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It didn’t rage like a tsunami. It drifted in like a tide; a tide slowly edging ever closer towards you. And while you’re busy building sand castles, you don’t notice it rising until water splashes up and knocks down the walls of the castle you’ve been working on all day.
It started in middle school with “teenage moodiness.” My irritability went from being an occasional occurrence to an “if-you-chew-one-more-bite-with-your-mouth-open-I-will-storm-out-of-the-room-and-sob-in-anger” everyday occurrence.
Sleepovers became less and less frequent, and finally ceased. My once healthy self-esteem faded daily, twisting into self-loathing as I sat crying in front of the reflection of my broken-out skin.
It began as feelings of shame about things over which I had no control. I grew ever more frustrated to find I could not control my emotions.
The tide rose nearer as I started my freshman year of high school. Moodiness gave way to a fatigue so overwhelming, I didn’t even have the energy to feel emotion. Isolation took over and I stopped letting people into my world. Self-loathing invited shame and guilt so powerful I became physically sick to my stomach whenever I thought about myself or looked in the mirror.
Uncontrolled emotions lapsed into no emotions – no joy, no interest, no hope. I was so tired I couldn’t consider myself, let alone other people, anymore; I could only think about what I had to get done before I could go back to bed and spend another sleepless night in the dull ache of emptiness.
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During the spring of my freshman year, I looked at the mechanical existence I was barely trudging through and realized I was in agony. Nothing in the world could make me happy. Every single day I was fighting, but there was nothing worth fighting for.
Depression took away my will to live, reached my sand castle, and demolished it before I could even wrap my mind around what was happening.
But while this story includes pain, it is not a story of pain.
This is a story of growth, a story of love, and a story of hope. The day depression knocked the walls I had built was one of the most painful days of my life, but it was also the single most powerfully changing day I have ever experienced.
The walls around my life cascaded down, and it became clear. I had been so busy building those “protective” barriers, I didn’t realize how much structural damage had occurred from the heavy burden I placed on them while demanding they protect me from outside forces.
With tears streaming down my face, I had no choice but to stop pretending and admit I didn’t have everything together.
Terrified, I sat with my dad and told him all the reasons why I hated myself- the things I was ashamed of, the things I saw as failures. I told him my spiritual life had crumbled to pieces and I couldn’t even bring myself to pray. I told him that I had been miserable and unhappy even though my life had been handed to me on a perfect silver platter, even though I should have been the happiest girl alive.
I couldn’t put many of my feelings into sentences, but somewhere between jumbled sobs and words, the truth emerged. Instead of abandoning me or becoming angry, my dad gave me a long, tight hug and told me that we would get through this together. Instead of complaining when I soaked his shirt with tears and snot, he put headphones in my ears and played the song “Hold On” by TobyMac, holding me while I listened to the words
“Hold on, just a little bit longer, you can put your head on my shoulder. I wanna see you smile again, showing love to your crazy friends.”
Four years have now passed, and I have cycled in and out of episodes of depression several times since.
We had a long road ahead of us, and many times I still barricaded my heart until it held me captive again, but each time the walls gave way and I became a teary, broken mess. My dad was there to reach out, there to let me know I wasn’t alone.
He started taking me to therapy, he showered me with prayer, and he helped me understand how taking an anti-depressant was not a sign of failure, and God did not expect me to try to fight this mental illness on my own.
There have been days when I wanted to give up more than anything, days when I was convinced I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. But there have also been beautiful days.
Days where I have seen how my past pain has built within me compassionate understanding – a gift I can give to others who are still suffering.
Days when I have seen the way my struggle with depression has developed within me empathy I could never have known without my fight.
Days when I recognize the many ways my battle has humbled me and forced me to be open and genuine with others.
Days when I have seen the power of my first-hand testimony in breaking the stigma and shattering ignorance.
Days when I have seen the way my journey has changed my faith into a complex and strikingly real relationship with God.
I can look back and see the ways my battle with depression has allowed me to reach out to others.
I can look at myself now and recognize how I have changed and how I have grown. I can look ahead to the future, to my plans of bringing hope to others as a therapist.
There is no doubt, what I once saw as a curse has really been a blessing in disguise.
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