When I was thirteen, I knew something was wrong. I talked to someone who told me it was just a phase and I would grow out of it. So I kept going and tried to forget about it. When I was fifteen, I knew something was wrong. I talked to my doctor who told me I simply did too much stuff and was stressing myself out. I reevaluated my current activity level and tried to move on. When I was seventeen, I knew something was wrong. I went to a different doctor who said two words that pierced my soul with both relief and terror: anxiety and depression. It brought to life the nightmare I had been unconsciously living for years.
What did it mean? What were the symptoms I had been experiencing for so long? For a long time, I had been exhausted, and could do nothing to improve it. I had little motivation to do the things I had enjoyed my whole life. My grades tanked in comparison to what they once were; they weren’t awful, but they were nothing special. All these things, combined with other factors, led me to have terrible problems with self-esteem. From the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, every day, I criticized myself for everything I did; I believed I could do nothing right. I thought a lot about death and dying. I wondered how my death would impact the people around me. I wrote letters to my loved ones just in case I ever died. Most of all, I hated myself for feeling the way I did all the time for no real reason, when there were so many people in the world who had it much worse than a white Christian girl from suburbia.
The first thing my doctor told me was that this happens a lot to kids my age and that it may or may not go away within the next few months. I assumed, since it did not go away for five years, it was not going to go away anytime soon. He recommended therapy and antidepressants, and I was on my way to getting better, or so I thought.
What nobody told me is that, after you’re diagnosed, everything about depression gets worse before it gets better. I found myself having to come up with good reasons to keep waking up every day; sometimes breathing felt like too heavy a burden. On top of that, I had to force myself to be open with a total stranger at least once a week about deeply personal things that I did not understand myself. In hindsight, I know that I did not use therapy as effectively as I should have: I was unemotional, calculated, and technical in talking about my feelings. I did not trust my therapist. I did not believe she would keep the intimate details of my life confidential. I did not think that talking about my feelings would lift any burden from me.
Though I didn’t like having a counselor and didn’t feel it would help, I found myself in her office unscheduled. Suicidal ideation is an issue that people with depression sometimes encounter, and in my head, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, but it prompted a big reaction. It means very little more than thinking about suicide, but it can put you in the hospital. Full disclosure, I personally don’t believe that my thoughts ever deserved a trip to the hospital, and I think most depressed people who tell you they haven’t thought about suicide or dying are liars, but that’s not the point. The point is that, after an almost-trip to the hospital, I stopped seeing that counselor.
For the next year, every day was a lifetime to get through. I made it through high school (barely) and thought that college would bring new opportunities for a healthier brain. I was wrong. Over time I dropped out of my first semester and focused on working and healing. It was a battle to learn how to love myself, how to say no to social gatherings when I needed to, how to listen to the people I loved most when they were trying to be helpful, how to reassure myself when they said something with the best of intentions that wound up being hurtful. and how to take care of myself. If I’m honest, I’m still doing most of this, and it’s hard. Anxiety makes it hard to say no and harder to say yes. Depression makes any suggestion sound like a criticism and can cause a spiral of self-pity and hate.
During the last four years since my diagnosis, I have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have sat on my bathroom floor and wondered if anybody would truly miss me if I died. I have sat in my car wondering where I could possibly go to escape myself. I have also met the love of my life, married him, and become a member of the church that truly taught me about Jesus Christ’s love for me, which has brought me so much peace in my personal storm. I’ve gone back to school and proven to myself that I can do it. I’m on track to do something that really matters, and I’ve never felt that way about anything in my life.
Things are not always better. They’re not always nice. I still struggle with eating too much or too little. I still lie awake for hours on end, or sleep a whole day away. Sometimes I don’t remember the last time I felt happy. Sometimes I don’t remember the last time I felt anything at all. But throughout all the hardships, all the tears, all the things I think are unfair, there is so much joy and peace, and so much to live for. I have laughed so hard and cried so hard and lived so much. No matter how dark my days might be, I know there is a bright sun somewhere on the horizon, and it will rise. I don’t always know when, but I know that it will, and I will better recognize and bask in it because of the darkness.
I am grateful for my life—the good, the bad, and the sad—and I know that is because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. Because of His Atonement, I know that I am covered, both for the things I can control and the things I cannot. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I have to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, and to feel God’s grace and love covering me every step of the way.
So, to you, reader: If you’re experiencing some or all of these symptoms, if you’ve had depression or anxiety or both for years, or if you’re recently diagnosed and trying to figure things out, you are not alone. You are important. You are loved. If you’re at a low point, I know that low point ends. I know that things get better. I can promise you, things will get better if you keep holding on. Don’t take for granted the little things that your family or friends do for you. Try to communicate what you need as best you can. Do whatever it takes to take care of yourself in a positive, constructive way. Say no to plans. Sit on the couch with your pet and drown yourself in Netflix (just not for too long. Also, if you need a pet, I’ve got one, and he loves naps and cuddling). Take a walk. Take a break. Take a nap. You’re working hard to fight the hardest thing you can fight—yourself. You deserve simple pleasures. You deserve good things. And if you’re seriously thinking about harming yourself or someone else, or ending your own life—please reach out. Talk to someone. Because life is worth living. I have some very dear friends that tried to take their own lives, and I’m very thankful they never succeeded. Without them, I would not be the person I am. Keep holding on. You have magic in you. You’re going to change lives. Don’t miss out on the beauty the world has to offer.