I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what this feeling was. All I knew was that I was consumed with sadness, and feelings of hollowness. No one spoke of it. Not directly at least. No one lent a helping hand. My mother had left and was too far away. My father was absorbed in his own stress, or at least that’s what he called it. What is stress? My young mind thought it was something adults made up for not being able to cope. How could adults not cope? Adults were meant to cope and teach us babes in the woods the mechanisms of life. I was told my sadness stemmed from an absent mother. They spoke about her a lot. The woman who shipped one of her daughters off to live with her grandparents. Then she left her husband and two other daughters so that she could live abroad.
This wasn’t the whole story. It never is the full version. People pick up pieces here and there to use as a filler in their dull conversations. Then they draw conclusions to everyone's predicaments in life. They had decided why I was sad, and that was that. No one asked me what was going on. I didn’t even know myself. But I knew that it was not because of my mother. Not entirely at least. I was filled with sorrow that she was gone and my family was broken apart. I was sad for all of us struggling through this challenging time. But this feeling was more than that though. This feeling was deeper than sadness and affected my core being. I was thirteen at the time, a mere child just beginning puberty. Already overwhelmed by the transition my body was forcing me to make, coupled with the tension simmering throughout my whole family as my mother was blamed for tearing us all away. Years later I learned the word to describe my unhappiness during this time, and it would not be the last time I became depressed.
The questions that come up with depression were where does it stem from? Why did I feel this way? I learned that depression can be genetically hereditary. Which makes sense since my whole family is a petri dish of mental health issues. Checkmark for the first box of ‘Why are you depressed?’ When I was sixteen I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a thyroid disease. You will never guess one of the main symptoms for this deadly sounding condition. Yup. Depression. They also splashed some anxiety with the mental symptoms of thyroid problems. So that explains that. Other factors that may cause one to be depressed are major life events - I guess the gossipers were partly right for my diagnosis of ‘sadness’. Loss. Check. Conflict. Check. Gender. Oh for fuck sakes. I’ll just sign up as the poster girl for depression shall I?
I don’t recall the moment this dark cloud was lifted as a teenager. My mother had returned, my parents divorced, my father remarried, and my sisters and I moved in with our mother. We got through the family transition and carried on with our lives. One moment I was melancholy and then I wasn’t. I do, however, recall that my shyness began to dissipate. Of course, life events, the people I was surrounded by, and my age contributed heavily toward my confidence growing. Though there definitely was a before and after version of myself around the time of this first bout of depression. I seemed to have found my voice hidden in the shadows of that dark time, now ready to share her light.
My bouts of depression come in waves. Some lasting a mere short time, where I am able to pinpoint the cause of my demise. Other times misery takes hold for years, and it is difficult to ascertain the exact moment or reason for why my mind plummets into its own dreary world. I am not a perky person, and my introverted self likes to bask in a little melancholy, making the distinction between my personality and depression a little hazy, even for me. It’s hard to say when the second time I felt depressed began but I do know that around the age of eighteen or nineteen I was unhappy. I didn’t enjoy what I was studying. I was not happy living at home. I had no money to support myself either. I felt trapped and unable to breathe. No. Unable to choose to breathe. I felt that life was decided for me. They insisted that I study after high school. I wanted to go on a walkabout and discover who I was, let alone choose a career path. Then they decided that I must move to the US with my mother and sisters because they felt it would be best for me. I disagreed but what else was I to do? I was young and desperate for guidance but their advice never seemed to match what I knew was not in the best interest of me. I felt like a bird living in a cage with my wings clipped. Depression seemed like the only choice I had, and even that was a dark cloud taking over my mind without my permission.
By the time I was twenty, I had somehow managed to lift the cloud and the warmth that came with this release eased my own unhappiness. On several occasions others commented on how I had suddenly become more pleasant. I wasn’t aware that I had been an arsehole but good to learn that I was now enjoyable to be around. They shared their knowledge of how depressed I had been as a teenager and glad that I brightened up, all the while congratulating their predictions that age would naturally dissipate any issues I may have been going through. What did tick me off ever so slightly was learning how many people were well aware that I dealt with depression and not a single one of them ever intervened. I was a child after all. This newfound discovery would only teach me to not ask for help and manage my troubles on my own. Age did bring a little more self-awareness and, to be completely honest with you dear reader, I was a little angry that being pleasant to appease others’ comfortability was more important than helping out a sister who was hurting and too young to know why or how to cope. I hold no grudges but that wound runs deep.
