Depression. 350 million people suffer from it worldwide. So why is it still seen as such a taboo subject in today’s society?
Even though I have learned to be completely open about my depression, I can still feel my heart rate increase as I’m writing this piece! I mean, seriously? I’m telling you that I have a mental health disorder, not that I’ve murdered someone and am asking you to help me bury the body.
Before I start, I need to say that I will be speaking about MY experiences with depression, the way it has made ME feel and the things that provide comfort to ME. Whilst we are all prone to the human condition and all that it entails, things manifest differently from person to person. Some people may be able to relate to my experiences and that’s absolutely amazing, but it definitely doesn’t mean that the way other people experience it is any less valid and important. Everyone has their own, unique story. I just want people to know that they have a right to tell it.
I was almost 14 when I first met depression. I honestly had no idea what it was that I was feeling at the time - it felt like I was homesick for a place that didn’t exist. Although I didn’t know exactly what the feeling was, I knew that I no longer enjoyed the sports I used to love. I knew that I was terrified to hang out with my best friends that I had known since 4th grade. And I definitely knew that didn’t like being me anymore.
Often when I came home from a night with my friends, I felt like I had just run a marathon – and in retrospect, it is clear as to why. The whole night I had been performing a one-woman show, and I had inadvertently cast myself as overly enthusiastic and high-spirited main role. She was the complete antithesis of myself at that point in time. I over analyzed my every sentence and expression because, if I broke character, these people that I loved would see through me and realize that I was a foreigner in my own body.
It. Was. Exhausting.
Eventually, the roles I cast myself in became more specific, and I started becoming a mirror image of people I idolized. It gave me fleeting bouts of happiness, but I always ended up crashing back down to earth when I remembered that is no way to escape who I am.
Before I knew it, I had no sense of self. I was stuck in a pitch-black room, and I couldn’t find the door to escape. Sometimes, I even convinced myself that it was better to just sit quietly in the room than to fumble around trying to find the way out.
Thankfully, things changed when I turned 18 and I watched Cara Delevingne’s interview at the ‘Women in the World London’ Summit. She discussed her own experience with depression with complete candidness. I was in awe. It honestly felt like she had read my mind! The feeling was electric, and I immediately searched for videos of other people who had spoken about depression as well. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone, and the voice in my head telling me that I was insane for feeling the way I did was silenced.
Afterwards, I started talking candidly to my parents and my friends. For the first time, I had people that I loved holding my hand and keeping me grounded while I stumbled around trying to find the door out of the pitch-black room. Sometimes, it was still hard to figure out what was up and what was down, but they prevented me from floating away. I still haven’t found the words to express the amount of comfort that this brought to me, and I doubt that I ever will.
Now that I’m almost 20, I have far less frequent visits to the room, and I’ve found that there are certain things that I can do to orient me towards the door when I do find myself there. Of course, sometimes the door moves and it takes a bit longer to find it, but the knowledge that it exists is a source of light in itself, and prompts proactive movement.
These are 5 of the points I have added to my personal compass, and they all lead me to a fuller, happier version of myself. You might find that one (or even more!) point you in the right direction as well:
EXERCISE: The science speaks for itself. Exercise = Endorphins = Happy Vibes. Sometimes it can be hard to make yourself exercise when you're having a bad day, but once you gain momentum, it almost feels magical.
LISTENING TO YOUR BODY: If it's telling you to cry, then cry. If it's telling you that it needs comfort, go and get some lovin’ from your family/friends/boyfriend/girlfriend etc. I find that whilst putting up walls prevents people from seeing you vulnerable, it also stops negativity from leaving your system and positivity from entering it. You end up in a battle with yourself – a battle that you are predestined to lose.
ART: Art is something that is very personal. Whether you are drawing, writing, dancing, composing music etc. you have look deep into yourself to find what you’re really trying to say. Transforming the way I’m feeling into something physical is always so therapeutic when the isolated thoughts become too much.
READING: The universe never fails to leave me breathless, and the thought that I am a part of something so vast, so beautiful and so perfectly designed is such a comfort. There is an abundance of amazing literature out there that discusses this, and when I remember that there is still so much for me to learn, I can’t stop the excitement from bubbling within me.
REMEMBERING THAT IT DOESN’T DEFINE YOU: You are a person with depression, not a depressed person. Just like when you have the flu, you are a person with the flu, and not a flu-infected person. You can radiate so much love, and have depression. You can have a smile that lights up the room, and have depression. You are so much more than it wants you to believe.
In the end, whether you are suffering from depression yourself, or would like to be a support for someone else, an open dialogue is absolutely necessary. Normalization of the discussion allows people to seek help and express themselves without fearing judgement, and therefore opens the door for others to show them that they are immensely loved and DEFINITELY not alone in their fight.
But in order to do this, the negative connotations that accompany vulnerability need to be dismissed. It is not somewhere that courage and strength goes to die; it is where true interconnectedness, happiness and love is born.