I’ve had clinical depression since I was twelve or thirteen years old. Doctors and counselors tried to diagnose me with it in my later teens, but I violently resisted this position, I didn’t want to believe them. Not until I was 22 did I finally accept that I was certifiably, clinically depressed. I’ve decided to write openly about my depression here, because for some reason there’s still stigma attached to mental illness. Honest talk is one way to fight this strangely persistent stigma.
Mental illness runs deeply in my family, as it does in many families, but I wasn’t aware of this until I was older, fifteen or sixteen. When I was twelve, I found my sadness was suddenly stronger than ever before, that it hung around me and frequently scared other people away. This was the beginning; instead of talking about it or letting anyone know that I was more scared and sad than I used to be, I turned the sadness inward. I started cutting my arms, and I continued cutting for many years; not until I was thirty could I say I was through with it. Fortunately, I ended up with just a few good scars; I only had to get stitches once or twice. For some of this time I was in therapy (from maybe fifteen to twenty), and in small some ways it helped lift my crushing loneliness, just interacting with trained professionals. But depression can be hard to treat; I needed medicine and I wasn’t honest with the therapists. I wasn’t in therapy because I had depression; I was there because I was “moody” and unpleasant.
Did I abuse drugs and alcohol? Why, certainly. When you’re not getting the correct chemicals to relieve a disease, the body self-medicates with anything else in reach. As I sit here writing this, I realize I’ve been on anti-depressants for over ten years. I’ve tried dozens of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), Benzodiazepenes and other anti-anxiety drugs (really, this could be its own article-finding the right SSRI for your particular brain is a crap shoot). I feel fortunate to have found a drug that helps me, and have been on it for seven years now; someday I hope to go off medication entirely. The long term effects of SSRIs are not yet known. I’m probably in the second generation of users, but the first generation are only fifteen or twenty years ahead of me, and it’s hard to believe Pfizer, Merck and Novartis have my best interests at heart. But I’m getting way off track here; I meant to tell you that I finally agreed to try anti-depressants right after college; I graduated, moved back home, and then never left the house for several months.
I was 22, sleeping all the time, afraid to apply for jobs, afraid of my impending student loans, not eating much. My mother dragged me kicking and screaming to a new therapist and a psychiatrist, and I grudgingly accepted their diagnosis of clinical depression. I agreed to try anti-depressants for the first time, and it was frightening at first; they can have some weird side effects. The only thing that had changed in my opinion of doctors since I was twelve was that I knew more about biology, since I’d taken a biology class (and a psych course) at college. I knew the drugs I was using to self medicate were probably making my condition worse, and rotting my organs. It took a long time, but I finally found the right combination of drugs and compatible therapists, and gradually I got better, got a job, rejoined conventional society, etc.
My depression still cycles through, certainly, but it hasn’t been really bad in a long time. I’m grateful I confronted it at 22 instead of 52; like most diseases, clinical depression intensifies with age. I’m also lucky to have a wonderful therapist now, and a good support system. I’m no longer ashamed to say I have depression; it’s just a sickness, but it’s a little harder to see than most. Did I mention yet that I tried to take my own life? Or that I skipped a lot of high school because I feared my strong sadness would be painfully obvious? There’s always more to say on depression, and I haven’t described half of the dark things I’ve done to myself; really, I just wanted to give you my own rough history, with the hope that someone somewhere reads this and maybe feels a little less lonely, less ashamed.