I moved with my family, feeling downhearted that I did not have the liberty to take control of my own fate. Misery crept her way in the moment we landed on US soil. The years moved on but my soul remained frozen, as I emerged deeper and deeper into depths of despair. I had left my spirit somewhere and could not find it. I had forgotten that I even had a laugh once. I heard somewhere that the final stage of depression before one kills themself, is despair. When one feels that there is no more hope, nothing more can be done. I could not find the light, but I did not think of killing myself, not in the sense of dying. I did want to kill the part of me that made me feel this way. How does one kill their genes? Or the environment that makes one so sick? I wanted to be fixed and not mured up in my own mind. I was desperate for relief, but too poor to be a drug addict, and disappointed that I was so lonely I didn't even know drug dealers. Actually, it seemed like too much effort to run around looking for things that would harm me, so I chose therapy instead.
For a year my therapist and I spoke. I cried, I broke, I opened up, I looked inside, really deep inside. I pulled out all the horrors, picked at the scabs, and began to nurture my wounds. Within this year I learned to heal. I found my laugh, my strength, my inner light shining through the cracks of my soul. Oh there she is. I thought I lost you.
My mid twenties was the worst depression I had endured, and my darkest days to date. But I left that therapy office with weapons to fight my demons and tools to use to practise taking care of myself. To prevent myself from falling over the edge into the depths of despair. I cannot say for certain the next time I fell back into that familiar pit. What I can say is that I was not afraid of it anymore. I had learned to embrace it and found solace within this place that was neither real nor fantasy. I think that’s partly what depression is, at least for me, a place that is neither true nor a lie. One’s thoughts are a stew of contradictions, just made up of hate and angst toward ourselves, spiced with apathy, confusion and sheer loneliness. Though I have found it to be comforting as my mind is free to run wild, even though it is simultaneously plagued with a fawness too complex to aptly describe.
Freedom is what I want. The autonomy to be my true self, intertwined with the shadows and light. I love the duality of myself, of humanity. I love that we are complex as well as simple creatures moving through life. When I learned to face the darkness, and began to wear my depression like a dark cloak, revelled in its power. It has become my power, because it is the place where I found more pieces of myself. Just like my thirteen, or fourteen year old self had shed her shyness, then later I had liberated my voice. I discovered my own inner strength, and I learned how to heal purely by loving myself.
Depression has been a time when I can heal, learn and grow. It provides me with an inner stillness, where it forces the world to shut up so that I can breathe on my own. I still hear other’s rumours, and my own self-doubt, but these voices float by while I process their meaning, their trivalty, and recognise the lies (and the truth) found in their words. It is a powerful thing to be able to distinguish one’s true identity away from the crowd, removing the societal influences whose main goal is to oppress and suppress. To decide for us who we should be and what lives we are supposed to lead. It is a powerful thing to be who you truly are in a world dictating to you what is right and wrong for your own self.
People are taught to be afraid of the dark, and to only follow the light. But there is nothing to be learned when one is frolicking in summer time their whole lives. They are suspicious that one can choose who to be, because us social creatures are socialised to be something that does not always benefit who we are. Depression is natural and necessary for our inner growth. When wintering within my own mind, I found my spark, I discovered more layers of myself and ways to purge the old and make room for the new. It is not a pleasant feeling or experience. It is painful and has the ability to bring me to my knees. But each and every time I claw my way out, I am more whole. More my complete self, and closer to becoming my most authentic self. I am a woman who is both melancholy and cheerful. A woman who is wise and foolish. A woman who is herself and the product of what society has shaped her to be.
My depression taught me that I will plunge into sheer unhappiness if I do not own my truth and live according to my rhythm. It taught me to seek within and reach out. It taught me to pay attention to my fears as they are most likely indications on the areas I need to focus and challenge myself. Insecurities are a way our minds tell us that this is the area that needs watering so that it may strengthen and support the fuller version of who we truly are. It is these low times that have taught me who I am at the core level. As much as I do not look forward to the next bout of depression, I don’t mind it much and am excited to learn more about myself and continue to grow into my fuller, truer being. Because I love her and I want her best to shine through.