Journey to Freedom, Part II: Depression

I didn’t think I would ever share this here. I’ve shared this story a few times over, even wrote about it when I was a writer for The Mighty. I’ve shared my experience with anorexia (see this post), so I guess you could consider this Part II. I’m sharing this experience today because it is just over 3 years that I did something that forever altered my path of living.

What I’m about to tell you is my experience with a depression that tried to take my life. The “s-word” (look up any s-word that is related to depression, I’m sure it won’t be hard to find if you’re confused) is one that I treat like the f-word. Not a word I like to use. It doesn’t have a good vibration, and there are connotations that come with it. So again, I took the same care in crafting this so as not to trigger anyone who has struggled or is struggling with depression. I also do not want to scare people, though what I’m talking about is extraordinarily scary.

This one was trickier though. It’s easier to omit numbers and eating habits from describing a story, so please do not read this if you are triggered by these types of stories. I do not go into detail of the event because that’s irrelevant to the message that I want to convey, but still I struggled to write this because this kind of stuff hits deep. I say this a lot, but as a reminder: it’s always darkest before dawn, and there is always a dawn. If you need to skip to the dawn, I whole-heartedly understand- please skip the section between the three stars (***).

Even with these stars, it’s hard to talk about depression. There’s a lot of stigma that comes with it. There’s a lot of stigma that comes with attempting to take your own life too. Judgment. Name-calling. Stereotypes. The ironic part is that depression can happen to anyone. There is no stereotype. Depression does not discriminate. And it’s a lot more common than we think.

That’s one thing I would like to point out before I begin. You are not weak for struggling with depression. While I was in the throes of it, I was told I’m not resilient. I’m not tough. I’m too weak and that’s why I can’t beat this. I was none of those things. I was and am strong, defiant, relentless, and resilient. And so are you. I could and can do tough things. And so can you.

***

Obviously with an eating disorder, I had my fair share of very low moments. But my true “depression” started in junior year of college. In the few months post study abroad, I found myself stuck. I had two stress fractures in both shins, was off my medication for OCD after finally deciding the side effects outweighed what little benefit I got from it, and hobbled around on a pair of crutches after being told no running for at least 4-6 months. It was the middle of winter, I had missed a whole semester with my friends who stayed back from study abroad (surprisingly a lot of them), and I felt anxious to get back to “doing school.”

Well, shit. How was I supposed to cope with life?

Instead of spending my time clocking miles, I buried myself in books. My OCD came back full force and I became obsessive with my studies, spending hours and hours taking and retaking notes, rereading passages, writing and rewriting papers…it was insanity. I saw no one and did nothing for a solid 2.5 months. I didn’t even realize the impact I was having on my friends either. I caused so much anxiety for my roommates who at one point were my best friends that I lost those friendships.

The pain that depression causes is deep. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the pain of depression was worse than any physical pain I had experienced (that’s saying a lot from the girl who snapped her arm in half doing gymnastics). I was alone most of the time with no one to talk to, so I had no choice but to deal with the demons in my head. I felt like it was a losing battle. I needed more than just studies to cope, and I still couldn’t run. The thoughts of just ending it all became too enticing that I convinced myself it was my best and only option.

I will never talk about the night of March 27, 2015, my attempt, in detail on here because, like I said, it’s unnecessary for the message of this story. All I will say is that I was saved, by the Universe, by God, by some other unknown power, I don’t know, but something made me pick up the phone for when my therapist and friend both called. I still cry just thinking about how grateful I am for those two, both of whom I still talk to today.

That weekend I went home and was checked into a hospital. In the months to follow, I was in and out of the hospital, seeking intensive outpatient therapy, then inpatient, then outpatient again. It was a long journey, with many moments that I had wished someone would just let me give up. But I never did, and that was the best gift anyone has ever given me. The opportunity to keep going. The second chance.

