When we first talked about starting a blog, I knew that no matter what, this would be a post I’d write. I didn’t really know what it would look like, I just knew this was a story I wanted to share.
It’s been twelve years since I first started battling depression. Twelve long, grueling yet amazing years. For anybody who knows me in real life, you’ve probably heard bits and pieces of this story. For those of you who don’t, I invite you to look back on my journey with me.
Back in 2005, there was a lot going on in my life. I had recently started dating a guy who was my best friend at the time, I’d just finished my first year of high school and everything seemed great. As Summer went on, though, something happened. To this day, I don’t really know when the change started happening, but suddenly I found myself crying more than usual. I felt this immense amount of gloom following me everywhere I went but I couldn’t quite place it. Initially, I just thought it was that I was missing my boyfriend, as we didn’t really get to see much of each other during the Summer break. By the time school was gearing up to start, I was to the point where I felt like I wanted to die, but never really knew why.
Fast forward through the first month of school, where I get dumped and pretty much feel like I’ve been thrown away. Now, full disclosure, as a 27 year old looking back at 15 year old Emily’s thoughts and feelings, I was a bit dramatic during this whole thing. I look back on this and sometimes actually laugh about how devastated this relationship left me. But, nonetheless, my feelings then were valid (albeit a little ridiculous). Anyway, once that happened, I felt this overwhelming sense of despair, and that I had been dumped because this guy figured out what I’d been trying to hide from everyone all Summer: that I was worthless. I felt like I was just this absolute failure who couldn’t do anything right and was a waste of everybody’s time. He clearly figured that out, so it was only a matter of time before everyone else did too.
Something I didn’t quite understand then, that I’m fully aware of now, is that my break up didn’t really have as much to do with my feelings as I thought it did. On the outside, it seemed to everyone that I was going through all of this because I’d been dumped, but in reality, that storm had been brewing for a long time. Being dumped was just the one thing that set everything off.
After that, I started seeing my life in a new way. I started asking myself “Are your friends and family really better off with you around? Would it make things easier for everybody if you just disappeared?”
At home, we were facing some major financial issues; issues that I thought my absence might resolve. At school, I could tell that my feelings were worrying my friends. Obviously if I took myself out of the equation, then they’d have nothing to worry about. This is genuinely how I rationalized one of the most devastating mindsets I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to kill myself because I thought it’d make things better for me, I wanted to do it to make things better for the people around me. Having to deal with someone as worthless as me just wasn’t fair to such great people, and I had to do something about it.
I’d had a plan. I wrote a series of letters, one to my mom that included a letter for one of my best friends that then included a letter for my ex. At the time, those were the three people I thought would deserve an explanation and an apology for any more undue grief my miserable life had caused. I kept these letters under my pillow to lay out whenever I’d decided to end things, and there they sat for weeks.
One Friday at school during lunch, I was talking to my best friend (who would later go on to be my Maid of Honor) and told her “I dunno what I’m going to do this weekend. I think I might kill myself.” It was such an offhand statement. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know that I really meant it, I’d just said it. She didn’t know that, though. By the end of that day, I’d been called into the office, to speak with said friend and the school psychologist. She had told them what I’d said. The school called my parents to come get me and take me to a mental health clinic to be evaluated. Thus began my treatment for depression.
10th grade was arguably one of the worst years of my life, and yet somehow I’m thankful for it. You see, who I am today owes a lot to that girl. It took a lot for me to really build myself back up and grow into the person I wanted to be. I spent the rest of that school year going to group therapy once a week, and let me tell you, it sucked...at the time. But as the months went on, I started moving a little farther away from my depressed self and learning to find happiness in life again. By the time I graduated high school, I had become the complete opposite of who I had been before. I met and started dating Cameron, I was excited about my future, I loved my friends and family, but mostly, I was happy...until I wasn’t.
My first year of college was an emotional roller coaster. I went to a school two hours away from home, where I knew literally one other girl from my high school (we weren’t even friends). I had it in my head that I wanted to go somewhere completely new, where I could start fresh, make new friends and really just craft the life that I’d always wanted. Somehow, though, I managed to forget that I’m an introvert who has a bit of a hard time talking to new people. When I think back on that year, I just remember everything being dark. The weather, my room, my outlook on my future; everything seemed so bleak. It took me 8 years after that to realize that this wasn’t just an extreme case of homesickness, this was my second major bout of depression.
This would happen a total of two more times before I actually realized that contrary to what I’d spent so much of my life believing, my depression didn’t disappear after that first year. By the time it finally hit me that depression wasn’t just something that would flare up every now and then, I was going through the worst depression I’d experienced since high school. I was working at a job where I was literally terrified of having to talk to my boss. HQ for the company was in California, so we did a lot of our communications via phone and Skype. When I’d come into work, I would experience anxiety all day over the thought of her messaging me. I remember there was one week in particular where I would cry either before, during or after work because of the stress and fear I had surrounding the job. One day I cried before, during and after work. That feeling of worthlessness, being an absolute waste of space and a failure ruled my life at that point and I didn’t know how to get out.
At the time I was living with Cameron, we were engaged and life should have been great. I didn’t understand why everything seemed to be falling apart for me, mentally. Then, while having a conversation with a friend I’d made online, I told her all about my struggles with mental illness. I told her about how ever since I was 15, I’d gone threw a few really bad episodes of depression each year.
“Has it occurred to you that that’s not normal?”
...you mean everybody doesn’t have month long struggles with feeling like they want to just sink into the floor and stop existing? This doesn’t just happen to everyone 3-4 times a year to the point where getting out of bed feels like climbing Everest?
It was that one statement that kind of shattered what I thought I knew. I had depression. I wasn’t just depressed sometimes, I had depression, full time. I didn’t even know how to wrap my head around that fact. How was I going to manage living with something so exhausting, so crippling, for the rest of my life?
Well, I started seeing a therapist and for the first time in 10 years, I was prescribed antidepressant and antianxiety medication. I started learning more about depression, how it affects others and how people manage it. I started openly talking to Cameron about how I was feeling on my not so great days, and I really started becoming more self-aware. I’m now able to recognize when I’m getting low, I know how to verbalize what I need in order to just recharge and I’m not so hard on myself now when things go wrong.
I’ve learned how to manage.
Living with this mental illness is hard. There are days that I genuinely worry about what will happen when we start a family (will I develop postpartum? Will our kids eventually develop depression too?). There are days when I wonder if I’ll be on medication forever, or if someday I’ll be okay without it. There’s a lot I wonder about, but I’ve learned to be grateful for all of these questions.
It’s scary to not know what this journey will look like as it continues, but that’s what happens when you’re happy to live out your life. You think about the future with some amount of fear, but an immense amount of excitement for what’s to come. Having that excitement now, with all that’s happened in the past, is the best gift I could ever ask for, because it means I’m finally looking forward to living my life.
I’m finally looking forward to being alive.