I was the kid in high school who probably seemed to have it all together: mostly straight A’s, juggling a job, boyfriend, volleyball and other activities. If sheer will could hold things together, then that’s how I managed for a long time.
I made my way through college with barely a scratch, juggling a full-time job, full-time course load, parties, friends, boyfriends, trying to enjoy whatever I could of life. The cracks were there but hidden and denied, even to myself. I could do this—and if I didn’t admit they were there, then they weren’t.
I kept it together until I no longer could. I learned my grandmother had cancer– my favorite person in the whole world was dying, and there was nothing I could do. I fell apart. Weeks spent crying in my bed for every waking moment that I was not in work, pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, then starving myself and exercising for hours daily until I couldn’t move–running the same diatribe that sounded an awful lot like my mother over and over in my head that I wasn’t good enough and that no one would ever love me.
Eventually I pulled myself out of it and managed to live my life, never really letting myself pull back that curtain for fear of exposing the cracks.
If I didn’t admit the cracks were there, then they weren’t.
My first “rock bottom” was a move to New Jersey for a torrid romance that I was just sure was “the one”, only to learn what was behind his curtains. I believed his story of who he was, and was determined to make the relationship work. I lost a lot of me in the process. I found myself sitting in the middle of an empty living room, barren of any furniture, in my pajamas sobbing as if my life was over. And maybe for that moment, it was.
Depression is not an easy thing to manage, and though it can be triggered by life events, I have found it to be a lifetime event. It ebbs and flows, cycling through life, with a stronger pull at some times than others and a constant struggle to learn how to manage it effectively while minimizing impact and harm to myself and those around me.
Four years ago, I lost both of my first two dogs in the span of 7 months. Bracketed around the second loss was the loss of two close friendships; one more of a drift and one a rather abrupt and painful end. At least I had learned by then when I need to raise the white flag and ask for help, and while it was still a challenging process to pull out of, I managed.
I’ve had other friends write about and publicly post about their mental health challenges, and always admired how brave they are. While I completely recognized that it’s a medical issue, I still struggle with feeling that for myself, it’s a sign of weakness—that I can’t hold things together as I should.
The concept of control.
I have learned that depression is not something to be ashamed of, but is a fact of life. While there may be some seemingly “quick fixes,” it isn’t that easy. I found I needed to do the work, and to really dig into the issues that trigger me. I had to face my childhood, accept, grieve, forgive and choose to move on. I have to communicate and use the coping mechanisms that I have learned that are healthy and don’t do my body harm. I may not be able to control what goes on around me, but I can control me and how I react. It’s a powerful lesson.
Going back to Boston a couple of months ago and stepping through my childhood all of these years later was a major healing for me. Meeting with people that I once was very close to, to both forgive and to be forgiven, with the grace of an adult choosing to move forward with a newly-defined relationship based on the wonderful feelings of friendship continued the path toward healing.
When I began this process, I initially grew angry, feeling I missed out on my childhood and lived for so long with so much sorrow and anger. Now I think how lucky I am that I have my whole life ahead of me to really cherish this gift of perspective that I now have. The rest of my life can be whatever I want it to be and I don’t choose to squander it mourning a past that I cannot change. Instead, I choose to define my future based on who I am at this moment, and who I am becoming instead of who I have been. I have learned to accept and love that person, but I love the me that I am now even more.