I learned a lot about life, people, and how little we really know of each. The psych ward was the first lesson in that. It showed me the full range of what humans are capable of. I was treated with both love and repugnance, empathy and apathy, true concern and utter hatred all in one night. One nurse pulled me aside to tell me that I was worth more than this, that I deserved love and happiness and that I was strong as hell. Another doctor pulled me aside to tell me that I was disgusting, worth nothing, sick, and that I had revoked all of my human rights the second I walked through the emergency room doors.

Despite that horrid first night, and the disgusting manner in which doctors (not just one, I unfortunately encountered three more doctors who looked at me as if I was a curse to the world) treat mentally ill patients, I met some beautiful souls while I was there. You realize when you’re in the position I was, you really aren’t so different from the next patient. No matter how you grew up, what privileges you somehow were lucky enough to be born with, what experiences you’ve had, you’re the same. You’re both hurting, you both want love, and you’re both scared to move on because for some reason, life just wasn’t so kind to you in the previous years.

I met a boy my age that grew up in just the town over. He had tried to take his own life as well, but you would have never known by the smile on his face. He was the kindest person I met there, brought me to the lunch table and tried to get me to laugh. He had been there for 23 days already. When a nurse came over to us to tell him that his mom was on the phone for him, I listened to him speak to her.

“Hi mommy! I miss you! I’ve been okay, it’s getting better. When do I get to see you?”

That’s when I broke. It made me want to hug him, give him back to his mother, and tell him he would never have to feel this pain again. Ever. He was just like me. They all were.

The next stop was outpatient at two different facilities and in two different states. In the first facility, I drove every day to spend 6 to 8 hours in group and individual therapy. It was actually the first time I enjoyed therapy, and I know that sounds weird, but these people became my family. It was bittersweet whenever someone “graduated” from the group because you wanted them to succeed and have this wonderful life, but you were going to miss them greatly and knew you’d probably never see each other again (we weren’t allowed to keep in contact, but that’s actually how I met one of my best friends- sometimes, rules are meant to be broken!).

Then something I didn’t ever fathom would happen did. One of my best friends from the first university I attended (before transferring to another one) called me. An old friend from our year did take his own life.

In that moment, I once again learned the full range of human emotions: shock, guilt, grief, sadness, anger, jealousy (I know, I’m not proud of that one either)…it was ugly. I ran for two hours straight that day (I was just getting back into running after healing from the stress fractures), listening to “Adam’s Song” by Blink-182 and crying the entire time. I didn’t know how to process all that I was feeling and I felt so raw. He was gone and wasn’t coming back. Why did he get to go and I didn’t? Why did he have to go? He was such a beautiful person. Why did he have to feel that pain?

My recovery slowed down a lot that day, which impacted the weeks to come, ultimately leading to another facility. In a weird way though, it needed to happen. I yet again met more beautiful souls in my stay. There was a “football all-star,” everyone’s favorite player. There was a high school senior struggling to find his footing in this world. There was a retired therapist who was shocked to find herself in her patients’ shoes. There was a mother of five. There was a compulsive gambler. There was the straight A student who did everything she was ever asked (well, there were a few of those). We were all here with different experiences, but the ultimate reason was the same: we had lost sight of our love for life. I guess you could call us the modern day Breakfast Club!

The pain of living began to ease in those weeks. Going back to school to finish out my senior year was another challenge. I got a lot of questions: where were you last semester? What happened to you? Why don’t you want to come out with us tonight? To be honest, senior fall was the biggest test. I had to quite literally learn to accept being all alone and still okay with myself. I had very few friends, and the ones I did have, I was scared to lose them so I tried not to put myself onto them: I didn’t ask to hang out and I rarely checked in. I did make it through though. My second semester, I met a lot of people that I’m still grateful to have in my life because I realized I am worthy of these friendships.

That being said, I still had a lot of learning to do. I didn’t know who I was. Who I had been hadn’t been the truest Britt. I had to relearn how to feel joy and happiness and not fear sadness and anger. I had to relearn who Britt is. It’s a process, but looking back, I’m thankful for every single person that told me never give up, that life was worth it, and that this was only a chapter. I can proudly and confidently say that it was all so worth it; I’m overjoyed to be here today and to have come so far. It’s scary, but we all have the courage to make it through.

