For eight years, I have battled with depression.
When I was 19, I walked into a collage classroom for a course I was thrilled about. I have always been a student by nature; there are few things I love more than learning something new. It wasn’t the first class; we were partway through the semester when I first felt my heart racing, my head spinning, my breath too quick to catch, and bile rising in my throat. Thinking I was actually coming down with a bug, I got up and went outside. It was cold and early, and the cool helped minimally; thinking I was sick in a traditional sense, I went home that day. I don’t remember what I did, though I’m sure it involved laying on the couch and sleeping.
I woke up the next day, felt fine, and continued with my life. The next time I was in that classroom again, however, the same thing happened. Again. And Again. And again. It then started happening in other places.
I stopped going places.
My anxiety disorder slipped in just as slowly and deeply as my depression did; the only difference was that I was aware of my anxiety. Depression is quiet, and moves so slowly that the host doesn’t realize things are changing. Small habits change– eating, bathing, sleeping– but in a way that most people may or may not notice at first. When my mom finally told me to get help, I wanted to ask her why– it was as if I hadn’t realized my behavior had drastically changed.
These partners in crime would have destroyed my life had it not been for amazing love and support (and patience, patience, patience) from family and friends. That being said, please don’t mishear me; I fight my depression and anxiety all the time. I have trained to notice patterns of behavior indicative of a problem, and even still– even after eight years experience– it sneaks up on me. Things that have never been triggers before become exactly that; in one moment, I’m standing in a room full of people I love, and a breath later, I feel as if I’m in a totally dark room all by myself.
Depression hides. It hides itself from others, and it hides itself from its host.
Our culture only encourages the hiding.
Depression is not something you can “snap” out of. Depression is not something that someone can just give a “quick fix” for. Sometimes it does snap on and off, though I would never encourage someone to sit around and wait for that on the off-chance that it might happen. I would encourage people to educate themselves as fully as possible about what depression is and how it works. I would encourage people to utilize resources that are available, though I deeply understand that sometimes reaching out is just. too. hard.
Which is why people matter. People who are battling depression matter. People who are not battling depression matter. We all need to be warriors against mental illness– we need to stand tall and remind each other that we are all loved deeply, we all matter deeply, and that we are in this together. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
To those who are not battling depression, hear this with all the compassion I can muster: saying “if you are hurting, reach out to me” is not enough. Depression is far too complicated, and we address it as weakness. We treat people with depression as if they are broken by their own fault, as if they could decide to simply get up and shake it off. This is not so. We are sorely mistaken if we believe a blanket invitation to our instagram following is safety enough. It rarely is.
Human beings are community animals. We need each other. The American Way has allowed us to value independence above all else when what we need is communion with the people that love us, the people that matter. Find your people, and love them hard. Watch them– not as if they are ticking time bombs, but as someone you cherish. Don’t look for signs on their snapchat– you won’t see them. Depression hides well. Look for signs that things have changed, that time is being spent differently.
Remind each other constantly– not just in this week of suicide prevention, but always– that you matter. That you are not alone. Tell them you will come for them–you will come running– if they need you.
Hold fast, friends.