Talking about depression

Allie Brosh recently updated Hyperbole and a Half with the most poignant description of depression that I’ve ever read. If you’ve never dealt with depression, go read it.*

She highlights a lot of really important parts of depression that many people don’t really understand, putting words to an experience that’s incredibly difficult to describe (especially when you’re in the middle of it). Her post resonated with me because I’ve never had a good framework for describing my own experiences with depression.

I sank into a bout of depression at the end of my senior year of college**. I graduated without a job or a plan, surrounded by friends who had already lined up spots at companies like Microsoft and Google. I moved home and sat on the couch for a few months. Then I moved to Seattle and sat on a different couch. I mostly did nothing. Although I was bored, lonely, and frustrated, I couldn’t muster the energy needed to deal with other people.

Friends encouraged me to look for a job, not realizing that looking at job postings triggered massive panic attacks. I was too inexperienced, I was terrible at interviewing, nobody would want to work with me, I had no explanation for my unemployment – these all seemed like insurmountable problems to me. While I never completely lost hope that the future would be better, I had no idea how to get there. All I wanted was to fast-forward through my life and skip to the part where all my problems were solved. Thoughts of suicide never came up, but I frequently wished that I would get hit by a car so that I could just stay in the hospital and wait for things to get better. In a way, I think I wanted the state of my body to reflect the state of my mind so that all of me could heal at the same speed.

Nobody really knew what was wrong with me. My friends knew that there was something wrong, but couldn’t figure out what to do to fix it. My parents worried from afar, but didn’t know the extent of my problems. I certainly had no idea what was going on, attributing my unhappiness to my unemployment and lack of direction (it wasn’t until much later that I figured out that these were symptoms, not causes).

After about 10 months, the fog started to lift. It just took was some waiting; my depression was more like a broken bone than a chronic illness. I was incredibly lucky that all I needed was time, and that I could afford it, supported by friends and family who stuck with me and helped me keep going (no matter how difficult I was to be around***). Re-energized, I got my life back on track. In less than a year I was doing quite well: I helped start the Seattle Awesome Foundation, entered graduate school, got a job as a TA, and joined the Global Shapers in quick succession. More importantly, I rediscovered my drive, ambition, and ability to really care about things.

I recently told a new friend this story and she responded that she never would have guessed, that I seemed so happy and successful that she never would have imagined that I had been so low only two years ago. You can’t look at me and see my history. I don’t have any scars from my depression. That’s why it’s so important to me to talk about it: knowing this story will change your perception of me, and I hope it will change your perception of depression as well.

I’m not ashamed of my experiences with depression, and I don’t think that anyone else should be ashamed of theirs either. I mostly wish that someone had talked to me while I was going through it. My biggest fear was that there was no way out and I was going to be trapped in that state forever. Seeing that this was a temporary obstacle, and being shown that I could get through it and still live the kind of life I wanted to have, would have done so much for me. While I’m positive that I would have outwardly rejected it and explained that this was a nice story that couldn’t possibly apply to me, I think that deep down it would have planted a few seeds of hope.

I can only hope that telling my story will make it easier for someone else – maybe by giving them a way to talk about their own experiences, or getting them to ask for help, or encouraging them to stick with a friend who’s struggling, or helping them keep up the search for the light at the end of their own tunnel.

* If you have experienced depression, do what you want. You may find it comforting to read or it may be triggering (primarily the description of suicidal ideation) or it may be neither here nor there for you. I found it incredibly relatable, but we all have unique experiences and perspectives.

** For those of you dying of curiosity: The short story is that I got in over my head trying to help a friend and ran myself into the ground. The long story involves other peoples’ personal information, which means I’m not about to broadcast it to the world.

*** And I was quite difficult to be around, oscillating between clingy, emotionally unresponsive, and relatively normal. I’m incredibly grateful to have these people in my life.