You know this story already, but maybe you just don’t realize it.
This story is also yours, or it is your friend’s, or your mother’s, or your cousin’s. Maybe it’s your husband’s, or your boss’, or your child’s.
My name is Venus, and I am clinically depressed. This is my story (and it’s a little long, so please bear with me). I was inspired to tell it by Yulia @ She Suggests. Please visit her and let her know how much her story echoes your own, or that of someone you care for.
I didn’t realize, at the time, that the reason I wasn’t sleeping when I was in junior high and high school (at night, not in class) was because I was depressed. I thought it was normal. I thought it was normal that I managed to keep going, even though that required 8-10 caffeinated drinks every day. I thought it was normal that I chose to fill up every spare moment of time with something — singing, a job, reading, a boyfriend, so that I wouldn’t have to stop and think, or, more importantly, feel. I thought all normal teenagers thought seriously about suicide and wrote really bad poetry in spastic, manic journal-filling episodes that almost make one believe in Automatic Writing.
It really wasn’t that bad. There were no huge warning signs, and I wasn’t always miserable. That’s the worst part. Sometimes depression is pervasive, but quiet, and like ivy it creeps out and its rhizomes etch their way into your life.
I separated myself on purpose from family when I went away to college (perhaps more on this in a different post). It didn’t occur to me that, as imperfect as my family life seemed, it was still a support network that I was now completely without. I didn’t know that distancing is another symptom of depression, another tendril eating away at my brick facade.
My high-school sweetheart (a bad-boy a year ahead of me who went to Catholic school, sported a mullet and rode a motorcycle) and I stayed together. He was my lifeline that I dependently clung to. I would cry and cry on the phone to him, and he would tell me he loved me and I would sink my shreds of self into that relationship that seemed to be the only bright thing in my life.
The sleeping got worse. I started not going to class. I stopped eating much, and what I did eat was crap (often cereal, and only cereal). I started making really bad decisions. I began to self-medicate with alcohol, to act out sexually. All classic signs. But again, I didn’t know.
I injured my wrist falling down some stairs, and was prescribed physical therapy. My physical therapist (bless her in perpetuity) knew the signs. She recommended I see a shrink. I was a very unhappy person, but not fully bereft of reason, and thought that was a splendid idea.
I went to a shrink at the university’s clinic. The first time I saw him, he recommended medication.
“I don’t want to take medication. Can’t I try therapy first?”
The thought of medication scared me. Firstly, I thought medication was over-prescribed, and secondly, was I really that bad off? I could think of so many other people in worse straits than I who seemed to be soldiering on without a drug for a crutch. So we tried it. For a month or so I would visit him once a week, and I would talk. Not about much, mind you. I would experience things during the week — crying jags or manic episodes, and I would think, “I’ve got to tell the shrink about this!” Yet, when I sat down in front of him, week after week, there was nothing there. I couldn’t access those thoughts, those feelings. I was on the outside, and I couldn’t look in. I was opaque to myself.
In frustration, I decided to carry a journal with me at all times. I posited that if I could take down these events as they came, I would then have something to take to the shrink, something we could work on. Something we could “fix“.
In a pique of productiveness, I attended my History class (the Bible as a historical document was our topic, pretty cool) and sat down, my butterfly-net of a journal at the ready. Class began and I began to feel bad. Hurry! Hurry, I thought, get this down! And, ignoring the arguments around me about conflicting Genesis stories, I began to write.
And I couldn’t stop. I don’t have that journal any more. I don’t know where it is. Part of me is glad about that, because I’m not sure I could face whatever it was that I wrote. I can’t remember to this day what it was.
What I do remember is that at some point I started to cry as I wrote. It began as the silent kind of ghost tears. The ones you don’t notice at first, but demand your attention because they’re beginning to blur the ink on the page below. They didn’t get my attention though. Nothing was stopping me. The crying soon became messy slurpy sobs that could not be kept quiet. In. The. Middle. Of. Class.
