January 23, 2018

What I wish I could tell my 20-Year-Old Self about Depression.


The terrible lack of hope. The way everything has gone dark and foggy around the edges.

The piercing loneliness.

The way you haven’t made friends at school, and you’ve stopped going to classes, and the life that you dreamed would materialize when you moved to Seattle—a life soaked in music and friends and lovers—has failed to appear. It’s just you, and the clamor of the city, your darkening thoughts, your pounding pulse.

You’re lost and terrified, counting the days until Mom and Dad fly down to rescue you, to help you pack up your disaster of an apartment because you just can’t get started on your own.

I see you, slumped and stewing in your own thoughts, floating in fear, and if I could go back in time and cradle you, this is what I’d tell you:

Depression is not a failure. This thing that’s happening to you right now—this downward tug that makes your chest ache, that keeps you from getting out of bed and going to school, that finds you spending most of your hours on your futon, not leaving home except to take the elevator to the convenience store downstairs to get frozen bean and cheese burritos, which you will microwave and then bring to the futon with you while you watch “Love Connection” and sob—this is not a failure. Depression is not something to be ashamed of, and it’s not something you’ve chosen.

You didn’t cause this. This isn’t your fault—no one would choose to feel this way. It’s probably something we were born with—brain chemistry that needs a little extra help. It’s an illness of the brain, no different than if any other organ in your body was struggling with disease or an imbalance.

Depression lies. That voice that sounds like you but keeps telling you how much of a failure you are? How things will never get better? This voice sounds like you, but it’s not. It’s the voice of depression, and it’s full of distortion and lies. It’s like you’ve put on a stained pair of glasses, and everything you see is tinted.

You can’t think your way out of it. Because depression distorts our thoughts and turns them against us, there’s no way to just boost yourself up out of this with your own thinking. One of my favorite expressions about depression is you can’t fix a broken brain with a broken brain.

But there are many tools that can fight depression. Medication. Exercise. Connecting with others. Yoga. Therapy. Supplements. Eating well. Meditation. Reach for as many of these tools as possible. Make using these tools your to-do list every day.

Medication is not the enemy. Many people have strong opinions about antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs—including you. After 20 years of being off and on meds, I’ve come to think of them as a benefit of modern medicine, and one I’m grateful for, especially when used in tandem with the other tools I just mentioned. Taking depression medication when you’re depressed isn’t a crutch or a failure any more than taking heart medicine would be if you had a heart condition.

You won’t always feel this way. Sweet girl, you have a lovely life waiting for you. This moment isn’t all moments. It’s right now, and it sucks, and it hurts, and it’s scary as hell. But you won’t always feel this lost and lonely. Life isn’t easy, but it gets so much easier when the depression lifts. When depression tells you things will always be this way, talk back to it: I won’t always feel this way.

It gets easier to manage. You’re probably not super psyched to hear that we’re still dealing with depression 20 years later. But over time, we’ve learned what helps, and what doesn’t. We’ve learned that self-care is a necessity, and that sometimes when we start feeling that old tug of hopelessness, if we start reaching for tools and resources, we can head it off at the pass.

We’ve learned how some of the most fascinating, creative, loving people struggle with depression, too, and we will find a tribe of these people who get it, who get us, and we will hold each other up. We will soul-see each other. We’ve learned that sometimes, in ways we can never imagine when we’re struggling, our weaknesses become superpowers.


Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Jad Limcaco/Unsplashemily mucha/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron

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