I’ve struggled with my mental health for at least a decade. Here’s an honest account of what that really means.
Depression looks different for everyone. Some people lose their appetite, while others overeat to fill the void. Some people lose all energy and motivation, while others become workaholics to drown out their terrible feelings.
As someone who’s lived with clinical depression since I was 14, I’ve been through many different and seemingly opposing stages in my 10-year recovery journey.
I want to share my story of living with long-term depression with the Bezzy community to help others with similar struggles feel less alone and to educate those who can’t relate about what it’s like to live with chronic depression.
I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder, called Dysthymia at the time, when I was 14 years old. My friends noticed that I had scars on my wrists from self-harm and, being the concerned and loving friends that they were, shared this information with my parents.
For me, the depression crept up slowly, and I tended to push it away. I had a lot of friends who struggled with mental health issues, and I watched many of them enter psychiatric hospitals. I constantly compared myself to my friends, thinking I couldn’t be depressed because I’d never been to the psych ward or tried to kill myself.
But I was depressed, according to my therapist. I struggled to find the purpose in living my life and felt an excruciating need to escape. I used self-harm and alcohol as coping mechanisms, and I tried my hardest to focus on school and to get good grades to prove to myself that I wasn’t depressed.
I distinctly remember working on one assignment in my history class that completely overwhelmed me and caused me to spiral into experiencing my first-ever suicidal thoughts.
My parents did their best to help me by finding me a therapist, but I refused to engage. I was in denial about my mental health issues, and I didn’t think therapy could help me. I hoped that my life would start to come together once I got through the terrors of high school, and then I’d feel better.
At the end of high school, I started taking my first SSRI. For me, the medication did not help my depression at all. It only numbed my emotions.
When high school was FINALLY over, I was so excited. I thought that once I got away from my hometown and had the chance to start my own life, my depression would miraculously disappear. You can guess how well that worked out for me.
Now that I was out of my parents’ house, I could do whatever I wanted! And I wanted to escape my dark thoughts and depressed mood. My primary coping mechanism was drinking excessively, sampling illegal drugs, and partying as much as possible.
I was still in therapy, but I wasn’t invested in the process. I only went because I knew I was supposed to, but I still did not engage in recovery. I was trying to avoid my problems rather than face them head-on.
But blacking out every weekend started to lose my interest. It wasn’t working. The feelings I kept trying to ignore only grew, bubbling up at seemingly random times and completely overwhelming me. I knew something needed to change.
Instead of consulting my therapist or the doctor who prescribed my SSRI, I decided that my medication wasn’t working and stopped taking it cold turkey. If you know anything about antidepressants, you know this is a terrible idea.
When I stopped taking my meds, I had a massive breakdown. I hid in my dorm room for 2 weeks because I couldn’t do much else. Eventually, I was able to pry myself out of bed and return to classes. At this point, I realized my depression was very real and very serious. I knew I couldn’t keep putting bandaids over my problems, and I decided to truly face my emotions and my symptoms for what they were.
Still, I was so used to avoiding my emotions and my depression that I fell back into hyper-focusing on school and distracting myself by spending time with my wonderful friends.
But behind the scenes, I could barely function. My dorm room was filthy, and I rarely let anyone come over because I was embarrassed that I couldn’t get myself to clean up. I lost a lot of weight because I had no appetite anymore and lost all interest in food. While I knew that I desperately needed help, I was scared.
I hated thinking about the future because I’d never really imagined I’d still be alive at age 22.
I was unceremoniously tossed into the real world when COVID-19 shut down the world in March 2020. I was slated to graduate in May 2020, so my classmates and I were sent back to our homes across the country to finish college virtually.
The isolation was extremely damaging to my mental health. I continued to struggle with my appetite and lost weight rapidly. I felt faint whenever I stood up too fast because I never had enough food in my stomach.
The one silver lining of being so isolated was that I couldn’t find a way to escape and avoid my feelings anymore. I was forced to sit with them and grapple with my future. And when I did, I knew it was time to invest in my recovery.
I went back to therapy, and this time I wanted to spend the time and energy on healing and overcoming depression rather than suppressing it.
When I jumped into therapy, things got real very fast. I soon learned that I also struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), making it extremely hard to verbalize my feelings. I was terrified of being vulnerable, which made talk therapy almost impossible. No matter how much I wanted to process my emotions, my brain physically wouldn’t let me. It was extremely discouraging.
At the same time, my depression and anxiety made it difficult to live a so-called normal life. I had to turn down a full-time job because my anxiety made me physically sick whenever I tried to show up to work. I lost interest in my hobbies and felt incredibly stuck and overwhelmed. Everything I attempted in my life at the time felt like it was too much work and not worth it at the same time.
I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation on and off over the years, but the thoughts began to really scare me at this point. I knew I needed something big to change, so I decided to take myself to the ER to get admitted into an inpatient psychiatric hospital, a part of my journey I am very grateful for.
In October 2021, I returned home from the psychiatric hospital with renewed energy. During my stay in the hospital, I tried as hard as possible to focus on recovery and be hopeful every day. I cried a lot while there, but I also finally had some time to myself that was exclusively focused on healing.
I started gaining back some weight and was on a new SSRI, so things were looking up. I began Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), which worked wonders in healing my PTSD. (I share more about this experience here). I found a renewed passion for my writing career, and I was setting goals for the future for the first time I can remember.
But I still struggled to feel truly happy. I dealt with a lot of social anxiety and coped with depressive episodes from time to time. And as the months passed, my depression kept getting worse. The hope that developed during my time at the hospital dwindled. The healthy coping skills I learned there weren’t working for me anymore.
And then, my girlfriend of 2 years and I broke up, and I felt lost. All my motivation for my career and future went down the toilet. I lost interest in all my hobbies, and all I could do was lie in bed and try to distract myself with TV. I couldn’t stop crying, nor could I get myself to clean up. I constantly wanted to die, and that feeling of everything being somehow both too overwhelming and purposeless at the same time took over me.
I knew I had to do something to get me out of arguably the lowest depression I’ve been through. I had to consider my options. I could go back to the psych ward, but then I would have to take a lot of time off work and live in an anxiety-inducing place for at least a week. It didn’t feel like the right option for me this time.
I could get in touch with my psychiatrist and try a new antidepressant, but I was tired of trying medications that ended up failing. I knew I’d have to take the meds for at least a month until I noticed a potential change in my symptoms, and I didn’t think that was a safe option for me because I was so suicidal.
My last option was pursuing an alternative treatment for depression, like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) or ketamine therapy. After assessing each option’s price points and insurance contributions, I landed on ketamine therapy. I was able to get in for a consultation within 2 weeks, and I’m currently undergoing twice-weekly ketamine infusions over 3 weeks.
So far, I feel much more hopeful about my recovery and much less suicidal. I am incredibly privileged to live in a state where ketamine infusions for depression are legal and to have the funds to cover the treatment.
At this point in my life, I have no other option but to hope for the best. I refuse to give in to my suicidal thoughts for my loved ones’ sake. So, because suicide isn’t an option, I might as well try my darndest to recover. None of us asked to be born, but we are responsible for doing everything we can to survive. And if I’m alive, I might as well try my best to enjoy it.
The best thing I did for myself is accept that I struggle with my mental health. Avoiding our problems only ever comes back to haunt us. Even though living with long-term depression feels like it will never let up sometimes, it’s essential to keep fighting. Because what else can we do?
Medically reviewed on February 26, 2023
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