I suffered from depression in high school.
No, I still suffer from depression.
I’m working on being real with myself. On calling things like they are. On not belittling myself to the point of invalidating whatever this thing is I am feeling. I’m working on facing this demon, my Great Sadness. Coming to terms with myself and fighting the grudge I have held against myself for too long.
You see, I’m good at encouraging other people to embrace themselves. I tell them mental health should be a topic of conversation, not taboo. That we shouldn’t feel shameful, embarrassed, or guilty about what’s truly going on in our minds. That it’s OK to not be OK. But I’m bad at implementing these things in my own life—practicing what I preach, embracing myself, admitting that I might not be OK.
Whenever I share my story, I tell it in the past tense. “I suffered from depression.” I tell it as a story that has a conclusion, a story with a beginning, middle, and end, all neatly wrapped up in the package that was my high school career. I rarely speak past the point of my freshman year of college, and if I do, it’s to say something to the effect that I am now happily in recovery.
That’s true—but only to an extent. Recovery is an open-ended term. Does it mean that the one in recovery no longer struggles? Or does it mean the person is still struggling, but actively working to find healthy means to get through it? I don’t know that it has one definition, but when I speak of it in my own life, I limit it to the former—and I’m not convinced that is right.
The truth is, I still struggle. I often find myself in times of inexplicable sadness, dread, and hollowness. I find myself surrounded by people, yet feeling completely alone. Numb.
If someone asks me about it, I usually dismiss it with a wave of my hand and say, “I’m just in a weird mood; I’ll be fine.” Then I’ll smile, make a joke, and laugh until I’ve successfully convinced myself and everyone else that I’m fine. Ignorance is bliss, right? This has become my coping mechanism, and it was just recently that I discovered this might not be healthy. Coping doesn’t necessarily equate healing.
So now I am on a journey from coping and ignoring to healing. I’m starting by continuing to call this thing by its name: “depression.” I’m working on not wearing a mask. I’m working on being honest with myself, allowing myself to say the fight goes on. I’m working on fighting the stigma, not only in society, but in myself. I’m trying to love myself enough to believe the words I tell other people on a daily basis—that I am not alone. That better days are ahead, people need other people, and I am loved.
This is me giving myself permission to not only be vulnerable with you, but with myself. This is me saying that my story is still being written. This is me no longer exempting myself from the fight against the stigma.
This is me admitting I struggle with depression. Present tense.
—Brandi Mathis, TWLOHA Fall 2013 Intern