The World Health Organization estimates that 280 million people around the world have depression, with steady increases during the COVID-19 pandemic. With that in mind, there are a lot of misconceptions about depression. There is this false narrative that it looks the same on everyone or that if someone has depression it’s noticeable…they simply appear sad. In reality, it affects people differently and many are very good at hiding it – and I am one of them. I was so good at masking my pain that no one suspected anything was wrong. Truthfully, I wanted it that way. I did not want anyone in my life to worry nor did I want to be vulnerable. So, I just kept putting the facade up that all was well. It worked until it didn’t.
My circumstances changed when the beginning of 2021 brought the worst few months of my life. I truly thought I was never going to experience genuine happiness. I couldn’t even remember the last time I did. I felt like I was playing a character who had to act like she was thriving and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I ultimately started therapy and would not be where I am today without it. Hearing the words that I had high-functioning depression was weird. I wanted to be in denial but getting the confirmation from a professional made it real. I eventually arrived at the acceptance stage and have been working on myself ever since.
One of the most important realizations I’ve had in therapy is that every feeling is temporary. At the end of the day, I am the one who feels my emotions. My emotions are not my identity. It’s normal to want to get stuck in sadness because that is what’s comfortable for you, but that habit has to be broken. Not all positive change feels positive at first.
I wanted to share a small glimpse into my journey with depression in honor of October being Depression Awareness Month; because the only way to destigmatize anything is to talk about it. Here are some gentle reminders if you are silently struggling:
- Healing isn’t linear. I cannot emphasize this enough. Some days will be better than others – and that’s okay. I have moments where I feel really good, but other times I cannot stop crying. Depressive episodes may occur, but are never permanent. I used to believe I was regressing, but it’s all a part of the journey. Feeling your emotions instead of avoiding them allows you to accept that they are present, then enables you to let them go.
- Surround yourself with a strong support system. As tempting as it is to isolate yourself, doing so will only make you more sad. Having a person that you feel comfortable opening up to makes all the difference. I’ll never forget the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when I confided in someone and they made me feel supported. There are people out there who will create a safe space for you to be your true self and walk side by side with you through the good and bad. There will always be someone who cares.
- Be kind to yourself. Seriously. You can only handle so much and it’s okay to not be okay. Living with depression is exhausting. Allow yourself to rest.
- Think about the little goals you achieve each day. They are just as important as the big ones. Whether that’s brushing your teeth, showering, eating a meal, moving your body, or talking to a friend, they all matter. Celebrate those victories!
- Get professional help. Depression is a battle you shouldn’t have to fight solo. Asking for help does not make you weak, but rather courageous. If you are currently a college student, check out your student health center for access to mental health resources. Many campuses offer free counseling services.
If you think you are struggling with depression, I want you to know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. I encourage you to be proactive and pursue therapy instead of waiting until things get really bad. Depression is not all that you are. Your feelings are valid and there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it yet. It took some time for me to get there too, but I finally found it.
UC Irvine Counseling Center: https://counseling.uci.edu/, Phone: 949.824.6457
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish
Crisis Text Line: Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling
LGBTQ+ support: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/