I think most people just think I'm a jerk.
When my depression is at its worst, I can't even bring myself to converse with others. People walk past me and say hello; I can raise my head and, if I'm lucky, manage a weak nod their way. I'm sure they think I'm just being antisocial at best and unpleasant at worst. I don't let people know that I'm being suffocated by my depression.
Depression is like being in that well in The Silence of the Lambs. That light's being pulled up and I just see the evidence of all the attempts to crawl out before, and in my head, it's evidence that the cloud won't lift. The weight on my chest is never going to let up; the pressure I can feel on my brain is winning.
Of course, I know on an academic level that that's just not true. Things will get better, and I'll be happy again. In fact, I'm probably happy more often than I'm not. But even when I'm thinking clearly, I fear my depression, because it's just so oppressive.
I've never felt suicidal, but I've had times where I couldn't think of a single person whose life was made better by my existence. Sometimes the idea of eating anything nauseates me; sometimes I binge because food is the only thing that I can enjoy. Exercise is nearly impossible, so I gain weight, the social consequences of which depress me further. I cloister myself in my home and watch Futurama on Netflix because it's familiar and comfortable and depression strips you of the comfort that most people take for granted.
I go to therapy, and it helps; my therapist is a great listener and asks me great questions. She's put me in touch with someone who can prescribe anti-depressants but I resist because in my mind, turning to drugs is admitting to failure.
I think this because when I'm depressed, my mind lies. My mind says that I and my problems are just a bother to everyone around me. My mind tells me that nobody cares, that I'm just feeling sorry for myself, that I'm just a complainer and that no one wants to hear about it. My mind tells me that everyone is just being nice, that no one really likes me, that they just wish I would leave them alone. These are lies.
All of this is part of the reason that I asked for others' stories of depression. Nearly 10 percent of Americans meet the criteria for current depression. Nearly half of that meet the criteria for major depression. Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States, with eleven estimated nonfatal suicide attempts for every successful one.
Yet there's a stigma attached to admitting depression that extends to stigmatizing those that seek help. Even when people aren't downright hostile, there's a level of discomfort that comes with admitting you can't handle everything. So I asked for people to send me their stories, from everyday sadness to profound depression. This is not about being "depressed enough," it's about letting people know that they're not alone, that people do care and that it's OK to seek help. It's also an opportunity for those suffering to tell their stories in a society that often places a priority on silencing them.
[I've printed or excerpted all the stories I've received; clicking on the name of each participant links you to their full story. I am still accepting submissions and will continue to share them as long as I'm receiving them; if you would like your story included in a future Depression Stories volume, e-mail me with the subject line "Depression."]
*some names changed
I was a affectionate and precocious kiddo, but age 12 I came to believe I was too much, and I've never been able to shake it. Too loud, geeky, needy, smart, and annoying for the other kids to like me. Not sporty, funny, or cool enough. Too female for my dad, and too tom-boy for mom. Too much of a big, tall know-it-all for the boys. Not demurring; not flirty; not pretty in any conventional sense—and yet somehow still too shy and awkward to pursue friendships.
I think "If only I'd tried harder". But no. A weird, nerdy, home-schooled kid stuck in the boonies who's only social outlet was a conservative youth group? Nope. I was fucked.
The funny thing is that as I write all that, I know that my description loosely follows an arch-typical adolescence narrative of many geeks. My personality and interests are now constantly catered to. I have more TV shows I'd love to watch, people I'd like to talk to, and things I'd like to attend than I have time or money. My sub-culture and my generation is the 400 lb gorilla on the internet; we're fucking EVERYWHERE. We have power now. We belong. My cerebral cortex knows this, but my limbic system and amygdala are still wired for a lonely, painful existence of alternately striving to fit in and striving to not give a fuck.
I've been struggling with depression since the late 90's, when I was in my late 20's. When I first started noticing symptoms, I was in a pretty good place in my life. I had a good job that I enjoyed, I made decent money and had extra income from an outside source which made up for my husband not working. I had a whole room in the house just for my artistic pursuits and a garden in the back yard. My husband wasn't drinking and spent a lot of time counselling his AA sponsees. We communicated well and were in a good place in our marriage for the most part. All in all, it was a life that should have been satisfying if not joyful. Instead I was crying all the time for no reason, waking up in the early morning and unable to get back to sleep. I never felt happy, but I wasn't always sad. At best I just felt numb.
