You know that saying, “la vie en rose”? It translates to the English saying “living life through rose-coloured glasses.” That’s how most of us are born, and how our parents want us to be brought up in this world: happy. Now imagine one day, in the middle of your blissful adolescence, you wake up, only to find that your glasses are no longer rose-coloured, but instead, they are grey. That is how living a life with Depression feels.
I'll never really know when my depression hit me. I just know that at some point in my adolescence, I realized that I was severely unhappy, and I had no idea why.
But to me, and to everyone around me, it was just a phase. The initial responses were "oh, she's just becoming a teenager" and "she's just experiencing puberty". So for a while, that’s what I believed, and I managed to suppress these feelings of unhappiness through most of my grade 9 year, condensing them into nothing but a phase. However, going into my second year of high-school, my real battle with depression began. As my sense of sadness grew stronger, it became intolerable. It began to pour out of me like a toxic fume, and began to affect every aspect of my life. And just as suddenly as my Depression appeared, I suddenly began to cope with my overwhelming feelings of sadness and anger by self-mutilation. Self-mutilation is a very taboo subject, due to its terrifying, graphic nature. Often, people who cope this way are made to feel ashamed, and are branded psychotic or crazy. But for me, it's so important to share this part of my story, as it is so vital to who I am today. At the time, I figured that if I could translate my emotional pain into physical pain, the pain would be in my control. And I continued on with this habit in secret, covering up any evidence with long-sleeve shirts and bandaids.
My sunglasses were beginning to turn grey, and no amount of cleaning them, scrubbing the grey away, could bring back the rose-colour lens I once saw my life through. I tried to take the sunglasses off so many times, but a voice in my head insisted that I could only see if I wore them, from the second I woke up, until the second I managed to fall asleep. So I did. And that is when my depression manifested itself into a full-grown illness. My second year of high school was incredibly difficult. There were certain situations which had triggered my depression to become its absolute worst self - days where the sunglasses became completely black, where I could not see anything but darkness and there was no chance at light. I became extremely irritable, hostile, cold, and sad. I lost a lot of friends that year. I came very close to failing almost every class. I barely slept.
Only when I decided to tell my parents what I had been suffering through alone, did my illness come to the forefront of my life. Because I wore long sleeves all the time, and I kept my coping mechanisms to myself, my parents only knew what I allowed them to know. I kept them in the dark because I was so deeply ashamed of what their baby had become. On the outside, I was smiling. I was a high school student and a girl going through adolescence like most normal girls do. But inside, I felt blue, consumed by so much anger and hatred for life, and for myself. Often times, I would find myself fantasizing about how happy everyone would be without me. I felt so incredibly worthless, and most days felt that my life was a waste of precious space on this earth.
I walked into my parents’ room one night, and remember telling them point blank what was going on. I remember admitting, out loud, that I was depressed, and how terrifying it was. But from then on, my family became a strong support system for me. Granted, there were days where it became too much for everybody, and that’s the reality of living with someone with Depression. It will affect your family an incredible amount, but I can confidently say that even though it was so hard for them, my family did and still does, to this day, have so much support for me, regardless of whether or not they truly understand me. And I thank them for that.
The rest of my high-school years were spent healing, on the inside and on the outside. I had learned to deal with my Depression in a much healthier, productive way. I began to immerse myself in activities that were positive and stimulating, I was taking medication regularly for a while, and I was seeing a therapist. I also learned that not everybody will stick around when the going gets extremely tough, so I lost a lot of friends that year, and I was the subject of people’s gossip. But I had my core few that stuck around (thankful for you all) and I was finally on the right track to restoring my sunglasses to that beautiful rose-colour that I once knew so well.
However, I experienced a big change in my life, and that triggered my Depression all over again. As I entered my first year of University, my depression gifted me with a brand new pair of old, worn-down, grey-coloured sunglasses. It assured me that the only way I could cope with this big change in my life is if I promised to never take them off, so promise I did.
The thing about Depression is that it has the ability to come and go, and I think that makes it hard for people to understand. How can you be so incredibly sad one day, and the next day, feel almost fine? But it’s knowing that you SHOULD feel happy, so you try. You paint a smile, you go to classes, you attend parties and hang out with your friends, just to feel a sense of normalcy. But really, all you WANT to do, is to sink into that hole of perpetual sadness, because that is what truly feels most normal to you. And that is what most of my first year of university was like. I began to cope with my Depression in unhealthy ways yet again, like going out almost every night, drinking obscene amounts, and sleeping all day, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that my battle with depression was far from over. I began to fail most of my classes, and the pressures from school added to my already worsening illness. Luckily for me, despite the days I would go dodging their phone calls, being flakey with plans and FaceTime dates, I had a very solid support system that consisted of a few of my best friends, and someone I had been seeing throughout the school year. On days where I felt as though there was no point to continue on with my life, they got me out of bed, insisted themselves into my life when I tried to shut them out, got me to go to class and work on assignments. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thank you). But unfortunately, no amount of support from these people could make the feeling go away. So in March, after months of silent suffering, I sought professional help at Western, and by seeing a Psychiatrist, and speaking with my parents, I made the decision to return home right away and take a break from school to help myself heal.
Fast forward to right now, present day, present moment as I sit here and write this piece. My depression is still very much present, and very prevalent in my day to day life. This year in particular has been a very tough uphill battle. Oftentimes, I feel myself trudging up this hill but it’s like every step I take, the top of the hill is nowhere in sight. But I keep fighting, and I will not stop until I have conquered this uphill battle and can finally say “good-riddance” to those sunglasses that I’ve been wearing most of my life. It’s a process, and a gruelling one at that. I have very bad days, days where I feel hopeless like there is no reason to continue living, and then, although they are temporary, I’ll have good days, spent laughing and doing normal things with friends and family.
Depression is never easy. It will always be an uphill battle. But what I can stress to you, and I wish I took this advice when my depression first hit me, is that it is so important that you do not suffer in silence. Do not avoid seeking help, and reaching out for a hand because you feel ashamed. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of. Ending the stigma against mental illness is so important, and it should be discussed, it should be brought to light and given the attention it needs. The worst thing you can do to yourself is be ashamed. I used to look down at my arms and feel disgusted with myself, so much so that I begged my parents to spend thousands of dollars on having my scars removed. Only once I began the scar removal treatment, I realized that I will NEVER again try to remove my scars. My scars remind me that I was, and still am, a warrior. I survived a serious battle and I am living to tell the tale and to, hopefully, inspire others to do the same.