January 27, 2020

Dear Depressed One: You will Find your Way out of the Darkness.

What started as a gentle slide into melancholy became a dangerous, precipitous drop into suicidality and debilitating fatigue.

Antidepressants, therapy, and lifestyle changes made little progress in my recovery from major depressive disorder, and I eventually ended up hospitalized when my suicidal thoughts became a crisis.

Almost a year after my hospitalization, I’m still trying to pull myself out of depression, and likely will be for a long time. Chronic mental illness takes constant management, and I’m still in the process of finding what works for me. In addition to my antidepressants and therapy, I now receive IV ketamine infusions every few weeks. Ketamine has been, by far, the most effective treatment for my depression that I’ve tried. Finally, after years of darkness, I have begun to climb out of depression and look around.

On first look, I was discouraged by how little “progress” I had made in the years since falling ill. My life was nothing like what I had hoped for myself as a little girl. It was easy to focus on all of the things that I hadn’t done, and it was easy to berate myself for “falling behind” my perception of what my peers’ lives were like.

I’m a young woman whose goals were lofty but achievable before depression. While those goals are still more than achievable, my initial reaction to considering the time I’ve lost is to mourn what depression took from me. It kept me in bed, away from my loved ones and the opportunities I might have taken had I felt better.

Depression often makes us feel badly about ourselves; it tells us that we aren’t good enough, we’re not doing enough, or we’re not strong enough. I try to remind myself that those thoughts are my illness talking.

Rather than feeling like I’ve fallen behind or wasted time while suffering from depression, I’m trying to see the good things in my life as existing in spite of depression. Depression did not take my agency away from me. I fought for my future when my illness told me to give up. I saved my own life and grew in the process. It doesn’t look much like what I hoped it would, but my life is hard-won and inherently valuable.

This change in perspective serves two purposes: it puts me in a space of appreciation rather than regret, and it sets me up for future growth by focusing my attention on the present rather than on the past.

From the outside, people battling depression may seem to be in stasis. The reality is that an incredible amount of hard work is happening inside their minds. In my experience, there is a tremendous amount of personal growth that comes from surviving depression, regardless of how many material goals we achieve.

As I continue to work toward stable mental health, I plan to be kind to myself and to remember that all of my achievements exist in spite of depression.

I am an overcomer, and, as we all face challenges in life, so are you.

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