I didn't want to take medication. I felt like that was an easy way out, a trick to replace feelings with drugs. So I resisted going to the doctor. I tried exercising, eating healthier, getting more sunshine. But then I started feeling like I just wanted to be dead. I constantly imagined ways to kill myself, particularly driving my tiny compact car at a bridge pylon at full speed. Lights out. Peace.
I figured I'd share a few words on my personal journey with bipolar disorder because one of the great hallmarks of mental illness is the pervasive sense that one is alone in the struggle. That line of thinking still feels true to me to an extent (especially in darker moments), but at the same time I don't think any of us are truly ever alone. It may not always be in the most obvious or comforting way, but there has and will always be individuals with an informed sense of compassion that reaches past the constraints of time and space. Somewhere someone loves us.
Anyway, I experienced depression at an early age. I distinctly remember remarking to my parents at the ripe age of eight that I felt like something was missing in my life. I wanted to go to a doctor, convinced that I had a literal hole in my heart. That empty feeling would continue long after into my teens and young adulthood and I would try to fill it with all manner of delights. Be it drugs or sex, books, music, or a fantastical deity, my heart felt like a bottomless chalice. Filled to the brim, my cup would spilleth over and I'd be left with as little as when I started. There would never be enough wine, love, fiery sunrises, or pretty trinkets to keep me happy.
I have severe depression for years. I created goals to keep myself alive. The end of the Harry Potter series was one. Graduating high school was one. Becoming a Jezebel commentator was one.
I got medicated before college. Then came the side effects and the chronic illness created by my first antidepressant.
I had the pills out for an overdose but chose not to take them. I have a few minor scars from self-harm, periodic dermatillomania brown spots, and sores.
I am proud of some of what I have done and parts of who I am currently. I wish depression has not been part of my journey.
I have struggled with depression regularly since I was in middle school. Back then my classmates regularly harassed me, and I often dreamed of dying, disappearing, or becoming someone else. I was put on antidepressants when I was in middle school, but only later did my family learn that they were known to cause suicidal ideation in very young patients. I immediately began to distrust all psychopharmacological solutions to my problems with rage and sadness.
In high school I learned to focus my feelings and channel them into something productive. I succeeded in school and went on to university, which had always been my ultimate dream.
Occasionally at university I would get depressed. I remember one day looking at myself in the mirror in my sophomore year and saying, "I think I really hate myself." I had thought that I had forgotten those feelings of self-loathing, but they came roaring back when I was 19. They ebbed and flowed throughout my college years, and they took over again when I was 22. I was living in a foreign country and fell ill. I was so ill that I nearly died from both starvation and a lung infection. It was a very dark time in my young life, and I came home with depression and pos-traumatic stress.
The next few years were a blur of crushed dreams. I could barely get out of bed for six months, but later found a job. The boss was abusive and targeted me occasionally, which did not make me feel any better. I later went to graduate school to start a new career, but I discovered that I liked the idea of that career more than the practice of it. I failed a test that was an entrance exam of sorts into that career, and that's when I sank completely into a prolonged depressive episode.
My dad's side of the family has a pretty extensive history of depression. So extensive that I literally don't know it all; they don't like to talk about it to the point that my dad has two cousins who I never even knew existed, because no one ever talks about them. They killed themselves in the 70s, and I only know what happened because I was in the room a few years ago when Dad filled my new therapist in on the family background. That was a fun conversation.
"So, any family history of depression? Suicide?"
"Depression yes, suicide no…"
I always thought my dad had a pretty small extended family. It was a bit disconcerting to learn that it was originally larger, and we've willfully forgotten the uncomfortable ones. It extends to closer issues too; I always thought my brother went through counseling in elementary school because of issues stemming from a neurological condition he has. It turns out that's not strictly true. He threatened to kill himself.
I went through a major depression about nine years ago.
I was going to school a couple of hours away and went home to visit one weekend and my mom was nowhere to be found. After contacting my uncle, he found out she had been thrown in jail and we went to go bail her out. She was vague about why she got arrested, just waved it off as some bullshit thing, and that was it.
