My crying was continuous. Between forkfuls of spaghetti, tears puddled on my plate. It was New Year’s Day, and my parents and I were sharing a meal in my apartment. I had asked them to spend the holiday with me, but only my mother knew why: My doctor had yet to find the right combination of anti-depressants, I was transitioning to a new drug, and I could not be alone.
I had spent years perfecting the art of hiding my emotions, but with only three of us at the dinner table, it was impossible to ignore this mood, to avoid the now inevitable conversation during which I would finally tell my dad about the abyss I had tip-toed around (and occasionally slipped into) for a decade.
My depression was a secret I hadn’t realized I was hiding. For years, I was convinced the sadness I carried with me was merely extreme sensitivity, hormones, an overpowering sense of empathy, a reaction to the natural changes that an eighth grader or high school senior or recent college graduate experiences. As my feelings intensified with age, I found many reasons why I couldn’t share how down I was, not the least of which was the preservation of my self-image.
I was physically healthy, a strong student, an avid traveler seeking out ways to expand my comfort zone. I had a loving family. I was intelligent, ambitious, friendly, well-liked. This was how others saw me. This was how I saw myself. How could I be unhappy? How could anyone possibly understand why I felt so low when I appeared to have so much going for me? How could I continue to be the perfect daughter, the absolute best friend, or the ideal sister if I were to finally recognize this constant weight I’d been carrying? Acknowledgement of the depression, I thought, required ownership of a condition I refused to accept.
Above all else, I was ashamed. I thought I was weak. I thought sharing my sadness would ruin my reputation as someone who was capable of handling herself. I treasured my independence and felt completely pathetic that I couldn’t control this. Depression seemed like an emotion I should feel after a particularly sad event or disappointing news. Why did it keep coming back? Why couldn’t I get rid of it?
I finally reached a point where staying completely silent was no longer a safe choice. If I was to maintain any sort of functionality, I needed medical assistance. (I am quick to add the caveat, as many others have, that I cannot speak to what may help ease another’s pain, only that anti-depressants and drugs that complement them, in addition to counseling, work for me) My mother was a huge help in finding someone who could help care for my needs.
It is because of the medication, ultimately, that I cautiously opened up. It took an excruciatingly long time to find a combination of prescriptions that uniquely fit my needs. I was a terrified passenger on this trial-and-error roller coaster; I needed hands to hold onto during each decline and ascent. In addition to my mother, I chose two friends who are like family to me—and, at our spaghetti dinner, my father.
Having dreaded these conversations for so long, I was surprised to feel a small sense of relief as they unfolded. Instead of making me feel guilty that I had hid this from them, they respected the fact that I was choosing to tell them now. They understood the gravity of what I was saying and didn’t make me doubt how I felt.
In the following weeks, I found myself feeling immensely thankful I had let these individuals in. When my friend spent an afternoon Skyping and watching YouTube videos with me, keeping me safe from five time zones away, or when I was unable to eat and my dad helped me find something I could stomach—in these moments, I absolutely needed them and was amazed they could each help me in their own way.
Over the subsequent months, I gradually began sharing my journey with others I felt would treat me the same way that my best friends and family had. Each conversation was different. Some shared with me their own occasional struggles with depression; others reassured me by refusing to let our interactions be dominated by my “revelation.” Each time I shared, I felt supported. Here was another person I could call at night, another friend who would understand what I meant by a text or email saying I didn’t feel well that day. Here was another ally who could remind me that my illness is only part of who I am, somebody who still embodies all the traits I thought I would lose if I told others.
This is not to say opening up is easy—no, far from it. I still struggle in deciding when or if I want to tell someone about my depression. At several points, I considered ending this blog mid-sentence and burying it in some file on my hard drive. I share my story, however, because those who love me through and despite the dark parts have made me feel brave. I’ve realized my depression is a chronic illness, no different from any number of other conditions that manifest themselves more visibly.
I know how stifling the darkness can be. I’ve felt that the herculean effort to crawl through the layers of fog and fear and debilitating sadness may not be worth it. But now I am embraced by so many who lift me up. They remind me that each morning I wake up feeling healthy is a miracle.
It took me nine years to ask for help, but you don’t have to wait. Strength lies not in forging ahead alone, but in allowing others to walk beside you.