Content warning: This article touches on topics such as depression and mental health.
“Mental health isn’t linear,” I tell myself as I try not to cry in my room at 8 p.m., staring frozen at the computer screen.
I repeat this phrase to my friends constantly, but whenever it comes to myself it seems hard to believe. Why am I back here again, right at the start?
Depression and I have been friends for a long time. Sixth grade was when it started. I remember this gnawing feeling of heaviness entering my chest, leaving me listening to music to help me ignore it as I stared out the windows of my bus every morning and afternoon. When the school nurses would ask me how I was when I picked up my daily medicine I would almost always say “fine.” Americans seem to have a habit of saying they’re fine when everything is all but fine. I was no different.
By the summer before seventh grade I had moved 1,000 miles away to Florida, uprooting my life and leaving me in a new place with no friends. I was alone. From there, I spiraled. My depression progressed until I was labeled with “severe depression” in eighth grade.
Unlike the media’s romanticization, mental illness isn’t cute or pretty. I would go days without showering because it took all my energy to get dressed, brush my hair, go to school, and do my homework. Food was either a distraction from my feelings or a tiresome chore I wanted no part in. The things that gave me joy often lacked their appeal after a while, and it was like I had to put on a mask every day to simply function as a normal human being.
I soon consulted my doctor and started taking antidepressants. Antidepressants help, but they haven’t been a cure. I like to think of them as a chemical stabilizer that helps me suppress my feelings of anxiety and numb down the feelings of depression to make them more manageable. The thing is, it’s hard. Often I wonder if I will ever truly escape the dread that comes when I experience the weighted feeling in my chest — if there will ever come a time where I will experience the feeling of emptiness for the last time.
With knots in my stomach, I often acknowledge that that day may never come. Some people live with depression, on and off, for their entire lives. Some people don’t.
But in my dark times, I have to realize that I can get better. Depression is a part of me, but it isn’t who I am. I will not be depressed every day of my life. There are times when I do really well, staying on top of school and keeping in contact with friends and family. Some months are better than others, though, and it’s also okay to just do what you need to do to survive, even if it means trying your best to scrape through schoolwork and not having the energy to clean your room after taking care of school and yourself.
“Healing isn’t linear,” I whisper, reminding the part of my perfectionist self that tells me to run myself to the ground so I can be the perfect person — so I can please everyone. Mental illness plagues millions of Americans, and I am not alone. Sometimes, I just have to sit down and remember that.
If you are reading this, just know that you are not alone. It will get better.