did have a chance at improving my situation. Someone, at least one person, liked me as a friend. And that fact proved a lot of my anxiety and paranoia wrong.   

It was a gradual process, dragging myself out of the deep hole I’d dug. It wasn’t one thing that did it or one revelation that broke the spell. It was a long, brutal grind of all the small things. Working out more, doing things after school, actually talking to people day after day. Slowly but surely life got better. Slowly but surely all those demons came out of my head. The recovery process took months, years even. I know my mental health issues will never go away, but they aren’t as pressing anymore. I made it out of the rock-bottom years. By the end of sophomore year, I was doing much better. And now, I sometimes go days without thinking about it.

I’m writing this as a senior, after a pretty uneventful junior year. I want to say a few things to the people who are in my old shoes, because I know you’re out there.

First, recognize your problems. If I realized that my thoughts were problematic from the start I would’ve been able to get help and recover sooner. If you have a problem, try to get help from a therapist, a friend, someone on a hotline, or anyone who’s willing to listen. That’s better than nothing. I know it’s hard and I know you won’t want to—but trust me—it’s worth it.

Second, it does get better. I know that sounds cliche, but it does. I didn’t think my life would get better, but it did. But life only gets better if you’re willing to improve it. You’re going to need a bit of courage on your part to get help. If I went back in time and showed my freshman self what I did this weekend he wouldn’t believe me. If I showed him my life he wouldn’t believe me. The concept of living an actually happy life would be absurd. Yet he was wrong, and I know your mind is wrong as hell too.

It also takes time. You can’t expect things to get better in a week, or even a month. It’s a gradual process. Slowly thinking better thoughts, slowly making friends, slowly breaking the stranglehold that these demons have on you will take time. Don’t get discouraged and give up if things aren’t immediately perfect. Just keep going.

At the same time, don’t get stuck on the past. Once you get out of this hole (and you will) you’re going to have some regrets. You’re going to wish you had that time back. I know I do. But that’s not possible, so don’t waste your time searching for those wasted years. Just keep your eyes looking ahead.

Finally, don’t search for perfection—it’s impossible. Things won’t ever be perfect. I still have to deal with occasional voices in my head, though never to the extent that I would consider it a serious issue. I’m still afraid to talk about it. My life isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. At the start of this process I thought I needed a perfect life to be happy. You don’t, and don’t set yourself up for future disappointment with that line of thinking.

I know that whoever is reading this and sees themselves in my shoes thinks that life sucks. It’s a living hell that you hate. I know that life is hard, but it won’t always be that way. But when you’re going through hell, keep going. You’ll pull yourself out eventually, no matter how hard the path.

 

2 Comments

2 Responses to “My struggle with depression—and why it does get better”

  1. Anonymous on December 8th, 2018 9:38 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. This was so shockingly similar to my experiences that it almost felt like someone else had written down my memories for me. People often appear as if they’re completely fine on the outside, but as you pointed out, things can be vastly different inside their heads. It must have been extremely difficult for you to write this all down, but the community is certainly better because of it.

    To everyone out there struggling with depression, it DOES get better, no matter how bad it is, and life is always worth living. Many people in our own community struggle with the exact same things, so know that you aren’t in it alone.

  2. Julie on December 8th, 2018 10:34 pm

    This was very heartfelt and beautifully written. Your words will help someone who was in your shoes. Thanks for writing this and if you’re ever feeling depressed please reread your words and know how strong you are.

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