True Story: I Have Depression

This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Johanna and her struggles with depression. Johanna is not alone – it’s estimated that 1 in 20 Americans struggle with depression.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a 20-year-old student in Minneapolis, Minnesota, currently taking time off from school to pursue apathy and internet browsing: occasionally I take the bus to Walgreens and buy bite-sized Snickers, because I know how to have fun. I plan to go back next semester very tentatively to pursue a degree Gender Studies and English, and hope to become a writer or a yoga teacher, though I have never actually done yoga. I just really like the outfits.

What does depression feel like for you?
Depression is consuming. After struggling with various degrees of it for over seven years, I feel like that’s the best way to describe the effects. I have spent a lot of time so caught up in depression that I’ve been unable to really enjoy life, and, without admitting and working on it, I’ve allowed it to slowly take over every facet of my personality. It feels strange, and suffocating, and lonely, and frustrating as hell.

What are the biggest misconceptions about people who have depression?
There are a few. However, the most prevalent is definitely the assumption that depression, though hurtful, is not a medical condition. This is an issue with most mental disorders, actually – the idea that depression is controlled merely by the person experiencing it.  This can make those who suffer from it feel as though it’s somehow their fault and it creates a lot of guilt and embarrassment, which keeps people from ever seeking help. I know that I avoided admitting to myself and others that I was depressed because I thought it was a personal weakness rather than a medical condition.

Another misconception about depression is that there’s only one way to experience it. Depression comes in so many forms, and acknowledging that everyone feels the effects differently is really important. There’s so much stigma surrounding depression and so many images of what the media tells you it should be like that it can often feel as if you’re “doing it wrong,” but the fact is there’s no “right way” to be depressed. If the feelings you have are affecting you negatively, it’s an issue. It’s that simple.

When did you first realize that you were struggling with depression – rather than just “going through a rough patch” or “feeling down”?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s really hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment I realized I was depressed. I also struggle with an eating disorder and social anxiety, and because the three work off one another so much it’s been really hard for me to separate when one ends and the other begins.

I’ve always felt different from other people—I’ve struggled with this strange, indescribable sense of unhappiness since I was a small child, and have always been confused as to how other people seemed to be able to live with such ease, but I suppose it really started taking over in tenth grade. After the loss of a group of friends and the subsequent Mean Girl behavior, I began having uncontrollable episodes of crying and anxiety. I stopped hanging out with the friends I did have, and completely closed myself off from the outside world. My only emotion was sadness, and it was relentless. (This was also when I started trying to control my emotions with food and compulsively overeating, which eventually, during my first year of college, developed into bulimia and anorexia.)

Basically, when I started look like the above picture, every day, I knew I had a problem.

How has depression affected your life?
Depression has prevented me from experiencing so many beautiful and wonderful things. When I think about the past five years of my life, I can only remember a few times in which I felt happy and free and that makes me so angry. I wasted most of high school crying or sleeping alone in my room.  I have very few close relationships and am acutely aware of the ways in which I have failed as a “normal” person, though I am beginning to realize that there is no such thing as normal. I missed out on a lot of important moments in my life because my identity was so wrapped up in this disease, and it’s created a lot of regret. My eating disorder is also directly related to my depression and that has caused its own host of problems including my leave of absence from college. I’ve also made a lot of bad decisions physically, emotionally and sexually because of it—all of which still impact my life in recovery.

Is there anything specific that triggers your depression?
My fear of social situations is definitely the largest trigger for my depression. Feeling unwanted or disliked is terrifying for me, and receiving any sort of indication that I’m “unworthy” of loving relationships – whether familial, friendship or romantic – can send me into a depressive state. It’s a vicious cycle, because my depression keeps me from making those essential connections, and then not having those connections makes me even more depressed and unlikely to create them. Food and feeling unattractive is also a very large trigger for me and has been the cause of the majority of my issues with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

How do you treat your depression?
This is something I’m still trying to figure out. In September of last year I started attending a treatment program for my eating disorder, after taking a leave of absence from college.  While I was in treatment, I was tentatively diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began therapy and medication. For a while, it was immensely helpful, though day-to-day life was still a struggle.  Later, I dropped out my treatment program and stopped taking my medication or visiting a therapist. I plan to begin seeing a new psychologist sometime soon and am beginning my medication (a generic version of Prozac) again. Having this time without any professional help made me realize just how much I really need it.

But besides the obvious (and medical) ways to treat my depression, I’ve been trying to fight it myself. Though I have to reiterate that no one can overcome depression on their own, taking small steps to challenge the thoughts and feelings that come with it can be life-changing. I’ve begun branching out socially and trusting other people: being open with others about my struggle has been one of the most important components to overcoming depression. Meeting and connecting with other people who have told me their own stories of depression has kept me from feeling alone and reminded me that I have a support network that cares about me and my success. It’s also been really important for me to remind myself that this isn’t going to go away immediately. I’m still going to feel sad, without hope, lonely. But those feelings are okay. I need to keep fighting.

When you’re depressed, what can your friend or family do to help?
Be there. I know it sound easy, but that’s all. The specific needs of someone with depression will change frequently, but they will always need someone to support them unconditionally. Without the reinforcement I’ve received from my friends, family and boyfriend over the past eight months, I am fairly sure I wouldn’t be here. The power of friendship, love and encouragement goes a long, long way.

