Not that long ago, I lost myself.
It’s very difficult to describe depression to someone who has never experienced it–and, if you’ve experienced it, you know that it looks different on everyone. For me, it snuck up in tiny waves, small things would change. I gained weight. A little, enough that it was noticeable but not enough that it was extremely concerning. I wore my glasses constantly to hide my face, leaving my once coveted contact lenses in a drawer stashed away. I started sleeping instead of going to classes, stumbling to express myself in seminars where I once had spoken with unabashed certainty. My room and my life became increasingly cluttered. Despite this I was, in many ways, “high functioning”. Why?
Because even though I couldn’t feel many things, what I did feel was fear. Fear was my guiding light, fear was why I didn’t actually fail out of school. Fear was why I tried new things, took cute selfies and pushed myself to go to foreign places. But I wasn’t really there for any of it. I feared rejection, I feared failure, I feared loneliness and further trauma. This fear would volley me between panic induced action and choked immobility. I was in survival mode–fighting and running, running and fighting and disconnected.
But one day, not that long ago, I started to wake up. I wasn’t “high functioning” I was simply functioning. Or at least I was wanting to function, so I started doing more of the things that made me happy.
And suddenly, I realized that while I wasn’t still depressed, many of my habits were.
It seemed like a completely foreign realization to me the day I woke up and understood that I didn’t actually need to set my alarm for 10 minutes before I had to leave my house, because I actually wanted to wake up. I didn’t need to feel fear every time I spoke out loud, because I was no longer speaking just to fill a silence–I actually had something to say. Well, I had always had something to say, but now, I wanted to say it. All of these fear based habits that I had come to understand as a part of my personality, weren’t necessarily me–they were my depression.
And that was an incredibly jarring realization. Depression, like any other mental health illness, leaves its scars, and in many ways demands more from you even when you’ve thought you’ve left it behind. And, while the numbness went away, the fear did not. So everyday, I try to make little changes in the way I live my life. Waking up fifteen minutes early instead of ten. I make plans with one or two friends I want to spend time with, instead of isolating myself. I sign up for three classes this semester instead of two.
Every day, in little ways, I walk myself farther from depression. Every day, I speak a little louder, tell a story a little more clearly, and experience my feelings, even when they scare me. The change won’t be immediate, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll never fall back into depression again. But, I am taking it, and taking care of myself, one day at a time. And I’m feeling every minute of it–
And that is something I will never take for granted again.