Things started going downhill in May of 2009, but it wasn't until August of the same year that I realized I had a real problem. That was the first time impulsively I attempted suicide. Over the ensuing eight months, I kept a journal that, in hindsight, chronicles my deteriorating mental health in terrible clarity. I experienced everything from euphoria to panic attacks to cutting and at least one other suicidal episode before I finally got myself in to see a doctor.
My friends and family did everything right. They supported and cared for me, and encouraged me to get help. In the end, though, the decision had to be my own. You see, depression is a horrible, insidious, isolating monster. Not only does it tear you down from the inside, it also convinces you that it's all in your head. I don't feel bad all the time, so maybe it's not real, or What if I'm just doing it for attention?
It's not all in your head. It's not your fault. You are not alone. And, there is help.
Depression and anxiety are real disorders, and they are frighteningly common. It took my doctor about 30 seconds to tell me on no uncertain terms that I was depressed, and she put me on a low-dose antidepressant to pull me out of the danger zone. And you know what? It worked. Within three days, my coworkers were commenting on how happy I seemed. My parents could tell the difference almost immediately. It was wonderful.
Unfortunately, despite so many wonderful advances in modern medicine, there's still a secrecy and shame about mental health--in some cases, an actual stigma. I had a run-in with a coworker once, about a month after I first saw my doctor, where he decided it would be a good idea to lecture me about how he's "really anti-drug on things like that." I ended up telling him where to shove it, but if he had come at me like that prior to being put on medication? Dis. As. Ter. My friend Jackie put it best when she said:
Mental illness is not a stigma. Depression in particular is not a stigma. As I tell my patients with depression (especially those with Dysthymia) you have to think about it like you would diabetes. Diabetes is chronic. There are days when things will be really good and your blood sugar will be within the perfect range. And then there are days where it will be like riding a rollercoaster without a harness. Most diabetes is due to your body not processing a chemical correctly, in this case insulin. Most depression is caused by your body not processing a chemical correctly, in that case serotonin. Now diabetics aren't shunned away from like Quasimodo...why should people with depression be treated poorly? The answer is they shouldn't.
Having depression or anxiety does not make you less of a person, and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Don't let your own mind or anyone else tell you otherwise. It's hard. The one thing you need to do--take responsibility for your own mental health--is the one thing you feel least equipped to do, and it can seem impossible at times. And unfortunately, it's not an instantaneous fix. There is no magic pill that will solve all your problems. I'm one of the lucky ones in that the first thing my doctor tried did work, and worked well, but I've had to change things over time to get back to where I was before I got sick. My doctor and I have worked together for over a year now to perfect a combination of things that works for me, so that I can manage my mental health and function as a whole, content person. There are still issues--I feel wonderful, but I'm struggling with weight gain as a side effect of my medication, for example. But every step is progress, and it's always worth it.
On the whole, I suppose I'm sharing this for several reasons. Me? I'm nothing special. But I made it, and if I can, so can you. And when it was worst for me, it really helped to know that I wasn't the only one. And because every time I say something about my own experience with depression, it seems like someone else comes out of the woodwork--either they struggle with it as well, or they know someone who does...and it helps to be able to talk about it. And so I talk about it, because we are not alone.