Almost exactly three years ago today, I wrote a blog post that I never ended up sharing. It was about my own struggle with mental illness–specifically, anxiety and depression (which I will refer to as simply “depression” from here on out, since they were both pretty much interconnected in my case). But I felt it was too personal, and I didn’t want to make people worry about me, so I turned it into a journal entry instead. However, I feel like the time has finally come for me to share what I wrote.

I should warn you that what you’re about to read is much heavier than what I usually share on this blog. Keep in mind that I’m not trying to bring anybody down or make people feel sorry for me. If that were my intention, I would have posted this three years ago, when the pain was still fresh. By being more open about my own experiences with depression, however, I hope to encourage others to reach out for help if needed.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the angst-ridden journal entry of a younger, much more depressed version of me:

May 13, 2013

When it feels like everything around you is falling apart, when every attempt you make to better your life seems to fail, when you realize that relationships are fragile, that is when Depression becomes such a good friend… Depression won’t leave you like other friends will. Depression will stick around, even when you don’t want it to–which is all the time.
Now Depression has become like a person who I wish I had never met but who is unavoidably a major part of my life. And now Depression has become such a close friend to me that it is difficult for me to have any other friendships. Depression makes me feel bad about myself because it always reminds me of my faults. Depression causes me to stay away from other people because I can’t quite cover up the fact that (it) is now a major part of my life… and that’s embarrassing. People don’t look at you the same once they know that Depression has become your friend… and not only your friend, but your best friend.
Because that’s what Depression is to me now: my best friend. I spend more time with Depression than I do with anyone else, because Depression is always there when nobody else can be.
Depression is there when I find myself lying on the ground in the middle of the night, crying for no apparent reason.
When I feel disconnected from everything and everyone in the world, Depression connects me to feelings of pain and loneliness, which at least allows me to be connected to something.

The good news is that, in the three years since I wrote this entry, my mental health has improved drastically. But it has been a long, arduous journey, and there were times when I just wanted to give up. I’m so glad I didn’t though, because now that I’m on the other side of it, I feel stronger and more confident than ever before.

That isn’t to say that I’ve conquered Depression completely. If I learned anything over the past few years, it’s that depression can come and go as it pleases, much like Kimmy Gibbler of Full House fame. And just when you think you’ve gotten rid of it for good, it can show up out of nowhere to destroy your life again.

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There have been several times when I thought I had parted ways with Depression for good. Any time that happened, however, my old friend would return again, stronger than ever before. It was almost as if Depression had simply taken a brief vacation, giving itself just enough time to regroup before coming back to remind me who was really in control.

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During its most recent visit, Depression almost wrecked my life completely, replacing any moments of happiness with feelings of loneliness, despair, and regret. It dragged me lower and lower into its cold, unrelenting embrace–gradually taking over my mind until there was almost nothing left of me.

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For the first time in my life, I dreaded any alone time, because that was when my mental illness had the strongest hold over me. As an introvert, this longing for constant company was almost as unsettling as my depression. Hadn’t I learned by then that being alone is everything, and other people are the worst?

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Apparently, Depression is quite the recluse as well, because it tended to fade into the background when I was around other people. It was like I had some sort of happiness trigger that could only be activated in the presence of friends and family. Maybe it’s because I knew that other people wanted me to be happy, and being the people-pleaser that I am, I just had to deliver. Whatever it was, it worked well enough to convince others (and even myself sometimes) that everything was just fine and dandy, as long as I was in good company.

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Even this temporary happiness did not sit well with my depression–no, not at all. Depression demanded all of my attention, and it certainly didn’t like for me to have any other friends. It trapped me in my own mind, causing me to put up mental barriers that isolated me from others. If anybody was somehow able to break through these barriers, Depression would immediately sabotage my relationship with that person. If a friend so much as rolled their eyes at me, for example, Depression would tell me that the friend was clearly getting tired of me.

I over-analyzed every relationship from every possible angle, which was a waste of time because Depression would always lead to me the same conclusion: I was simply unlovable, and I would therefore never have a long-lasting connection with anyone. This idea loomed over me like a constant dark cloud, sometimes making it difficult for me to even get up in the morning.

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And in the rare case when I could actually convince myself that somebody cared, it was only because they didn’t truly know me–unlike Depression, which was perfectly aware of everything that was wrong with me, right down to my most trivial mistake.

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At night, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, Depression would taunt me: “Remember that embarrassing thing you did three years ago?” After which it would proceed to tell me precisely what I should have done differently. Every night, Depression berated me in this manner until I finally drifted off into a restless sleep. When I woke up the next morning, my mind would temporarily be wiped clean, allowing a few blissful moments when I was unaware of my concerns. I lived for those moments. But then my awareness would return, reminding me that it was time to face another day with Depression by my side.

