For most of my life, I believed I was just like the kids around me. Maybe I was a little more sensitive and a little more emotional than my peers, but I thought that was just my personality. I had days riddled with bad temper and unhappiness, but everyone has hard times, right?
This past summer proved to be one of the most difficult of my life. I remember telling my close friend on Aug. 17, my birthday, that making it to 17 years old was an achievement I had been unsure would happen. There were times when I had to sit out on my porch and call the crisis line to distance myself from the medicine cabinet and remind myself of reasons to continue living. Typical teenage sufferings and angst caused some of the sadness, sleepless nights and headaches I dealt with. I had suffered from heartbreak. I was stressed because of online Personal Finance and I was continuously juggling work, swimming, family and friends. Still, some intangible thing wasn’t quite right. My troubles cut me deep and often sent me down dark roads, following trains of thought that ended in despair no one had ever warned me about. Something within me was exacerbating my pain in a way that wasn’t typical. The people around me didn’t have the color drain from the world before them on a regular basis.
One night, I was at my wits’ end. My previous strategies of trying to keep my dark thoughts to myself and attempting to ignore them weren’t working anymore. Somehow, the thoughts that no one loved me and that I would never overcome my problems always found a way back into my mind and would continue to torture me. I decided I couldn’t bear the weight of being alone with my thoughts anymore and asked my parents if I could go to therapy. When I asked, my parents were surprisingly calm. It was as if they knew I was going to ask and were just waiting for the time to come.
My troubles cut me deep and often sent me down dark roads, following trains of thought that ended in despair no one had ever warned me about. Something within me was exacerbating my pain in a way that wasn’t typical. The people around me didn’t have the color drain from the world before them on a regular basis.”
A month later, my therapist informally diagnosed me with depression. Even though I should’ve anticipated the news, I didn’t. There used to be whispers in the back of my mind that something wasn’t quite right, but none I was willing to give in to. I was too afraid to let my mind wander to the forbidden topic of mental illness and to let myself think anything could possibly be wrong with me.
My grandfather has been hospitalized because of depression, and my mother said when I was younger there would be times I was nearly inconsolable. I would become gloomy and quiet, and all I wanted was for my mom to hold me and shelter me from the frustrations of my small world. I wished for her to bring the color back to my life.
I remember my gut sinking and saying through tears to my father that I realized I couldn’t brush my thoughts off anymore and dismiss them as something everyone goes through; they were a part of me, and I couldn’t hide from them. I felt broken, as if something in my making was wrong, as if a cog in my core wasn’t turning. I felt like a faulty product from a factory, meant to be thrown in a box, taped up and hidden away somewhere. Was I made from a broken mold?
“Was I made from a broken mold?”
As I adjusted to this new information about myself, I saw it made sense. Even as my friends were fighting the same struggles of adolescence, like self-discovery and heartbreak, when I spoke of the deep despair that came to me in my worst moments, they looked at me with puzzled expressions and glanced at each other in concern. There were times when I was surrounded by my jovial friends, staring off into space and chasing myself in a downward spiral in my head that ended in staring up at the sky, wishing to float up into the stars or sink down into the Earth, whichever felt merciful enough to take me.
What I felt wasn’t ordinary. The cog that wasn’t turning was threatening to break the whole machine.
Now, a few months after receiving this diagnosis, I’m still struggling. I continue to have days when it’s hard to peel myself out of bed, look in my friends’ eyes and smile like I was happy to have woken up. On other days, however, I wake up thankful the stars hadn’t whisked me away, and I relish my morning coffee or my drive to school.
In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve learned while living with depression isn’t some grand fight that can be won in one fell swoop, it doesn’t mean I live in grayscale.
Despite my continuing struggles, I’ve learned how to deal with my depression. I don’t always have to act like I’m fine, and that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. I have to be patient with myself, there’s nothing wrong with having a bad day. I shouldn’t be afraid to say how I truly feel and should normalize mental health problems and self-care. It’s okay to post on my Snapchat story about going to therapy or to make an Instagram post saying that I’ve been depressed lately.
I’ve found out that my friends, family, teachers and coworkers, if they truly love and care about me, will listen and make the accommodations I need. For example, when I was asked to hang out with a large group of friends and go out to dinner, I told this friend that I was feeling down and would prefer to just enjoy her quiet company, and she happily accepted that. One of my close friends once said she’d much rather hear about my problems and sad thoughts from me than hear about my passing from my family. No matter what I think the most important people in my life believe, they are there for me.
I’ve learned it’s acceptable to need help, and my support system is there to assist me when I need it. While I try to only ask for advice on my problems and on dealing with depression in therapy, my friends and family are willing to be a shoulder for me to cry on when I’m going through hard times. They don’t entirely understand what I’m going through because they don’t have depression, but that’s okay. Sometimes I just need to sit with a friend and cry in the McDonald’s parking lot at 2 a.m. and have them remind me I’m loved.
When explaining it to curious loved ones, I often make the analogy that it’s like living with a dog: I have to care for it and attend to it.”
I’ve learned how to live with my depression and how best to manage it. When explaining it to curious loved ones, I often make the analogy that it’s like living with a dog: I have to care for it and attend to it. Some days it just wants to bark and growl and bite and do everything it can to make my life hard, and I just have to accept that.
The most important lesson I’ve discovered, however, is not to think of myself any differently. While I am now aware of this part of me, it’s not anything new, and it doesn’t make me sadder than I was before. Now it just has a name. The cog that doesn’t turn has been found, and the machine continues to run.
While my depression is a part of me and influences me by forcing me to pay more attention to my feelings and act in accordance to them, it does not define me. I am still the bubbly, blue-eyed swimmer boy who listens to Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande and always speaks his mind, and I will never let anything change that.
Have you ever received surprising news about yourself? Let us know in the comments below!