Note: Originally published on Empathize This and republished here with their permission.
I was 19, and just an average student doing an average degree, working part-time and living the lifestyle many people my age did.
Depression altered everything.
It all seems like a horrible dream now but there are still things I remember distinctly. I remember feeling some sort of terrible sadness that wanted nothing, but took everything, and nothing would quell it. I became very isolated and alone, and my attempts to seek out chances to socialize only made it worse.
I remember realizing it wasn’t just a temporary “down in the dumps” feeling when I started waking up several times a night. I’d wake, and feel normal for about a second or two before “it” – the heaviness, the nothingness, the sadness – all came flooding back, like a wave. In the pitch dark this was terrifying.
I finally went to a walk-in medical center, purely out of desperation. I had hit a point where I just wanted a definitive answer about how I was feeling and, moreover, I relished an opportunity to distract myself by something I “had to” do, even if I felt incredibly anxious and uncomfortable doing it. Going and sitting in a walk-in centre with an actual purpose and end goal was far better than sitting in my room agonisingly waiting for the day to end. The doctor asked me to describe how I was feeling and I broke down in the middle of the office. The doctor herself was understanding and patient, but I could tell there was little she could do directly. She asked me lots of questions and many of them seemed to hit home. She asked me things like if I thought about taking my own life. I struggled to answer, as I couldn’t truthfully say no.
She told me I was depressed, and prescribed me antidepressants to help. I think having a diagnosis of a real mental health disorder was both good and bad. It made me feel like maybe it wasn’t my fault and was something I couldn’t control. But at the same time I didn’t want to tell people – not because I thought they wouldn’t be understanding, but because I felt like I would be undermining my legitimacy as a rational human being. Maybe if people knew I had depression, they would see me as irrational, a burden, or just different. Kind of like the very old relative that people still love but don’t stay around for too long.
After the doctor’s appointment, when I went to pick up the antidepressants, I noticed the awkward smile I received from the girl at the pharmacy. That was too much – I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge into the official realm of “depression“. I didn’t want to be labelled. I didn’t want anyone to look at me like that again; I wasn’t used to pity and I couldn’t bear the thought at being kept at arms length by everyone.
Needless to say, the stigma of mental illness was a powerful spectre in my mind.
About two weeks later, I told my parents, and at first they were really supportive. But they were only so accommodating for so long. I’ll never forget the day my dad told me that I wasn’t poor, wasn’t unemployed and wasn’t being physically abused so “what [did I have] to be depressed about?” (Word for word, he actually used that old chestnut).
I wish depression was as simple as that. I wish that employment and safety automatically added up to a “cure“. But mental illness doesn’t work like that. It takes indiscriminately and without reason.
My father’s reaction paired with the stigma of the “depression” label told me everything I needed to know about how the world feels about mental illness. You’re either a sub-human object of pity, or, in short, a whiner.
In many ways I am lucky: I came out of my depression without drugs (although for those who find them helpful, there is nothing wrong with them), and in fact gained a newfound sense of how complex and important every person in this world is. However, because of that I have a hard time seeing all the hurt in the world and not speaking my mind. I want to help; I want every person to be treated as just that – a person.
I know there is stigma, and misunderstanding about depression everywhere. And I want everyone to know this: there is nothing wrong with you. And no one – no one! – has any right to say otherwise.