I thought I was a strong person. I had gone through a tough academic path, lived alone in faraway lands in my early twenties and was told I was more mature than people my age. When I heard about depression, I thought it could never happen to me. I was a person who dealt with her problems and solved them all by herself. Essentially, I thought depression was for losers.
But depression happened anyway. Actually, it had been waiting to happen for pretty much my whole life. When faced with trauma, most children and teenagers block out the memory as a defense mechanism. Like a ticking bomb, it can resurface later in life. I went through several stages. The first was ‘denial’. “It probably happens to everyone”. “It’s not a big deal”. I avoided it until I couldn’t. I realized that what had happened to me was wrong and the lack of support of people I trusted didn’t make things better. It came to a point where I felt the need to see a therapist because this was an issue I couldn’t solve all by myself and things were unraveling out of control.
Then, after starting therapy, the ‘anger’ stage began. It actually made me feel powerful: I had this huge amount of energy I needed to release. Then I learned that what had happened to me as a child was worse than I had thought because I had erased some things from my memory entirely. It felt as if I was reliving it, even after 25 years. When you are attacked, your reflex is to defend yourself; however in the case of childhood trauma, you typically freeze in fear only to “awaken” later. And since you can not defend yourself anymore, you turn the hurt onto yourself.
And thereafter, I entered the phase of ‘depression’. To give you an image, it feels like a huge tsunami traps you and suddenly makes you powerless and no longer able to grasp for air. Negative thoughts became obsessive to the point where they were defining my life and who I was. I thought of resorting to extreme measures to make them stop. I had flashbacks and there were nights where I could not sleep so I started taking strong sleeping pills. I feared the moment when I would have to change into my pyjamas because I was disgusted with my body and avoided looking in the mirror. I had no energy and couldn’t focus. When asked what I did out of my days, I did not know what to answer. (I didn’t work at the time.) I withdrew from the outside world because I had the impression that people knew something was wrong with me and it was out of the question to make friends in these conditions. Even going out for groceries and talking to a salesperson felt like an ordeal. Simply put, I could not function anymore.
I started functioning again when my therapist prescribed Prozac. I had been reluctant to take such medications but it was really a turnaround for me. The negative thoughts were no longer invasive and I resumed a more regular life.
The New Year came around and I made a resolution that I still keep: every day I note down the pleasant things that had happened to me, even little things like a nice meal. It pushed me to take better care of myself and to realize that life is beautiful after all. I had never been into sports and I started to take bike rides throughout the city every day. It gave me a newfound confidence, a sense of wonder and challenge. It made me more aware of my body and I was surprised to find myself beautiful after having felt so disgusted with myself. I put the people who had let me down at a healthy distance and no longer felt disrespected. I started going to church for the first time in years; the sermons are still a moment I look forward to as they comfort me and push me to do good around me. A wonderful thing happened afterwards: I got plenty of job interviews and was eventually hired at a great company.
I would have never been able to survive this whole process without therapy. It’s hard to confide in a person you barely know and there were tearful sessions, but it was necessary to open my eyes and get another perspective on things.
Today, there are still issues I need to work on but I am doing much better. My depression was not long ago and is still part of who I am but by no means does it define me entirely. Strange as it is, I feel that I came out of it a better person. I feel more relaxed and smiling because it taught me that my wellbeing is my priority. I feel more compassionate and grateful because it gave me a taste of what it’s like to hit rock bottom. My Prozac dose is gradually getting lowered, which is not always easy: negative thoughts come back to haunt me for a short while until I am stabilized. However, I am proud of myself for dealing with difficult issues instead of staying in denial.
I think I am a strong person, after all.
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