This piece is part of our Mental Health Month blog series, where we highlight and explore eight different mental health struggles. Here’s Jessica’s experience with and perspective on depression.
I like to imagine mental disorders as monsters. Giving them physical characteristics helps me separate myself from them, knowing we are not one and the same. But if mental illnesses were in fact monsters, then my head’s nothing short of a haunted house party. I imagine they all form a circle, comparing their fang size, deciding which one gets to feast on me that particular day. I wonder how they decide which one gets to lead the torture, while the others are busy cheering in the background. Of all the monsters who’ve ravaged my mind over the years, there’s one that has always felt more ominous than the rest. One that’s bigger, louder, and with much sharper teeth. It’s always lurking in the shadows, with an unsettling gloom you can never quite shake. Its attacks piercing deeper, leaving wounds that never quite heal.
Depression is the mental monster I try to avoid most, often pretending it doesn’t exist despite its presence in my life for the past 20 years. I’ve always found it difficult to openly connect with the depression I’ve experienced because it carries this unnerving weight. A pervasive sadness I dread to acknowledge because it’s like quicksand. I must vigilantly tiptoe around it without getting stuck or before I know it, I’ll be completely submerged. It undoubtedly feels safer to identify with other aspects of my mental disorders like anxiety or compulsive behaviors, but the reality is, depression has always been at the core. It seems as though depression is the foundation of all my mental struggles, as if they all stem from it. Or if my mental health was an iceberg, depression would be the gigantic mass beneath the surface no one can see but takes the largest toll.
Depression is the ultimate tormentor; mostly because it doesn’t act alone. There’s an even more terrifying monster living inside of depression; a much smaller creature but with exponential evil. A menacing piranha that swims frantically within the hollow rib cage of depression. Its name is suicidal ideation, and its sole purpose is to convince you that you cannot survive depression’s relentless attacks. Or that even if you could, why would you want to? Suicidal ideation is a chilling reality of depression for many people. For me, it has arguably been the most difficult part. Even though it has (thankfully) been quite some time since I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, I frequently recall the countless times I have in the past—now more than ever.
It’s hard to look back to those moments when I truly did not want to live. It’s difficult to admit you’ve had an honest desire to end your life. I find myself feeling ashamed of how low I became on so many occasions. But when the depression monster is taunting you, with its terror of a sidekick nearby, you feel powerless to retaliate. The depression renders you helpless, and the suicidal ideation renders you worthless. It’s like a 1-2 knockout punch and everything goes dark. Total blackness.
Through years of therapy, and even more years of experience, I’ve come to learn my best weapon of defense against these ruthless monsters: For me, I discovered love to be not only my strongest weapon but my greatest motivator against depression and suicidal ideation. Granted, it took a long time to realize and use this as an effective tool, and even to this day, it doesn’t always work like a charm. We all know there is no quick fix or ultimate cure for depression, but in my experience, I’ve found that if I live to love, then I love to live. The experience of love can actually be a sort of silver lining in depression; because I truly do believe the highest highs in life are felt by those who’ve experienced the lowest lows. Sometimes I wonder if my love only runs so deep because the pain preceding it carved out those depths.
Love has brought me to a point in my life where I am incredibly thankful I choose to stay during all of my darkest moments. I now often find myself thinking, “I can’t believe I would have missed this.” Or, “I can’t believe how close I was to not being able to experience this. I almost didn’t hold on.”
So next time you find yourself in the midst of a merciless battle against depression, and you’re desperately dodging punches, trying to evade the inevitable knockout—never forget, this isn’t your first fight. And it doesn’t have to be your last. Trust me when I say your future self will thank you for every single time you pulled yourself up off that floor and lived to see another day.