But that’s the thing about depression. It’s no respecter of persons, and it’s not circumstantial. Sure, circumstances can compound it. Certainly being heartbroken didn’t help. But I know I’m depressed when my feelings don’t make sense. When I become disproportionately upset by things. When I can’t get excited about anything. When a little thing like my orange juice disappearing from the work fridge sets me off on a train of thought that everyone hates me and everything is hopeless. (Btw, stop stealing my o.j., juice thief!)
By the time the start of the school year came around, living felt like a burden. I dragged myself to work, merely going through the motions. I had an illogical sense of dread. I had no energy. A trusted co-worker I share a classroom with knew. He was the only one. One day he bore witness as I went from crying to completely fine as soon as another co-worker walked in the room. I faked my smiles so no one would know, mostly because I didn’t want to bring anyone down. I didn’t tell people because I didn’t want to be a burden or make them worry. I had been through this many times before, and I knew that ultimately I’d be okay once I got help.
But I kept putting it off. I didn’t have a doctor out here, and the work of trying to find one felt like more than I could handle. Some days it was a miracle I got out of bed, showered, and dressed for work. So adding the chore of looking up who was in my insurance network, making phone calls (something I dread even when I know a person), arranging an appointment, and creating sub plans was too much to even think about. I kept putting my work husband off, telling him I’d be fine; I’d find a doctor; I just had too much on my plate with lesson plans right now; and some kid just plagiarized, so I had to deal with administrative paperwork; and there was a staff meeting tomorrow; there was always something.
I knew I was in trouble when, as my birthday approached, I felt zero excitement. I’m a birthday person. I love celebrating my birthday; it’s the one time of year it’s acceptable to be selfish. Hey, I want lemon cake, so that’s what we’re going to eat! But I didn’t want another birthday, and as I got closer to it, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, my mind preoccupied with thoughts of not having it. One night, around two or three in the morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about taking a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of Bailey’s on the 10th so that I wouldn’t wake up on the 11th.
Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t do it. There is always still a rational part of me that knows the depression is a lie, that things can and will get better. There is a part of me that is still empathetic enough to recognize how it would impact those around me. Even when things are really dark, there is still an audacious little spark of hope in my heart, the little dreamer that whispers, “but what if you’re meant to write that screenplay you’ve been thinking about, and you meet your husband on the press tour?” (This is why I don’t try to rein my dreamer in). But the thoughts made me recognize how serious it was getting. Even then, I stupidly didn’t seek help right away. It wasn’t until about a week later when I was out for a road run that I believe the Holy Spirit stepped in. And by stepped in, I think she gave me a shove. I am naturally athletic and relatively graceful, but that day, I tripped over nothing and fell flat on my face, making a hideous thud with my schnoz. My nose jettisoned an inordinate amount of blood, and I was pretty sure I’d broken it. I was so focused on the sanguine spring running down my face, and trying to walk back home without drawing too much attention to it, that it wasn’t until later I realized my little finger was purple and swollen, undoubtedly broken.
That did it. I had to go to the doctor. And thus began my by then familiar journey to recovery. I’ve been dealing with depression off and on for the last 15 years, almost half my life. It’s something that will probably always be a part of me. I can go a few years with no problems, and then it will rear its head again. By now, I recognize the symptoms, and when I have a doctor, I am quick to get help because I know depression can be managed. I know that I can come out the other side okay.* And I know that despite the stigma still attached to mental illness, depression doesn’t make me a weak person or a bad Christian. It’s the same as if I had asthma or a peanut allergy in terms of the control I have over it or the “moral” implications of having it.
But the stigma is definitely still there. Just the other day on a dating site, I came across a profile that stated something to the effect of “if you need medication to be happy, I’m not interested.” That’s okay, DudeBro; if you’re still not read up on modern medicine and psychology enough to know the facts about depression, I’m not interested. Yes, writing this might mean some people view me differently, negatively. Yes, some people will read this and choose not to understand.
HOWEVER, I just lost a student to suicide. I don’t know any of the circumstances surrounding it, but I am heartbroken. All of my students are “my kids.” I love them all, even when they get on my nerves. When I first sought treatment for depression, it was at the urging of my family, people I trusted enough to confide in. I am so very lucky to have had that. Not everyone does. Many people, when faced with depression for the first time, are lost at sea. I think teens especially are fearful of how they will be received by their parents and others around them. They don’t know that they should talk to someone. They don’t know how to navigate what they’re feeling. They don’t know that there is hope; that there are treatments that work. If my story can help even one person gain that hope and seek treatment, it is selfish of me not to share it, regardless of what the repercussions might be for me.
Trust your body. You know when things are off. If things are grey, if things are dull, if things are bleak, if you feel alone, if you feel hopeless, seek help. This is the number for the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
*I know, I know, I know that when you’re in the depths of depression, it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Believe me, I know. Look back at how I felt before my birthday. It was dark and hopeless, but I am here to tell you that it can and will get better with treatment. This time around my “other side” of it includes a richer social life and a trip to L.A. to film Jeopardy! So, even if it doesn’t feel like there’s anything to look forward to, please trust me that there is, and seek help.