“I’m stronger because of the hard times, wiser because of my mistakes, and happier because I have known sadness.” ~Unknown
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed anti-depressants when I was twenty-one years old. I refer to this point in my life as the “Dark Ages.”
Leading up to grad school, I’d suddenly become afflicted with incomprehensible despair.
At seventeen, for the first time (at least for the first time I could remember), I considered suicide. I felt as if life should’ve been more than what it was. I had a deep sense that I was supposed to be contributing something spectacular to the world, to the tune of curing cancer or working with AIDS patients in Africa.
As such, I fell short of my ideal self and this illusion ravaged my soul. So I emptied a parents’ prescription medication into my palm, retreated into my room, and prepared for my tragic exit.
As I was bringing the pills to my mouth, I heard the ring of an incoming instant message. I’d forgotten to sign offline. This friend of mine spent the next hour or so hearing me out. I was literally saved by the bell.
But my despair kept visiting me like a persistent acquaintance that wanted to be more than friends. By the time I was in grad school, he’d showed himself in and made himself comfortable, asking me how long he could stay this time.
I didn’t have an answer for him because I was getting comfortable playing house with the ole chap, until one day I realized I’d locked myself in with him, condemning myself to be a prisoner in what soon evolved into his house. We were cellmates, he and I.
At times, I felt empty. Only a shell of a person. At other times, I felt overwhelming hopelessness and sobbed without end, uncontrollably and inconsolably.
Still, other times I felt rage over my past, which was stained with childhood sexual abuse. And then there were the times I simply felt like being silent and alone.
I was at the bottom of a shadowy well and the sunlight above seemed impossibly out of reach. Could I ever climb out of this? I wondered. Or was I doomed to forever suffer this terrible fate, plagued with suicidal ideation, loneliness, and raw debilitating emotions for the rest of my life?
As it were, I found a way out.
It wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t lie to you.
And yes, there are still times when I lose my way and unintentionally trip back into that old, dark well.
But I’m stronger these days, and I’m able to catch a protruding ledge on my way down and hold my weight.
I’m strong enough to climb back out. In fact, I’ve never fallen all the way to the bottom again, but even if I did, I’ve developed an interminable tenacity that will always see me climbing toward the sunlight one more time.
So how did I do it?
First, I freed myself from prison.
That is to say, I owned my story. As I hailed from an evangelical Christian background at the time, it was a struggle to come out with regards to depression (as it is with any giant we face). The doctrine of many such religious institutions asserts that if you only believe enough, pray enough, fast enough, give enough…then your trial will pass.
Miracles certainly can and still do occur, but the problem with such doctrines is the failure to realize that some afflictions are meant to remain with us—whether to assist us with our own personal development or to raise the collective consciousness of those around us.
Further, people often find that they have no reason to own a “sob story.” This is perhaps one of the biggest locks on silence’s prison. We believe only people with certain circumstances deserve to be depressed. If, however, you are brilliant, successful, loved, and seem to have it all, then what reason have you to feel sad?
Unfortunately, people don’t realize that this is precisely what some forms of the attack take—feeling despair even when there are no external reasons why you should feel that way.
Whatever your cause, the first step in taking the reins back where it concerns your life is to simply own your story and admit to yourself what you feel.
Next, share your story.
I never really saw myself as a potential poster child for sexual abuse survivorship or for mental health. All I knew was that every time I shared my story with someone, I felt my heart cast off a dead weight and become lighter.
Know this: repression only causes further depression. The more you resist your story, the more you push it deeper into the recesses of your soul, the more likely it is that your depression and silence will take physical manifestation (for me: panic attacks, among other things).
The cure? Share your story. Yes, it will be scary at first, but you’ll soon be amazed by the sense of liberation and freedom that you feel shortly afterward. Share it with a friend. A family member. A support group. Share it on an online forum. Share it below in the comments if you’d like. Just share it!
When we do away with silence, we not only free ourselves from its prison but we build community with each other and force loneliness to dissolve.
Lastly, declare war.
I had to make a decision. Was I going to let depression collar me up and take me out for walks whenever it so chose, or was I going to reverse roles and become the master of my own life?
Was I going to fight this?
Was I going to throw ropes down that old familiar well so that on days when I did trip and fall in, I’d have something to hold on to?
Yes, I decided. I was. I owed it to myself. Because I was worthy. Because I deserved love. Because I deserved peace. And so do you.
Our wars, like any war out there, are fraught with countless battles. It’s also entirely a trial-and-error type of warfare you’ll be enacting. Sometimes, you’ll be on the offense; sometimes, on the defense. Sometimes you’ll feel winded with defeat; other times you’ll feel high with triumph.
What’s important to remember is that everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for you. What works for you for one season may not work in the next.
You have to commit to continually finding new weapons and keeping the ones that are most effective. My own arsenal has consisted of things like: yoga, meditation, breath work, community, hobbies, exercise, professional help, medication, music, and more.
And my encouragement to you would be to try all of these things and then some, and constantly evaluate and assess their impact on you.
But what I most what you to remember, my sweet kindred soul, is that you are so much more than a diagnosis or a trial or a mess; and more importantly, you are not alone.
I stand with you—as do millions of others around the world. And I believe hope can be yours. I believe, in fact, that hope already lives inside of you.
It’s the voice deep in your heart that keeps you going, day after day. It’s what compelled you to even read this post. It’s the stirring up inside of you that wonders at a brighter tomorrow.
Together, I believe we can combine the energy of our individual hopes until they come an unstoppable cosmic force that not even the most relentless of giants can contend with until we’ve reached every last one of us with the message our souls yearn to hear: you are not alone, you are loved, and we will stand with you through every storm that comes your way.