When my depression diagnosis came through at fifteen, I thought the doctor was wrong. I was upset that a doctor would think I could have something so detrimental – I was just a normal teenager. Then the doctor started to go through the symptoms. I had all of them. Every single one.
I fluctuated between happy and sad for the next eleven years. I was on two different medications, both of which worked for a while and then suddenly didn’t. When the most recent one stopped working, I sat on it for almost two years. I was getting ready to move across the country to start graduate school and managed to convince myself that a medication change would be detrimental. I was wrong.
I did well at school but regularly suffered through serious bouts of depression. My studio apartment was almost never clean, I cried a lot, and I ate terribly. My weight fluctuated and so did my ability to be successful at work. Sometimes I’m not sure how I made it through.
When I finally got myself to an on-campus therapist, we had to use different methods to combat my depression. My doctor was hesitant to change my medication over the phone from across the country. I did yoga, meditation, walking, and lots of journaling. It all helped.
But all that help stopped when I moved back to the West Coast. I was starting a new job, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, and living near my family again. Some things were going really well, and others not so much. I let all of the not-so-good things get to me, and suddenly I was back where I’d been a year before.
This time when I went to a therapist, not only did he set me on course to change medications, he told me something I’ll never forget.
“You have all the tools you need to combat this. You’ve given me all the right answers. You’re just not using your skills.”
I think what was surprising about it is that no one had ever really said that to me before. I’ve always gotten a lot of questions about how I’m feeling or about how the medication is working, but I hadn’t often heard, “You’re handling this well. You know how to do this. You can conquer this.”
For a long time, I’ve struggled with self-esteem. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, and my depression is definitely one of them. I’ve long believed that I’m not good enough, not pretty enough, or that there’s something wrong with me. It has taken me a long time to get to the place I am now – where I know I’m worthy of love.
Hearing from my therapist that I have everything in me to conquer this was an eye-opener for me. It has challenged me to think outside of my depression. If there’s something I think I can’t do, the first thing I do is reflect on my personal skills and experiences to see if maybe I really can do it. I’ve begun living outside of my comfort zone a lot more, which is terrifying, but also quite beautiful.
I still have bad days. Two weeks ago I had a really bad week. But I’m getting better at finding ways to be positive even when everything around me feels negative. I’m more open about my depression and my battle with self-esteem because I want people to know it’s okay to experience those things (and I also want people to know that when I snap at them, it’s not them).
Back in February, I got my third tattoo. It rests on my forearm, just below where my arm bends. In black, block letters, it reads “Love You Love People.”
One of my favorite companies, So Worth Loving, inspired the tattoo. It’s my regular reminder to be kind to others, but it’s also my regular reminder to be kind to myself. To believe that I can handle anything. Even what once seemed like the worst part of me.
If you’re struggling with depression, please know you’re not alone. I’m always available at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I would love to hear from you.
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.