Yes, you are depressed, past me. And it’s going to be okay.
“I’m not depressed. I just need to get myself through finals and then I’ll be able to snap out of this funk.”
“I am so miserable today. It was so hard to wake up.”
“It’s been a long, dreary day. Why am I so sad?”
Those are excerpts from my journals from high school and college, talking about an imbalance I wouldn’t name. If there are any mentions, they’re flippant and dismissive. Skimming through these journals, I can’t find a single instance where I call it by its real, medical name: depression.
When my mom first seriously dropped the D-bomb on me last summer, I was defensive, terrified of a label. It didn’t take much time for me to realize that she was right, and I had to do something. So I moved, found a therapist, and got an antidepressant prescription. I’m significantly better now (measured mainly by the fact that it takes three, and not 12, alarms to wake up in the morning).
After flipping through those journals, though, I’ve been imagining what I would say if I go back in time and get coffee with my 17-year-old self. And if you’re like I was, thinking in the back of your mind, “oh no — I might be depressed”, you’re invited to come along and eavesdrop.
17-year-old me: You are not owned by depression. It’s just one of your items to carry with you on your journey. Everybody else has theirs. So pick it up and get to know its rough edges and smooth sides. I promise: It’s going to be okay.
1. “No, it’s not a label.”
Mental illness is not a label. Medication is not a label. Depression is not a label. These words are not the truest thing about you. These are just words and things to get you on the road to being better. Stop trying to talk yourself out of it and get help.
2. “Learn the flavors.”
There are three main flavors of depression. All are serious and worth your attention. (Spoiler alert, 17-year-old me: You have major depression.)
Major/clinical depression includes experiencing “intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness,” and the feelings stay with you and interfere with your ability to live life.
Situational depression is a shorter period of depression brought on by trauma and change in your life (also called adjustment disorder)
Seasonal depression means that winter daylight hours affecting your sleeping and eating patterns, resulting in anxiety and depression.
3. “Get serious about getting better, now.”
17-year-old me, go to therapy. You need someone to remind you that you’re growing and stop you in the middle of your monologues to point out your contradictions. During your first few sessions, you will cry the entire hour. It’s okay. Everyone does that. Your bestie, your mom, your Tumblr friends — no one can fill a counselor’s shoes. You need a good therapist just as badly as you need a good orthodontist, 17-year-old me!
Learn your symptoms so you can let go of needing to be happy on especially bad days. Go to your doctor, and even though you will cry sitting on the exam table and feel like a little kid, the pills are ultimately going to help you get out of bed and out into a world that is full of hope you can’t see right now.
Get a head start on learning to meditate, so you hear the safe silence inside your mind as you breathe, and know deeply that you are not your enemy. Drink homemade green smoothies so your brain gets what it needs, and go lap swimming when nothing in the world makes sense (trust me, it helps).
4. “Be gentle with yourself.”
Comparison will steal your joy. Be careful with your delicate, lovely heart. Don’t brew in sad music, or watch movies where people die, or stay up late looking at pictures of happier friends on vacations or at parties. You are just as fragile as you are strong.
And take ownership of your happiness. Eat green things. Go for walks. Listen to funny podcasts and watch funny TV shows so you can laugh. Read good books with comforting words. Cook new things. Walk in circles at Target. Do what gives you joy. It’s there to take hold of.
5. “Yes, this is going to stick around.”
Pull up a chair for your depression. Treat it courteously, like an unexpected guest. Then go about your normal life aware that it’s there. Chances are, the depression won’t fully disappear for a good while. But you can learn to manage it by deciding not to give it extra power over you.
Form alliances with good people. You do not need to hide until you are presentable. You do not need to punish yourself with your loneliness. Get in touch with some other depressed people who will be gentle with you. Steer clear of meanies.
The bottom line, 17-year-old me? The cultural stigma against depression influenced my ability to be honest with you then. Now, I can tell you this as a for-sure fact: You really are going to be just fine.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.