I was sitting alone on the bathroom floor, head in my hands when I knew that it was time. I was so far into the dark recesses of my own mind that it felt as though I was lost, but then the inner voice that I can always rely on when I am still enough to hear it, told me what to do. It was what I knew I should have done a while before. I needed to ask for help.
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was a teenager but I think it had always been there. When I was little, I remember crying myself to sleep because I was so sad and then feeling guilty because I knew there wasn’t really a reason to be so sad. Since I was a teenager, I have had three big bouts of depression that I have been medicated for and the last one started out of nowhere a few months ago. I had felt wobbly for a while but it was when I found myself sitting on the floor of our bathroom sobbing and realized it was becoming a regular occurrence that I knew it was time to go and ask for help once more.
If you have read my blog before, you will know that I practice gratitude – I am so grateful to live the life I do and I am genuinely thankful every day to be alive, so today I want to talk about my depression and what it has given me instead of focusing on what it has taken away in the hope that it might help others.
My depression has absolutely affected the path of my life. I have undoubtedly made different decisions because of it, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Trying to find a way to ‘cure’ myself, I have read writers I would otherwise not have read. I have tried new things and sought new experiences. I have recognized how important it is to take care of myself and have been filled with compassion for others who share my pain, in both my family and beyond. I have learned to appreciate the complexity of my own mind, to be thankful that I think so deeply and see the world differently to other people. After spending so much time thinking the darkest thoughts, analyzing the purpose and meaning of my life, when my mood lifts I appreciate everything all the more. The good days are even better because I can contrast them with the bad ones, just as darkness is necessary to appreciate light.
I have written before about my ‘box’ and the tendency I have to retreat into it and to succumb to the darkness of it. Sometimes I am scared of my ‘box’ and when I am feeling better rather than worse, my natural tendency is to worry that it will soon pull me back in. But there is a strange beauty in the darkness. In it, I feel a spiritual connection that I have never found in formal religion. In the very darkest moments when I have asked for help, I have felt more peace than I could have believed possible. When I am struggling and feeling raw and grazed, I know that the light will come in again, as it always has before, that I just need to be patient and it will find a way in.
Trying to be more mindful and more ‘in the moment’ has really helped me to understand my depression. When I was younger, it was much harder to get through the dark times, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I thought I was crazy. I wondered why everybody else seemed to be okay and why I was the only one who was struggling just to be. Back then, my depression was something to be ashamed of and something to hide. I didn’t understand it and I was scared of it, so I just got angry and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. Now I talk about it. I am not ashamed to say that I have depression and I am not ashamed to say that I take medication for it. I long for the time when every person will understand that depression and mental illness are no different to physical illnesses. You can’t choose to be depressed or just snap out of it just as you can’t pull yourself together and stop having diabetes or short-sightedness.
People who have never been depressed may not realize that depression is not the same as being sad. It affects people very differently but when I get depressed my mood fluctuates erratically. Sometimes I am so lethargic I can barely get my head up off the pillow but sometimes my head is so filled with a junky newsfeed that I cannot control, that I just long for the peace and quiet of lethargy. It is exhausting and makes me feel like a deflated balloon. I wake up in the middle of the night panicking about random moments of a day long past and worrying about the tiny details of future days to come. Sometimes I cannot bear to eat, sometimes all I can think about is to eat. I get tearful, I get angry. I feel useless, hopeless, guilty, stupid and lonely, sometimes all at the same time.
This is why I am incredibly grateful for my medication. Taking it makes me feel like my normal self. Medication helps me to get out of the darkness and back into the light when I can’t do it on my own and I have learned that there is no shame in asking for help, that admitting that you need help makes you stronger not weaker.
It is empowering to understand your own mental health, to know when you need to seek support and to accept help and I want to encourage anyone who knows the pain of depression, to be empowered. If you find yourself sobbing in your bathroom for no obvious logical reason, if your own mind keeps you up night after night after night, if you can see no chink of light in your darkness – tell someone. Open the door and ask for help and start to let the light in. Do not be afraid. Know that the darkness can and will pass and that having experienced it, the light in the future will seem even more bright and even more beautiful.