I'm on a roll today! Normally I don't have much to write about (or much time), but today seems to be different. The blogosphere seems to be quite active with discussions on Silence is the Enemy over at Sciencewomen, Academia and Me, and an older post I tracked down by Jo(e). I'm hoping to post a poem later today that I wrote (either new or old, not sure yet) that covers some of these topics. In the meantime, Dr. Isis has posted a letter reminding me of something I've been delaying writing about. So, in accordance with silence being the enemy (not just for violence, but mental illness), I've decided to start a few posts on the subject. All are personal experiences, either mine or from those close to me, and I feel that someone needs to voice them.
I've been battling depression since the 7th grade. Puberty happened, and something in my brain/psychological makeup clicked, making me think, "everyone's going to die. We're all just walking skeletons, delaying the inevitable decay." Not at all a positive thing to think. I inevitably found unhealthy ways of dealing with these excess and painful emotions and thoughts. Whenever anyone noticed signs, I'd lie about it. I fell, I got scratched by my cat, etc. etc. I didn't have a cat. I managed to at least express to my mother that I was unhappy, so she enrolled me in counseling. I had a bad experience with that first counselor, and ended up lying to get out of it after several months. I kept my problems and depression to myself for the next several years, other than the occasional friend or boyfriend who would discover them. My depression manifested itself in an extremely poor body image during my freshman year of high school, while the other symptoms remained. After a rather dangerous relationship my senior year of high school, I realized I was too self destructive, and went to see my guidance counselor. He at least, made me inform my mother that I was still having the same problems from five years previous. She never knew (and I don't think ever will) the extent to which I had problems, and just what they were. I grew up in a stable family, with a healthy relationship with her. I felt guilty for causing her pain when I was younger, and didn't want to involve her in what was really going on. I felt like she blamed both herself and me for my problems.
I jumped into college after that, settling in pretty well with my dorm, my difficult classes, and new relationships. Unfortunately, left to my own devices and a change in environment, my eating disorder re-emerged, manifesting in a different way though. It took me several months-towards the middle of the Spring semester-to realize just how bad things had gotten. I finally had the support I needed and the personal strength to want help (and realize that I actually needed it), and sought it out. I saw a therapist on campus during the remainder of that semester, eventually realizing that I needed more than talk therapy-I needed medication. I met with a psychiatrist, which was a daunting and terrifying thing. I felt as though everything I said was wrong. In the end though, I received proper treatment, with sleep being the only side effect (I suddenly needed more). I was ready to continue a happy life, but of course, life never works out the way we think it will. I fell into a deep spiral that Summer after freshman year. I was lucky to see the other side. Beginning of sophomore year caused some serious problems for me, as I was forced to deal with some rather painful emotions and experiences. The loss of my first love caused me to again hurt myself. And again, I count myself lucky to have been on antidepressants, or else the scars would have been much worse-both physical and emotional.
The remainder of my college experience went well after that point. I continued to take antidepressants, found some new friends, and learned some new skills. The completion of my college career and finding a first job, along with the loss of another possible future caused me to rethink some things. I never took any tests to determine if what I had was depression, or if was something else. My dosage was never tested. I was unsure if I could be on a lower dose, with the same positive effects. After careful consideration and discussion, I decided to see a therapist again on my own, as I worked to go off medication. It was a painful process, and incredibly scary. I talked a lot, and listened a lot. I had to rethink my personal history, and many of my demons came up. I had to learn to deal with them, instead of repressing them. I told quite a few people about what I was doing, and got a lot of different reactions. Some people were surprised to hear I was having problems. Others, who knew, were proud and supportive of me for doing something about it, and trying to improve my life. Others, including my lost future, thought it was the stupidest idea I'd ever come up with. At least it made it easier to move on. But I needed to know if I could function and be happy without medication for the rest of my life. I didn't want to be on something if I didn't have to be.
So, this Autumn will mark one year without antidepressants. I'm still alive, relatively happy, and doing ok. I haven't conquered all my problems, but I don't know if anyone ever does. If everything is solved and perfect, then what's the point of life? I would say I still battle with depression, but at least now, I win most of the time. Some things still trigger me; certain memories, songs; sometimes I just wake up sad. But there's a sense of accomplishment for me, knowing that I can handle life (most of the time), and I now have a lot more experiences that may be able to help others.
Besides lending an ear to someone with a mental illness, you can (granted, this isn't good for everyone!!) give them a hug. Not a pat on the back. A nice, long, "haven't seen you in a while and really missed you" hug. :) Go ahead. Find someone and give them a hug. It'll make their day. It'd at least make mine.