January 16, 2017

Depression... Reading that word made you feel a bit uncomfortable, right? Almost as if it is a bad word we shouldn’t use in our normal vocabulary. I get it, the idea of mental illness is frightening so the easiest way to deal with it is, well, to avoid it.

Living with mental illness is terrifying, tiring and consuming. Without even realizing, it takes over your entire body and you are left with no control or strength to fight it. The world around you is silent but the brain in your head is running a marathon backwards. Everything becomes dark - the sky, the sun, the clouds and you. There’s no turning back, and for some twisted reason, you don’t want to turn back. The darkness has become home. It’s safe.

My mental illness most likely began when I was in grammar school, we just never caught it. Looking back at it now, I see clearer reasoning behind all the countless absences and breakdowns. When you’re that young, no one expects a child to be depressed or have anxiety like that.

I agree, it is a scary thought to consider a 4th grader may be battling depression. The first time a doctor told me I was depressed, I was in high school and even then I refused to believe it because I was afraid of what it meant.

"Depression," that oh-so-scary word. How could that be me? I fought the truth for a long time. It took a couple of years of worsening depression and severe anxiety for me to finally let myself accept the help I needed.

What scared me the most was the idea of medication. I didn’t want a pill giving me fake happiness. Even though I was hesitant, I decided to try it. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. For a good six months, I felt like a lab rat trying all these different pills that didn’t seem to do a thing. Eventually I found the right one that does work for me.

Through all of this, I learned so much about myself and my body. Most importantly, I learned my mental illness does not define me by any means, Neither does my medication, for that matter. If anything, I’m stronger than I thought I could ever be because of it. I’m not a different person and my happiness isn’t fake.

I’m me.

I have never been one to openly discuss my mental illness. At first it was out of shame and because I didn’t want anyone worrying about me or treating me different. Until about a year ago, I was perfectly fine with keeping the messy details of my life to myself, my therapist, and the very few people I would let in.

It wasn’t until I attended, then led, a retreat called Kairos that I was able to fully open up about it and feel no shame whatsoever. In fact, I learned that my story was meant to be told because others who battle the same things need to know they are not alone. Since I made the choice to be open about my mental illness, I have made immense progress in battling it.

I don’t wish mental illness on anyone. It’s a trip to hell that takes a whole lot of fighting to get back home. Though I’m in a much better place than I once was, it can be easy to let the depression take over again. It is up to me to keep myself on track but it is also up to me to ask for help if need be.

Depression does not have to be scary. It needs to be talked about. Silence only makes it worse and I had to learn that the hard way. Now, I’m not saying to go around town with a sign that says “I have depression,” but I am saying to be aware of the people around you and most importantly the ones you love. It’s amazing how far a real “how are you?” can go.

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