It has been one year since I was diagnosed — although I’ve unknowingly experienced you for much longer than just these past twelve months. Since then, I have accepted much through therapy, hospitalization, and self-reflection. The learning curve was steep since I did not understand you before I was diagnosed. I still can’t completely comprehend you — the spectrum of side effects you invoke as well as the variety of treatments for you that only sometimes work. But at least I am more aware, and I am trying. Usually it feels like I am fighting. And to be clear, I have never considered myself a fighter… except when it comes to my feminist identity and the responsibilities that come with it.
In addition to the spite and hatred that I regularly feel for you, I also love you, depression.
When I am at my worst, I repeat a mantra to myself: “I am loving.” I love my friends, family, boyfriend, community, literature, food… and depression.
I love you, depression. I love you for making me more open, empathetic, and kind than I have ever been in my life. I love you for making me a better listener. I love you for igniting something inside me — aside from the occasional self-loathing, apathy, and inability to breathe. You have also offered me a unique perspective on mental health and, by association, inspired my willingness to help someone else who might be suffering.
When you urge me to forget about joy and purpose, I create a gratitude list. I include you on my gratitude list. I say your name in my head, shout it out loud, or scribble it on a piece of paper. You bring me sorrow, but you also inspire my fortitude.
Depression, you could kill me…. But I am a better person while I am alive because you exist.
Here’s to a lifetime of happiness and its opposite, together.
It has been two years. The following are my reflections about you, your challenges, and what I have learned by persisting through them.
In my experience, depression, you are most demanding in the morning; but, as you know, I have found a way to prevail. I now have an emotional support animal — a dog named Linus — who brings joy to my world. Each morning, Linus barks and licks to alert me that he is hungry and needs to… use the sidewalk. He makes me laugh despite your attempts to inundate my thoughts with pessimism. Most days, I get out of bed to walk, feed him, continue my day, and defeat you. His routine soothes my anxiety and forces me to exist outside the worry, confusion, self-doubt, and despair that otherwise plague my mind.
Sometimes I do have to take sick time to cope with you, and that is okay. There are coping mechanisms that I can rely on when that happens, such as writing, running, and ice cream. “Create something every day” has also proven a successful strategy. Furthermore, I devote necessary attention to sleep and eating habits — because these habits, if not maintained, affect my illness negatively. My safety routine also includes Prozac in the morning, weekly therapy, and an evening dose of melatonin.
Because of you, depression, I have gained self-confidence that I possess grit — the ability to repeatedly overcome (in my case, your) obstacles. You push me toward emotional and physical limits, but I am still here.
Perfection has not been achieved. And, in fact, I should probably remind myself that it never will be. I am still navigating a balance between privacy and relying on others. My relationships have altered as a result of you; some have strengthened while others have diminished. I am continually adjusting to reactions of friends, colleagues, family members, and strangers toward the symptoms of my illness.
The conclusion that I have come to after two years of living, loving, and hurting together is that you, depression, are manageable. You are challenging, annoying, and painful… but you are manageable. Thank you for the good that you bring, and I will see you again — but hopefully not soon.
Mary Beth resides in State College, PA, with her Emotional Support Animal, Linus — a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with whom she is wholeheartedly enamored. With degrees in linguistics, Spanish, and English from the Pennsylvania State University, she now works for her alma mater as an Assistant Director of Development. When she is not (or more accurately, while) snuggling her dog, Mary Beth enjoys friendship, food, reading, and writing.