Love to Live

By Jessica StraitMay 19, 2020

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Kayla

    Wow this was perfectly said and exactly how I feel, I wish I could meet the author.

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  2. Katie

    How I wish I could have articulated the depression monster and its sidekick so vividly (although it pains me you’ve struggled with it too 😢) Thank you for an absolutely phenomenal piece of writing and your skill in expressing a monstrous battle I can relate to (on a whole other level.) You are a true inspiration – maybe they can be tamed after all!

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  3. Heather

    Thank you for this. Just thank you. People who have never walked this are so quick to judge and speak about something they know nothing about. I felt it in your words that you get it. There have been days when I have literally held onto life by a whisper. I’ve wanted the pain to stop. Thank you for sharing your story so I’m reminded I am not alone.

    Reply  |  
  4. AMBER

    Absolutely beautiful! You continue to live to love! You have much to give and offer to others. Thank you for being the Light to someone’s Darkness.

    Reply  |  
  5. Andrea

    Wow! Inspiring…. I am so glad we are all here today because of stories like this.. A story crafted so real that I know many people can relate. Thank you for this very raw and inspiring story!

    Reply  |  
  6. Janie Cochran

    Dear Jessica,
    My name is Janie Cochran and I am a mental health first aid advocate and recently published author. My book, titled Mania, is an intensely personal and honest account of my battle with bipolar mania, depression and panic attacks. Would you be interested in interviewing me for your blog? I have a lot to say about my journey and welcome any opportunity to encourage or educate or help others suffering in a similar way.
    In appreciation, I will happily endorse your blog on my mental health website,
    You can reach me at 443-254-6451 and at [email protected].
    Thank You!
    Janie Cochran

    Reply  |  
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