There were probably many contributing factors that led to my friendship with Depression, but if I could pinpoint one cause, it would be the state of constant instability that plagued my early 20s. That is to say, college life was a little too unstable for my fragile mental health.

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In college, I constantly found myself thrown into unfamiliar situations and forced to make new friendships again and again–a difficult task, to say the least, for someone as introverted and reserved as I am. Every new semester was so different from the last that it felt I was starting my life over, and by the time I finally got used to my surroundings, it would be time for everything to change yet again. It probably sounds pathetic, but it eventually got to the point where I felt like my whole world was constantly on the verge of crumbling beneath me at any minute.

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Even though the symptoms were obvious, I’m sure I didn’t believe at first that I was struggling with mental illness. Admitting to myself that I was depressed was almost as hard as it was to admit it to others… almost. Saying the words “I’m depressed” out loud was like saying a disgusting swear word. But it always felt better once the knowledge was out in the open, even when certain people shared their opinions about exactly why I was feeling depressed–opinions which proved to be… interesting, to say the least.

Some people seemed to be of the opinion that I was just being dramatic, and I simply needed to “get over it.”

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Others were more sympathetic but told me that, ultimately, happiness is a choice. Oh, is that all I needed to do this whole time, was decide to be happy? Silly me, I never thought of that!! Little did these people know that by saying I could simply choose to be happy, they were simply choosing to risk me slapping them in the face.

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One couple even told me that my mental illness was nothing more than Satan trying to discourage me. In order to banish Depression from my life, they advised me to do a breathing exercise that was designed more or less to help me breathe out Satan and breathe in Jesus.

And my absolute favorite opinion? If you’re depressed, it just means that you’ve sinned and need to fix whatever is amiss in your life.

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Most people who swear by these quick fixes have good intentions, but they simply don’t realize how powerful mental illness can be. Their idea of Depression is a few bad days or maybe even weeks, which everyone has at some point in life as a natural side-effect of existing. True Depression, however, infects your mind just as powerfully as a physical malady infects your body, and it most certainly does not last only a few days.

If mental illness were not a disease in the same way that physical illness is, medicine would not be effective. Take it from someone who knows–antidepressants are the best! It can be tricky because you have to take exactly the right kind of medication in the exact right dosage in order for it to be effective, and what is “right” varies from person to person. Once you figure all that out, though, it really is amazing how much it can help you feel like your old self again. Mental health medication should not be taken lightly, but never let somebody who isn’t a licensed professional convince you that you shouldn’t take medication for a mental illness. I made that mistake, and it likely delayed my recovery by at least a year.

In my experience, it also helps to reach out to family members and friends to tell them about the extent of your struggles. And I mean really tell them–no sugar coating! For the longest time, I downplayed my depression so nobody would worry too much. I would tell people I was depressed, but I would water it down and assure them it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

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It was only when I really opened up about my struggles and admitted how serious the situation was that I felt like I gained a true support system. The great thing about telling people you’re depressed is that it weeds out the fair-weather friends, who you’re better off without anyway. Sure, you’ll most likely have a few people tell you that you’re being dramatic and that you just need to get over it. Respond to these people with a sassy yet civilized remark, then move on and pretend they never cursed you with their existence.

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Most people I told were extremely supportive, however, and many of them mentioned that they had faced similar struggles as well. Like it or not, mental illness is becoming more and more prevalent, not only in America but throughout the world. Unfortunately, there is no depression vaccine, and not much can be done to prevent it from happening. In my case, it came in like a wrecking ball, much like the one Miley Cyrus rode naked on in that music video I accidentally watched that one time.

Of course, the inherent ups and downs of life can help invite Depression into your world or scare it away at any moment. There is really no arguing that my life is better than it was when I first became acquainted with Depression, and that is undoubtedly a major part of the reason I feel so much better now. I have also learned to be comfortable in my own skin, accepting myself for who I am instead of trying to change into what I feel society wants me to be. Screw society! What good have social expectations ever done for anyone?

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Almost two years have passed since I had my last real encounter with Depression. It has called me a few times since then, but I always let it go to voicemail–much like I do when my ex-girlfriend Emma Watson tries to call (get over it, Emma, I’ve moved on!). I would consider myself to be on “remission” at this point, because I am fully aware that Depression could come back someday for a long-term visit. If it does return, however, things will be different. This time, I’ll be ready.

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