My earliest memories of depression were in middle school. I didn’t know that’s what it was at that time, but I knew that these recurring bad feelings didn’t go away. I didn’t have many friends and felt awkward. I didn’t know what to do with myself. If anyone has suggested it, I would have ignored it. But one thing I did know: I always had a problem.
High school came and depression continued, without me really knowing or acknowledging it. I just thought I was a high schooler, and the angst came with it. The word came up a few times: depression. But I scoffed and said that anyone who was depressed was making it all up in their head and that there was no way it was a chemical thing. People did suggest that maybe I was depressed. But I still ignored it. What I did know: I needed people too much.
I have very specific memories of going to high school football games and standing on the outskirts of my friend group, silent, depressed, hoping someone would notice. But no one ever did.
My junior year marked when the depression started to persist more. I maybe toyed with the idea that I had depression, but I felt like I needed to just get over it. I had nothing to be depressed about.
But my friend group was the key to my happiness. So when they, who were all a year older than me, left for college, I got very depressed. I started having suicidal thoughts. I thought my life wasn’t worth living and everyone would be better off if I were gone. At this point I knew I struggled with depression, but it wasn’t a possibility to me that I could get help. I just had to deal with it. I wasn’t super comfortable with it. I started making plans of how I would do it. But even then, I didn’t want to do it. But I felt alone, scared, everything was too much to handle, I had no support system.
In April of my senior year, I was very depressed. I questioned if I even believed in God. I wondered if life was worth living if I didn’t have my faith. I told that to my best friend at the time, and she asked if I was suicidal. I stared at my phone for probably ten minutes debating what to say, feeling dizzy, feeling like I could barely breathe. Do I tell her the truth? Or do I just lie? I wondered. I told her the truth. I said I was thinking about it but I wouldn’t act on it. A few days later, she told someone at my church who made me tell my parents. It could not have come at a more hectic time, but I’m alive because of it.
That’s what I refer to as my first suicidal period. There have been two in my life.
If I had to think of one sentence to summarize my life message, that includes what I’m all about and what I’ve gone through, this is what it would be: Depression doesn’t get to win.
That is the question that Dear World poses: what would you say? What’s your story? Then you write that message on your body and they take portraits.
I stumbled upon an event, that Student Involvement was hosting Dear World, through an email we get every week about what’s going on at Nebraska. I thought it was really cool. I wondered, what I would say? Although I didn’t know the exact message, I knew it would be about depression. I had two different messages in mind, but the day of, I knew which one I wanted.
I thought I worked through the depression. Things got better that summer. I went to college and it came back. I dealt with it the best I could, but I still didn’t think it was a possibility to treat it. The summer after my freshman year I met some people who were open about their struggle, who were Christians but still took medication and went to therapy. I started to open myself up to the idea of it, and decided when I got back to campus I would try it. I went to the school counseling center and they paired me with a male counselor. It was super awkward for me so I stopped going after three sessions. I was feeling better, after all.
But depression came back.
Around January of my sophomore year of college, I started thinking about antidepressants. I had been trying so hard to fight depression and it was still there, so maybe it was chemical. I felt relieved at that thought. I talked to some friends to see if I was making the right decision and one of them had found a counselor for me. So I started seeing her.
So started a new season of my life, of healing, but it sure didn’t seem like it at first. Because I started becoming aware of all of the faulty thought patterns and bad habits I had.
Why that phrase? I thought through “Depression won’t win,” and thoughts alike. There are so many times I thought depression would win. There are so many times where I felt so beaten up, so empty, so weakened by depression. There are so many times I’ve asked myself, Will I ever beat depression? There were times of uncertainty about whether I wanted to live. There were times of so much doubt in myself, of so much weakness.
But I made it through the really rough patches. Through the hard work I did in therapy I learned to fight. I also learned that the fight is harder at some times, and that sometimes I can only muster a tiny amount of fight. But that is enough.
I learned that depression is a big bully that makes you feel really small. It makes you feel like no one cares about you, and it tricks you into thinking that no one would care if you were gone. It transforms your thinking, envelops you in lies, so much so that you think the lies are actually truth.
In the newest season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy starts therapy. She tells her landlord and roommate before her first session, “Take a good look at me! The next time you see me, I’ll be totally normal!”
I have to admit, I laughed a lot at that. I wish it were that way. I think we all do. The truth is, therapy doesn’t work like that. In fact, I felt like I was making absolutely no progress for about the first few months, and I was only growing more frustrated. What was really going on was that I was beginning to see and understand my thought patterns. My therapist told me that awareness is the first step.
Apart from that, I can’t tell you any certain milestones. I remember for a while, my therapist would tell me in every session that it’s okay that I’m not okay, that it’s a process. Slowly, I began to start changing those thought patterns. It was only in really little ways. I would say something and my therapist would point out how that was different than what I would normally think. She would celebrate the victories, sometimes more than me.
It was not a quick process. I have been in therapy for over three years, and I’m still working. I still fall victim to faulty thought patterns. It has been a process full of stumbles and scrapes, and times where depression still had a large influence on me. But depression has not won, because I am still alive.
There is no way I can summarize three years of therapy and my life in a (comparatively) short blog post. The process has been really long. It has been really frustrating at times. It’s been a lot of back and forth, and definitely not linear.
But depression doesn’t get to win. It doesn’t get to win because, although I still may feel depressed sometimes, it doesn’t take away my will to live. I want to be alive now. Before in the really dark time of my sophomore year of college, I couldn’t say that. It doesn’t get to win because I won’t let it win. Because I’m not giving up. I have made so much progress through therapy and I continue to.
I still stumble sometimes, of course. Just yesterday I was in a certain panic mode, feeling depressed, because I wasn’t far enough on a project. I didn’t handle it the best way. But the important thing is that I handled it. I got through it.
I believe there is an incredibly unhealthy stigma around depression. It is harmful. It tells people that they’re weird or defective if they struggle with depression, or any other mental illness. It tells people that it’s not okay to ask for help. Because of this, people hide their struggle, and many go on to commit suicide.
I was almost one of those people. I was a victim to this stigma. I have imposed it on myself many times, and sometimes I still do.
It’s because of this that I knew that I would write something about depression on my arms. I am open about my depression because I don’t want others to feel the stigma that I’ve felt. I want people to know that it will get better, although I know that when you’re in the middle of depression, it doesn’t feel like it. But it’s worth it to keep fighting, and to not let depression win, because it doesn’t get to win.