I’m not sure who’s more surprised that I struggled with depression the majority of my life- people that meet me now or those that knew me back then. I can understand the ones that know me now because I don’t have a hint of the depression that once controlled me. I’m optimistic, positive, and in high spirits. What I find interesting is those that didn’t realize it at the time.
Of course, those closest to me knew my struggle. They saw me for the tortured soul I was. Outside of my small inner circle, people didn’t realize how bad it was. I’ve had people tell me they had no idea I was depressed back then because I smiled so much. It’s true I’ve always been known for having a smile on my face, but even my smile was different. It wasn’t a smile that reached my eyes, it was just one that masked the pain. Funny how people don’t realize you’re hurting when your face doesn’t show it the way they expect.
My facial expressions aside, I think people have a misunderstanding of what depression looks like. For me, it didn’t show up the way it does on the commercials for anti-depressants. I didn’t go to work with my hair disheveled, I wasn’t amongst friends looking like a statue as they had a great time, or sit in a chair staring out of the window as rain fell. It did show up as me never looking forward to the day, never wanting to go to work, rarely if ever going out with friends. It did look like me doing less of the things I once enjoyed, becoming more withdrawn and removed from the world around me, wanting to spend my weekends in bed.
For me, depression was a constant state of being. I couldn’t see the good in any situation, always felt like everything bad happened to me, and was in a funk I didn’t know how to get out of. A funk that lasted on and off (mostly on) for over 15 years which was the majority of my life and all of my adult life until then. I had a bad attitude, I was a bummer to be around, and wasn’t able to see how bad it was. I wonder if those that met me just figured that’s the way I was. I wonder if they saw it but just felt it wasn’t their place to say anything.
The reason I’m writing about this today is because I want to bring awareness to the many faces of depression. It looks different for everyone. Sure there will be symptoms and characteristics that show up for many people, but the way those show up might be different. There might be someone in your life that is struggling with depression. They might be fighting a battle and you don’t even realize it. They might be fighting it and not have a name for it because they don’t realize they are depressed. Don’t go and tell them I encouraged you to confront them because that’s not what I’m suggesting. “They” might even be you.
Depression is a vicious cycle. You feel bad, down, hopeless, and helpless. Then you feel bad for feeling bad. You try to snap out of it but you don’t know how. You’ve been here for so long you don’t know how to get out. Personally, I never went the antidepressant route. At first, I think I was in denial that I was even depressed. Then I thought the side-effects would be worse for me than the depression itself was. I finally had a breakdown that made me see just how bad it was and I realized I had to fight myself for my life.
So that’s exactly what I did. I fought my thoughts and waged an all-out war to overcome them. I had let myself believe I’d never get better. Let myself think I deserved to continue to live life that way. Enough was enough. Enough beating myself up. Enough victimizing myself. Enough wallowing in self-pity. Enough blaming others for the state of my life. Enough distancing myself. Enough reciting the “they don’t know my pain, they don’t know my struggle” story. Enough.
That’s exactly what it took for me to climb out of that abyss I was in for so long. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy. I really felt like it was an internal war, but I’m here three and a half years later and I’ve won each battle. In the beginning, it was a daily battle. It was a daily fight to get out of bed. I had to coax myself to get up. I had to pump myself up to boost my mood. I had to have pep talks with myself on the drive to work. I listened to comedy instead of music on my radio app just to make myself laugh. I went for walks on my lunch break instead of watching TV in the breakroom or surfing the web at my desk. I accepted invites to barbecues and birthday parties even though I wanted to lay in bed and sleep the weekend away.
A curious thing happened, after months of forcing myself to do things differently, I began to feel different. I was at the same job but I didn’t loathe getting up to go to work. I still preferred to sleep in but I didn’t hit snooze 5 times before actually getting up to get ready. Friday was still my favorite weekday but the days didn’t seem so long and I stopped spending Sunday dreading the work week. I started hiking with my dogs in the morning, getting up to hit the trail and watch the sunrise with them. I started getting more active and my family joined me on walks. Before I knew it there was a shift in my life.
(Left) My hubby and daughter joining my 3 fur babies and I for a hike in 2013. (Right) Early morning sunrise on the trail with two of my fur babies.
I’m sharing this because this reality is an option for you too. It may look different, but you can create a better version of your life than the one you’re living right now. There is life after depression, and it is amazing! If you’re currently on medication please work with your doctor, I’m not suggesting that you ditch them. I’m just sharing my story so that you know that you’re not alone. I know you might feel misunderstood, like no one knows your struggle, or how you feel. I may not know from your perspective, but I’ve been there too. Please feel free to reach out whether in a private email to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), someone that you know and trust, or a support group.
I started this off by saying that I wasn’t sure who was more surprised to know that I was depressed. That’s because I am a completely different person than I was a few years ago. You can tell by my smile that radiates through my eyes. You can tell by the way I make eye contact and greet nearly every person I pass each day. You can tell by my outlook on life. You can tell by the way that I conduct myself even when I think no one is looking. I can tell by the thoughts that cross my mind when I’m driving them or attentive to them as they pass by. I’m able to take part in my life in a more active, healthy, and enjoyable way. So if you’re surprised that I ever struggled with depression, I take that as the highest compliment and intend for others to know what it feels like to have someone pay them the same compliment.
You might enjoy this post on cultivating happiness. Click the photo to read more.
Check out the video in this post if you’re ready to start waging war on the internal battle you have. This would have been a much better approach had I known about it when I first started fighting back.