Flash forward a few months later, I get a frantic call from my aunt asking if I had talked to my mom lately because she hadn't heard from her in four days. I hadn't heard from my mom either, which was somewhat odd because we talked almost every day.
My mom completely disappeared; I soon found out that when she got arrested, it was just the beginning of bigger charges coming her way (turns out, she loved to embezzle money from her jobs. Guess this explains why she went through so many.)
I fell apart. My mom is crazy, make no mistake, but I was her only child and she completely abandoned me. And she left me with shit ton of headaches: the bail money, my private school tuition and a ton debt that she left in my name. The bail bonds people were harassing me; endless phone calls with hostile accusations about how I must be hiding my mom. They drove up to the college town I was in and showed up at my house and my job, never without threats, called me so many times at all hours that I had to change my number.
Hi. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was in college at 18. My family is rife with mental illness and depression is the lesser evil. I am told my grandmother would get terrible migraines and would shut herself off for a week at a time. My great uncle was bipolar, but never received treatment. Of his 6 children, 2 have committed suicide and 1 died of cancer, 1 has bipolar and takes lithium, and the other 2 have clinical depression but are not treated. My father has seasonal affective disorder and all three of my sisters have some form of depression. Me and my older sister both have clinical. We are smart, loving, and boisterous. We are educated and gainfully employed. None of us are drug addicts or alcoholics. When I was diagnosed, my mother asked me what I had to be depressed about. I didn't have an answer. Why do you want to kill yourself? Because then the self hate will stop. Why do you hate yourself? I don't know.
First off, thanks for doing this. I really feel depression is something that needs to be talked about more, the stigma is ridiculous.
Jumping right in: I've struggled with depression since I was eleven years old. I still distinctly remember approaching my mother because I knew something was wrong. She looked me in the face and said "You're too young to be depressed, and I don't have time for this right now." She has apologized since then, but that stuck with me. I felt for years that my depression was unfair to other people. I became unfailingly perky to counter it. It became my job to be cheerful, to protect people from how terrible I was for being depressed. I was in high school before anything was done about my depression. By then it had morphed to include anxiety and insomnia/hypersomnia cycles. I finally convinced my parents to take me to a doctor after not sleeping for 3 weeks in November. I was put on medication and told that would fix it. It didn't.
I am an (at least) third-generation depressed person through my maternal line. In fact, when I finally worked up the nerve to go to my family doctor for treatment on this issue a few years ago, I barely got three sentences out before he started nodding and saying "Yup, I know your mom."
My mother's depression has curdled my relationship with her and my ability to perceive her as a person. Rationally, I know she needs better support in the form of consistent talk therapy and medication, and I know I (of all people) should be sympathetic to how she feels when she's not in treatment. But realistically, I can barely tolerate being around her most of the time.
I have known I suffered from depression, to some degree, since I was twelve years old, but I did not receive treatment until I was 24. As a teenager, I asked my mother if I could see a therapist, but struggled to voice the problem to her, and that help never materialized. As a college student, I struggled with eating disorders and spent weeks in bed, but managed to do enough work to get by with decent grades, and nobody really realized how deep I was in it. Finally as a young adult in a job at a school, I talked to one of the school counselors about how I thought maybe I was depressed. Her first question was, "Does it manifest as sadness or as irritability?"
It was like a lightbulb. Although I had read on the subject, it hadn't come up that irritability was a symptom of depression. Personally for me, my depression doesn't manifest that way, but I realized in that moment that my mother's has long done so. It's interesting to understand her in this fashion. But it doesn't make me feel better about her or about my relationship with her.
SmallOne was very, very excited to start school - we've always joked that this kid was bornready and we essentially expected her to walk through those doors and never look back. On the way up the steps on her very first day, she passed a gowned teacher from the Upper School, and tipped him a jaunty, "Morning, Sir!" before skipping on down to the Junior School entrance. She was pretty confident, for 4½ years old.
The first few months of school seemed like they were going as anticipated; I kept hearing from her teachers that she was helpful, cheerful and generally a delight. By December, though - things were changing - at least at home. SmallOne was routinely coming home from school very angry - she began having screaming fits at the slightest provocation, and there was suddenly so much door-slamming around the house that it felt like we were living with a hormonal teenager.
