A friend of a friend started #WeGetDepressed recently. It’s a shirt. Really, an idea. The idea is to wear the shirt, and that will get people talking about depression. Because despite it’s impact and prevalence in society, we really don’t talk about it much.
And I’m as guilty as anyone. Because despite having a blog that covered my life for 4+ years, I never once mentioned that I was depressed.
Not at the time I was writing. Or at least, not usually. My major depressive episodes happened in college. I almost planned to start this post out talking about how I used to be depressed. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that mental illness is a lot like cancer. Once diagnosed, you’re never really free of it. You might be in recovery. In remission. Maybe you’ve been “depression free” for a week. A year. A decade. But the potential for a relapse, and the scars that exist on the inside? Those are always there.
My depression during college came with panic attacks. Heart racing, sweating, on the floor in the fetal position, crying for hours begging for it to please end I can’t do it anymore how do I stop this? It came with mood swings. Food lost taste, but because I logically knew my body needed fuel I would force myself to eat. It was like swallowing sand. I couldn’t get a handle on my emotions. Fear of panic attacks would literally trigger them in a self-fulfilling prophecy that was always worse the night before something was due. I cried constantly. I apologized for crying. I apologized for apologizing. I cried because I knew I was apologizing too much and please I just don’t want to feel like this anymore and I’m sorry. I want to be better but I don’t know how and I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.
I had some tremendous friends in college. It’s a strange thing to say, but I’m certain that I still can’t appreciate the extent to which my friends and family sacrificed themselves for me before I went to seek help. For most of that period I was simply too sick, too unaware to realize how much time and energy they were putting into me. I was never suicidal, but it’s not hard to imagine my story going far differently if they hadn’t been there for me.
One of my friends was actually planning to go into social work. Like so many others she spent hours with me while I cried, shook, hyperventilated. Talking me back down to some semblance of humanity, if not sanity. One day, when I had gone maybe 36 hours without a panic attack (an incredible accomplishment at that time) I called her. It was a short conversation. I was feeling close to human, so wanted to know if she’d like to do something normal. Y’know, maybe play racquetball instead of “see how many panic attacks I can fit into an evening.” And her response was along the lines of “If you’re feeling ok right now, I’d rather pass. I’ve spent a lot of time with you lately. I’ll always be there for you, but at this point I need to sort of save myself for those times when you need me.”
For whatever reason, that was my wake up call. That was when I decided to get help.
I went to therapy. I got prescriptions. Slowly, things got better. Good days weren’t just days where I didn’t have a panic attack, they were days where I actually felt good. Eventually the medicine got my chemical levels back to where they were supposed to be, and I could stop taking them. Eventually, I understood myself well enough that I was able to stop therapy as well.
If I got depressed, I was able to recognize it much sooner, talk it out with one or two people, and take steps to move past it. Panic attacks became legitimately rare, although I’m pretty sure I can tell you every single one I had after I “got better.” For me at least, the longer I went without them, the easier it was to recognize what was causing them. It’s been 8 years since I had one. I know exactly when (and equally important to me, why) it happened.
And occasionally I run across someone who’s suffering what I did. I turn a corner at work to find someone holding their chest and crying. Or completely drained by life. And I’m able to talk to them about it. Because I’ve been there. And I know what works for me, and maybe that will work for them. And I’m happy to talk about it with them, because I like to think that some benefit came from all the torture I experienced.
But that’s only a few people, in very specific situations. And really, I should be talking about it more.
Because I know I’m not the only one, and #WeGetDepressed.