Not long after I entered middle school, I started struggling with depression, although it would be five years before I was taught the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling. During my early adolescence, I didn’t know that I was mentally ill. As far as I could tell, my state of mind was the same as anyone else’s—I just assumed that other people coped better, that life overwhelmed me because I was weak. Now I am almost twenty years old, and my half-decade of therapy is starting to pay off. Finally, I consider myself a happy person. I still have down days, but they don’t destroy me.
I experience depression as three feet of fog between me and the rest of the world. Reaching out to touch other people, to be part of social communities, takes a tremendous amount of effort. I don’t even want to engage, because the hazy grey wall in front of me kills any enjoyment, like a harsh sanitizing gel that massacres living cells. Vaguely, I understand that there are things I could do to make myself feel at least a little better, but the energy required by those activities is unthinkable. I long to cease existing, but I can’t rouse myself to commit suicide either. My depression is characterized by inaction, by a paralysis of motivation.
In this state of isolation, I turn inward and despise myself. I am convinced that I should be able to pull myself out of miserable lethargy, through sheer force of will. My inner monologue repeats, “If you were strong and beautiful, if you were smart, you could get better. This is your own fault.” I can’t fix myself, and so I punish myself instead. Thankfully, I have a support system. I have parents who will do whatever is necessary to drag me out of the mire. One of the things they have done to help is force me to go to the doctor.
Three and a half years ago, I started taking psych meds for my depression. I was nervous when I filled my first prescription, wondering if I would still feel like me after new chemicals were introduced to my brain. It turned out that I didn’t feel like myself anymore—instead, I felt like someone with energy and enthusiasm for life, someone who not only wanted to accomplish things but had the capacity to do so. I started exercising again, going on long runs through my neighborhood every day. I felt present in my body, alive in a way that I had forgotten was possible.
Well, the effect didn’t last. A few months later, my motivation to engage with the world began to wane again. The fog coalesced and thickened in front me. For more than a year, the doctors kept raising my dosage, waiting for an improvement to stick. Eventually that particular drug wore off entirely, and I sank back into despairing listlessness until they prescribed another one that worked. Finding the right antidepressant is a very tricky process. It’s especially difficult to treat teenagers, whose brains are changing constantly as their childhood bodies grow into adult ones.
In general, I am lucky that psych meds have worked for me at all; some people have mental ailments that no drugs can touch, and others cope with debilitating side effects. Thankfully, my current prescription is working very well—I am healthier than I have been since before puberty—but I’ve learned that mood miracles are short-term. I must not expect that this easy happiness will last, because then it will hurt more when things change again. Depression has no cure; treatment is a process without an ending date.
That may sound like pessimism; it is not. I expect to lead a fulfilling life, but I also expect that I will have to work very hard to maintain my ability to wake up smiling. I refuse to take lessons from the captain of the Titanic, setting out to sea with inadequate lifeboats. And I know that I will need help to stay healthy. Accepting support isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s an acknowledgment of the reality that humans are social creatures. None of us are solely self-sufficient, and that’s not a bad thing. We need to connect with and care for each other in order to thrive.
Do you need help now?
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you feel you are in a crisis and need to speak to someone now and you live in the United States, call:
- Youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town National Hotline (for everyone).
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Lifeline is a free, confidential, 24 hour hotline for anyone who is going through emotional distress or is in suicidal crisis.
Sonya Mann, 19, is a freelance writer and social media manager who lives in the hills of Richmond, California, where four pet rabbits frolic in her backyard. She looks forward to continuing her formal education while blogging prolifically. For more of her reflections on mental health (and a few pictures of the bunnies), check out yourselfcared.blogspot.com.