One day we were on our way home in the car, and after a lengthy silence, she commented very quietly à propos of nothing, "I don't have any friends." Not "I wish I had friends," or "No one likes me," but just a simple statement of fact. At first I thought it was just a bad day, but it soon developed into a daily refrain - she would make the statement, but would not be drawn on it - no matter how much i probed, there was no other information offered.
So I was the lonely friendless (sometimes bullied) kid in elementary school and my home life wasn't anything awesome either. When my dad ditched us in third grade and we had to switch schools in 4th, my brother took it out on the world and I took it out on myself. I used to fantasize about jumping off the stairwell in school, so much so that I can still picture that damn stairwell today-it covered a couple of floors and at the top was this flimsy railing and a decent gap for 9 year old me to fit through if I jumped. I ended up with a mix of depression and ADD diagnoses, but my mom doesn't believe in therapy nor in medication and so I ended up spending a lot of time in the social worker's office. She was probably one of the few people who I felt really liked me or something.
I think it calmed down a bit in high school 'cause I moved from a teeny tiny private school to a huge magnet school-so I was now in a building full of all sorts of kids who more or less also valued being kinda geeky. I'd also started building up a support system of friends and not-blood family that I mostly still have to this day. The depression didn't really kick in again 'til senior year of high school, when I got scared enough of the ideation (and very possibly was feeling a bit attention starved) to tell my entire English class that I wanted to kill myself over the weekend. Bless my teacher for strongly encouraging me to go see the school counsellor after that little outburst.
My family doesn't discuss feelings, and depression has always really considered more of a character weakness than an actual problem. If you felt like you were "depressed", it was either you being dramatic or you needing to suck it up and just stop feeling that way. So, I learned very young how to hide the fact that I felt off. In fact, until my late twenties, I didn't even acknowledge the fact that I might be depressed because I told myself I was stronger than that. It wasn't until I dated someone who had depression, told me I had all the signs, and then asked if I wanted to go see his therapist that I thought I might have something wrong with me. Of course, at the time I took great offense that he would eveninsinuate I might be depressed. I was too tough for that. He was a good guy (even if we were wrong for each other in many ways), but I sabotaged that relationship pretty quickly after that suggestion. That was almost 10 years ago, and I haven't been able to bring myself to date ever since.
I think there are many aspects of depression that are pretty well known: general low self-esteem, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and low motivation. One thing a lot of people don't talk about is the boredom. Seems innocuous, but for me this is the most insidious symptom. I am rarely not bored. Nothing holds my interest. I just don't care. The things that I do tend to still enjoy seem to be escapist-type interests: TV and movies, reading, video games and occasionally drawing. But above all those, what I like to do is drink. Things seem actually interesting. I can sometimes bring myself to leave my apartment and interact with other people. And if nothing else, I can put myself to sleep. When I am intoxicated, I feel like a better version of myself. A fun, outgoing version. I know I drink too much, and I'm shortening my life and probably ruining my health, but since I feel pretty miserable most of the time, I don't care.
Apparently I lack all the willpower.
Sunday morning around 2am something I was doing crashed, for about an hour I tried to fix it and get it back. Was not working period, it made me feel useless.
At that time no one else is up, usually from 10pm till 4 or 5 am I am alone. Left to my own thoughts and devices, sometimes good sometimes very very bad.
My emotions haven't been stable for awhile. I don't have any form of health insurance, so seeking help is financially out of the question. Workers compensation has looked into, and by looked into I mean they made me have a psychological AME once. Nothing more, even after many break downs at workers comp doctor's offices and actually asking for help.
Well one nurse prescribed Xanax, he was the only nurse to listen. Sadly the rest were woman. Well after one Xanax, I got sleep paralysis.
When I read people's personal stories of their struggles with major depression, anxiety disorders, and OCD (among other things), often I find myself thinking: "I have these diagnoses, but my life isn't like this. Do I really deserve them?" But my memory is faulty, and sometimes I forget my past experiences, and what my life used to be like. Then I remember.
I remember when I was five years old and I told my parents that sometimes I felt "like I didn't want to be in the world anymore."
I remember the intrusive thoughts I had throughout most of my childhood – violent images that I couldn't dispel from my mind. I still don't like to talk about those.
I remember when I used to hate myself. Not just hate: loathe. Truly and deeply loathe myself.
Joshua David can be found on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.
Image via D Sharon Pruitt.