I kept writing, even though I couldn’t see. I kept writing.
Until I started screaming.
And when I noticed that I was screaming, I stopped. And I remembered where I was. I vaguely remember worried voices, touches on my arm. I had to get out. I picked up my things, and I ran. I think I may have still been yelling a little. I know for sure that I was still crying because I remember feeling blind as I ran the mile across campus to the clinic where I demanded to see my shrink.
They put me in a room, they tried to calm me down. They held me down on the bed (I think someone was trying to hug and comfort me) while I screamed. What I was screaming was, “I’m angry. I’m so angry.”
When the shrink saw me, after I had calmed down and waited a bit, he said “We’re putting you on medication.”
I didn’t argue.
In the following years, I had to deal with what many other depressed persons have had to experience. Intolerance.
My father, fighting his own set of demons, didn’t believe in medication. It was a sign of weakness.
That high school sweetheart, now my husband, thought happiness was a decision. I should just pull it together and be happier. He wasn’t a mean person, he was ignorant, and I didn’t push him to learn. Instead I crawled more into myself, stopped taking my meds, stopped going to therapy, willed myself to be better. And I fooled a lot of people.
Depressed people are very good at fooling others.
My relationship with my parents suffered. I failed at marriage. Too late, after we were separated, my ex started to read up on depression. He apologized, he wanted to be more supportive if I would give it another try. But for many reasons, it was too late for us – and I still wasn’t stable.
I zombied my way through life for a while. I went on and off medication as I went back and forth between having moments of clarity and desperately wanting help, and moments when I was in denial. I hurt myself; I hurt other people (emotionally). At my worst, I threw myself down a set of stairs because that seemed easier than going on. Thank god I’d been drinking (how often do we say that?) as it kept me soft when I landed and miraculously I was unhurt.
I don’t remember the turning point. I think it was finding real love that did it. That gave me enough of a reason to grab on to one of those moments of clarity, and to dig my way out.
I remember confessing to M (now my husband). We had dated, broken up, were getting back together, and it was serious. I told him, as if I had rabies, “I have to let you know. I have depression. I have been unwell. I am medicated. I will ALWAYS have depression.” Because I’d gotten the memo by then, you see, that depression doesn’t. go. away. And bless him, M didn’t run for the hills as I half-expected he might.
We are married now. Nestled on his bookshelf amongst the Isaac Asimov and political science textbooks are titles such as “What to do When Someone You Love is Depressed” and “Conscious Loving.” He knows the signs. We have discussed them. I watch me, and he watches me. We are vigilant, together.
We agonized together over having a child. There is no history of mental illness in M’s family, but it’s all over mine. Did I want to bring a person into this world who may have to endure what I did? No – but in the end, that didn’t mean we couldn’t have children. It just meant that we have to know the signs. We have to be vigilant. We have to be understanding. We have to love and love and love.
I am in a really good place right now. I am medicated, I will most likely be medicated forever. I see my shrink. I make my own attempts at cognitive behavioral therapy. I had a good pregnancy, and, blessedly, have not been struck by PPD.
But depression is pervasive, and quiet. Depression is the boogeyman in the closet. Not the skeleton in the closet. I can talk now about my depression and know that most of the people in my life will not judge me.
No, depression is the shadow in the night that you really hope is a piece of clothing hanging over a chair, but looks so much like a gremlin that you hold your breath and hear your heart hammering in your head.
Depression is your shadow. Depression is. Depression Is.
There will be dark times ahead, as my body chemistry changes, as my life circumstances change. But I know now that I have the tools. I know now there is a way out, and it’s a good way. I know that I can say all these things right now because I’m in that good place.
There are others I know, and you know who you are, who have had it so much worse than I have. Who still struggle. And this story is for all of you. And also for those of you who may just now be getting that memo that depression doesn’t go away.
You are not alone. WE are not alone. And it will be OK, I promise.