When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with depression.
I remember thinking that something was wrong with me, and that there was something inside of me I needed to fix. None of my friends spoke about crying for hours on end, about not having enough energy to get out of bed for school, or about wanting to end their lives.
It felt like there was something dark inside of me that did not reside in anyone else. There was an imperfection that needed to be smoothed out.
I was desperate to end my depression and get back to living a normal life, so I followed all of the doctor’s orders. I went to therapy, I started exercising, and I started taking antidepressants. I also remember going to group therapy a few times (I was super shy and didn’t contribute anything to the group, but I can at least say I tried it).
After a few months of this, I started to feel much better. It didn’t happen overnight, but one day I remember feeling like the dark cloud had lifted, and like I was enjoying life again.
I was back to working hard at school and planning for my future at college. Finally, I felt ‘normal’ and like the wound inside of me had healed.
This was over 10 years ago now, and unfortunately, I can’t say it’s been an easy journey since then.
I had failed to realize that depression never really leaves you- you can’t just slap a bandaid on it and wait for it to get better.
I didn’t clue in to this until I was 27 years old. Sure, I had felt sadness or hopelessness in adulthood, but I never considered myself depressed.
It wasn’t until I spoke to a psychologist that I had my aha moment. I was feeling wore down and exhausted from my stressful office job when I had booked the appointment. Within ten minutes of meeting him, he locked eyes with me and said, “Based on what you’ve said to me already, you’re depressed. I want you to know that I can’t cure you of this- this is a life-long condition.”
Based on any textbook definition, I was definitely depressed again, but this hadn’t clicked for me until now. I didn’t understand how I was dealing with this again.
What did I do wrong? How much more would I have to fight this? Every six months, every year, or every five years? How was I supposed to battle this for the rest of my life?
After I let all of this sink in, I took a new approach.
I wasn’t going to fight it off. In order to live with it, I needed a strategy that wouldn’t make my life miserable.
Instead of gearing up for battle, I reached a point of acceptance.
I decided to treat my depression more like an old friend than like my enemy- here’s why.
It Isn’t Going Anywhere
I realized that I can kick and scream all I want, and my depression will still be there. Sometimes it hides away and I don’t see it, but I can’t ever fight it off entirely. It’s a part of me.
This doesn’t mean that I had given up on treating it. I was still going to therapy and trying to exercise regularly.
I needed to learn to live with it. What I didn’t need was to find a way to get rid of it forever.
Hating It Makes It Worse
Pushing my depression away was not the best approach for me. Actually, it was like adding fuel to the fire.
The more I thought about how much I hated being depressed, the more depressed I got.
Accepting it and taking care of myself when it came around? That was more helpful.
One day, I woke up and felt really depressed. I didn’t think I could get out of bed that day, let alone do all of the things I had planned the night before. I knew that I couldn’t even make my morning coffee.
Instead of beating myself up about how ‘lazy’ and ‘weak’ I am, I accepted the situation fully.
I was depressed that day, so I was going to take a break. I would do all of the things I was planning to do at another time.
For the first time, I was looking at my depression like the illness it was, and not like a weakness.
What did I do when I was physically sick? I took the day off to slow down and take care of myself.
Why would it be any different with a mental illness?
I did not work, clean, or cook food that day. I allowed myself to sleep, watch TV, and order takeout. It was the first time I hadn’t been hard on myself during a depressive episode.
I can’t remember how long I felt depressed for this particular time, but it didn’t seem to last as long as usual.
Energy Spent Fighting It Off Is Better Spent Understanding It
There will never be a cure for my depression, and I will never state that I found a cure for it.
There are, however, ways to manage depression.
By treating it more like a friend than like an enemy, I was learning to manage it.
I wasn’t desperately trying to fight it off and figure out how to ‘fix myself’ for good.
Instead, I was allowing myself to rest and recover when it came around. This wasn’t a weakness I had- it was simply a part of who I was.
Any energy spent on figuring on what was wrong with me was better spent on trying to understand how to live with it.
A key part of understanding my depression was knowing that I would never be cured, and that was okay.
It may not be a happy or glamorous part of my life.
But the thought of it coming back wasn’t worrying me anymore.