A couple of years ago, I wrote a column for The Lantern detailing my experience with depression, and in doing so, I wrote it to have an ending — and a happy one, at that.
With the help of friends, family and counseling, I was done with depression, I concluded.
I did this for two reasons. First, a great essay recounting a life pitfall is best with a conclusion consisting of some sort of reflective proverb of hope and diligence. Second — and probably the most honest — I needed to believe that the lowest low of my life thus far was isolated to three months during my sophomore year of college.
But like most uncontrollable life aspects that we try to manipulate with tied hands, the outcome always is as destined, despite your efforts and bruises to show for it.
Between the publishing date of that column and today, I have had two more extended episodes of depression. Within those, in no particular order, I’ve had three therapists, two psychiatrists, dozens of medication adjustments, two visits to the emergency room, one hospitalization, tons of skipped classes, numerous days off of work, about seven C’s, my first D, a 0.3 drop in my GPA, one intensive outpatient program and multiple interventions by friends.
You can call me naive or call it my fault — I often fluttered between those two while staring at my bedroom ceiling, spinning the roulette of reason to explain why I had let the depression manifest again. And again. And again.
We often take advantage of the ability to point to where it hurts when examined by a doctor. However, the pain of mental illness is all over the body, though it shows no cut, fracture or blister to represent a broken mind in an otherwise healthy person.
Instead, diagnosis is determined by your best shot at a poignant, vivid description of how you feel, but often hitting a wall when realizing there is no accurate term to explain your dark disposition.
I showed my friend a draft of this column that ended at the paragraph above. I expressed my frustration to him about trying to determine “my point” in writing this.
I knew what it wasn’t. It wasn’t to describe how depression feels. In reality, a person’s experience with any mental health issue is about as unique as a snowflake — it’s made up of the same icy, uncomfortable stuff, but translates differently and takes its own path of descent.
It wasn’t to write a college-admissions essay about how I overcame this life obstacle, coming out the other side a better person and having learned something. Truthfully, I am still teetering on the edge of another plunge, trying to figure out the best way to keep my balance.
My friend said the point is perseverance.
Honestly, I find that word cliché — a sort of word Big Bird says in a sing-songy voice after teaching Elmo about never giving up on “Sesame Street.”
But it was accurate.
When going through mental illness, there are two types of perseverance needed: external perseverance and intrinsic perseverance.
Said friend, partnered with another friend of mine, is the one who has been watching me from the outside these last couple months, letting me be frustrated, irritable and weepy in his presence, calling my bluff when it needed to be called, refusing to leave 12 hours into an emergency room “adventure” and giving me tough love candy-coated in real love.
I must have done something angelic in a past life, though, because I was blessed with a number of other people and family that, as one told me in the thick of it, “want you to be well and be with us a very long time.”
External perseverance is the antibiotic of mental illness. Such support helps kill distorted thinking — “I don’t matter,” “I’m alone,” “I’m never getting out of this” — and cleans a bit of the wound.
But the only way to close it is by your say and your actions — seeking medical help, going to counseling, trying cognitive behavioral therapy, taking medications and, most importantly, keeping an open mind to different treatment. If you think none of this will work, you at least owe it to yourself to try it. And if it doesn’t work, you can tell everyone “I told you so.”
Intrinsically, there has to be a little, sparkling bulb of light that wants you to get better for yourself. Sometimes it’s miniscule, and sometimes it’s huge — but I promise you it will never be gone.
And you have to keep trying, making preparations for when the real you comes back. You don’t want to leave her with a messy house.
I’m still holding out for Dani to come home.