***

While the psych ward was a learning experience in how corrupt and disgusting our current medical system is (I know, I’m still bitter. I’m working on letting it go), the other experiences as an outpatient, an inpatient, and a fellow struggler in this crazy world showed me a much different perspective.

I don’t tell this story so that you can feel sorry for me. I hope that you wouldn’t judge me, but then again, I know that with fear comes judgment (because we often judge that which we do not fully understand), and that is human nature.

This journey has made me the person that I am today, and I’m finally proud to be here. You learn a lot about empathy, trust, emotions, the human struggle, resilience, and love.

I can honestly say that with everyone I met, there was not one story nor one soul I did not fall in love with. We’re all human, and while our physical experiences are unique, we share the same feelings for pain, loss, happiness, anger, disappointment, joy, surprise, and love. My heart ached seeing how much pain these people experienced, and somehow it made me realize that if I think they don’t deserve this pain, then what makes me so special that I would deserve this pain?

That’s right! Nothing!

If I could do it all again (though I think one go ‘round was enough for this lifetime!), I would tell the doctors to look at us like we were their sons and daughters instead of dirt beneath their shoes. I would give that nurse in the ER who told me I could do this and that I was stronger than these demons the biggest hug. I would thank every passerby, every therapist, and every friend and family member (still do- I love you guys) for telling me not to give up. I would go back and tell every person I met that they are loved and that they matter.

That’s what I want to get at really with all of this. Please, if you take only one thing away from all of this mumbo jumbo, let it be that you matter and you are loved.

Let me be clearer. 

You matter and you are loved.

No matter what you’re going through, it is a season, and it will pass. Some are longer than others, but it will pass. There will be days going through it that you will feel lonely as hell and wonder if this is it, but I promise you, like I said earlier, your darkest days are just before the dawn.

So keep fighting for that light. Reach out for help, whether that’s a coworker, a family member, a friend, a professor, even just someone you meet in passing. They may not be the person to help, but they can direct you to someone who can.

Next, surround yourself in light. I know how tough this could be, as there were days I didn’t get out of bed and wanted nothing to do with the sunshine. Go play with puppies, turn on music and dance, watch a ridiculous episode of The Office, be in nature, anything that used to bring you joy, immerse yourself in that light. When I first did this, it was extraordinarily painful. I tried to paint and I would just stare at my brushes and cry. I felt pathetic. But I wasn’t pathetic, I was just in pain. Every time I came back to those brushes, I chipped away at the sadness, until I could finally lift up the brush again and let it flow.

If you can find it in you, start to imagine the person you’re becoming- you’re truest self as you heal. I swear, the reason I’m so dang positive today is because of all that I went through. I wasn’t born happy, go-lucky, smiling Britt. I faced a lot of demons in my 23 years of living. But it’s made me appreciate the good days even more, and it forced me to find the beauty in EVERYTHING, because it’s there, trust me, you just need to open your eyes.

Be patient with yourself. It takes a lot to learn how to love yourself again. And it takes a lot to finally see yourself not as the victim, but as the badass warrior that you are. You will probably lose some relationships over all of this, I’m not going to hide that fact because that part was devastating to me. I lost a lot of friends and don’t keep people too close for these reasons. This is something I still need to work on, and I acknowledge that. But the ones you keep will grow stronger, and you might be surprised how the lost relationships could circle back.

Also know that you will have good and bad days still in recovery. Those not so great days are not steps back, but just side steps and hops and skips! You’re going forward, I promise you, and trust yourself that you can make it through. Trust the Universe or God or whatever you call that higher power that you are meant to be here and that you wouldn’t be going through this if you weren’t strong enough to beat it!

And know that you are loved. I’ve said it a thousands times, but it all really comes back to this: love. At the end of the day, that’s all we really are. Never lose sight of that.

 

2 thoughts on “Journey to Freedom, Part II: Depression

  1. I cannot thank you enough for writing this. As someone currently struggling, this post had tears rolling down my face – you managed to describe everything I feel that I can’t put into words. I plan on coming back to this on those days when the pain hits the worst. Thank you again!

    Like

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