In the past, I thought recovery from depression and anxiety was a definitive place. I thought that after a certain period of time, with hours and hours spent in counselling, I would be ‘cured’ and wouldn’t go back to that dark and scary space I had lived in for so long. I didn’t realise that for many people, myself included, depression is something you live with.
Like any chronic illness or condition that you learn to manage, it is consistently there. It plays a role in your life. Some days it sits at the recess of my mind and it is merely a fleeting thought. Other days it seems to envelope me and it’s like I become the darkness I feel. On those days, it’s difficult to remember that I am not my depression.
I am not those feelings of loneliness and despair, and they are not always present.
But in that moment, it can be awfully hard to believe this.
I still remember when I was diagnosed with depression. The doctor told me I was sick. So did my parents. So did the psychiatrist. It was a relief at the time. Suddenly the nights of insomnia, feelings of despair and overwhelming anxiety made sense. What’s more, I was told that it was possible to get better, to step out of depression and beat it; to feel alive again. I did everything I could to overcome the illness. Every day was a challenge, and it continued to be so for many years. And even as I grew older and I learnt how to better manage my anxiety and depression, I did all I could to flee from the illness. I wanted to be well, so any weakness was unacceptable. When I showed signs of depression, I dismissed them and kept moving forward. I thought it was wrong to be weak, because I was terrified I would become that person enveloped by darkness, again.
I’ve been in and out of counselling for years. Back when I was first diagnosed, I would attend weekly sessions. The psychiatrist and I would talk about everything. It was scary, because I’d never let anyone into the most vulnerable parts of my life before. But it was good, because for the first time I felt like I could be completely honest. I healed a lot, and I soon finished up my sessions feeling healthier. In a strange way, I felt invincible. I knew ‘weakness,’ and I had overcome it. I thought I was ‘over’ depression.
When I returned to counselling during my last few years of high school, I put it down to stress. And slowly my sessions petered out and I stopped scheduling them. I was okay, I was happy and I was whole. While I knew I still had my struggles, I believed that I should have it all together, so I tried to avoid any displays of anxiety. When they popped up on a daily basis- and they did, I hated myself for it. I was absolutely sure that I had to be 100 per cent in control of my health, and that relapse was out of the question.
Late last year, a close friend told me that it could be a good idea to return to counselling. I couldn’t believe it. Not because it wasn’t true, in fact it was something I’d been putting off for ages, but because it meant that someone had seen me, and really seen me. The girl who I tried so hard to hide had been uncovered by the people I trusted the most, and I had to face the reality that depression was still there.
With the help of my friends, I began to see that depression isn’t something you overcome once; it is something you walk through on a daily basis.
What was more- my friend’s told me that this was okay. It was okay to be vulnerable. It was okay to struggle. It was normal to have days where I felt lost and alone. But most of all, it was okay to tell people I was not okay. A day, a week or a season where I feel depressed or am highly anxious does not discount my years of work entering recovery. In fact, it is part of recovery. It is another step up and out of darkness, and into the light of who I am becoming.
To be honest, I still fear depression. When the feelings of helplessness come up, I get scared that they will pull me under. But the people around me are a reminder that I am strong. They give me the room to talk, to express my feelings, and they challenge me to take care of myself. My friends are the reason I keep taking another step forward in my recovery. And on the days I feel I have taken three steps back, they pick me up again and help me take back ground.
I am someone who lives with depression, but this doesn’t define me. My choice to take another step forward each day is.