What advice would you give to others who are struggling with depression?
Tell someone. Depression feeds off secrecy and shame, so openly discussing your issues is a great first step to overcoming it. And besides all of the regular advice (like therapy, which is essential), just remember that you are so much more than your depression. Acknowledge it and seek help, but most importantly rediscover the parts of you that were lost and become the person you want to be. There are going to be times when you abandon recovery. There are going to be days when nothing feels right. There are going to moments in which you believe you will never get better. But remain hopeful. Come back, rise up, and take what you deserve.

Have you (or anyone you know) ever struggled with depression? How do you deal with it? Any questions for Johanna?
photo by Andrea Rose // cc

24 Comments

Anonymous

Thank you for your story, I myself suffer from depression, and I understand how completely consuming and suffocating it can be. I'm glad that you are going back on medication and realise that you need to see someone – they are huge steps to take, I myself freak out about seeing someone, I fear they'll think I'm crazy or just..pretending, or it's just.. being sad, even though I've been diagnosed.

All the best to you, I hope it ends up well x

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Jessika

I've also suffered serious bouts with depression, on and off, since I was 15. I now take medication for it and imagine I'll be taking them for the rest of my life. Since they have seriously dampened both the effects of depression and stopped frequent recurrence, I really see the medicines as a parenthesis.

Along with, or as a part of perhaps, the misconception that depression is not a medical condition comes tons of advice. No one means anything bad with it but still. It's stuff like pull yourself together, think happy thought. Well, when it's a struggle to get yourself out of bed, pulling yourself together is not really possible. Or the suggestion of going to back to work when the mere thought of stepping outside your front door is terrifying.

Take care of yourself!

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Marthe

Thank you so much for sharing your story, I really admire how brave you are!

I've been depressed 4 periods of my life, so I really understand what you're going through. As you said, it's not the same for everybody. My depressions were short and intense, most lasting only about 1-3 months.

I'm also struggling with food and social issues, so you're not alone!

As I said, I really admire your courage to share your story, it's really important so others realize they are not alone with the sadness, tiredness and overwhelm. You seem to have great insight about yourself, and you're a great writer!

If you ever need someone to talk to (sometimes it's easier to share things with a stranger), I'd love to listen. Just send me an email:)

Take care of yourself, and continue to make the small changes! 🙂

Love and support,
Marthe

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Anonymous

Sarah, I am eternally grateful for your True Story series – great posts and I read them all.
And this one struck very close to home. I do not believe I have a depression (or at least not to the degree described by Johanna)but I struggle with social anxiety, physical symptoms of stress, compulsive overeating and bouts of depression-like states when everything is grey, pointless and overwhelming. The word 'suffocating' is the best I've ever heard to describe the feeling.
I am hoping that I can deal with it without medication as this scares me. What worked for me so far are social contact forced on myself, sport(that especially as a stress relieve), long talks with my husband when he listens patiently to my rumblings and keeps repeating that I am not in fact disappointing him and he is proud of me.
Keep your fingers crossed that I may best this darkness inside me.

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Laura Elaine

I, too, have suffered from depression for most of my life, though it didn’t really start affecting the way I function until college. A debilitating illness triggered a severe episode, leading me to finally seek therapy and medication. I have been taking various medications ever since. I am at a good place now, but still on medication and going to therapy.

I think one mistake people make is that once they feel ok, they lay off going to a therapist or even taper off their medication on their own. Just like with anything in life – relationships, fitness, hobbies – even when things are good you still work at it or practice or maintain. If a depressed person does lapse back into it and that system isn’t in place, it can defeat you all over again.

I really appreciate Johanna’s candidness (and her humor!). It is sad that there is SUCH a stigma about mental illness. People hear the word “mental” and automatically think “crazy.” I remember when I was first dealing with it, my biggest fear was that people would KNOW. But, once I did start telling people, I was amazed at how many of them were going through similar issues. We really need to get past this negative connotation, because it really does touch everyone.

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Give me 30 days

Thanks for sharing your story. Yeah I think a lot of people don't talk about it openly because they fear that people will view them as weak when they say they are depressed and people will begin to judge.
I'm unsure if I had depression or not. There was a time in my life when I was under a lot of stress and I would cry a lot and then someone told me they thought I might be depressed and I began to stress about being depressed. I would do online quizzes to test if I did and the results said either I did have a mild form of it or was bordering on having depression. I was so confused and I began to research about too for the symptoms. It was a really awful time. I don't think I had depression but I did feel so down all the time and I couldn't concentrate on anything and I didn't eat as much as I did before the awful time.

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Arlina

THANKYOU!!!! There are so many points in this that are what I have been dying to have people understand! It really is soo important that people know that depression really is different in different people and can even be different in the same person at different times. Im 23 and have had several, im going to call them episodes, of depression for easily the last 10 years…my brain was still growing and developing and that has not only meant very different experiences in each episode but radical differences in the effectiveness of treatments, it can be a one off thing for some people and a chronic disease that will effect years and years of some people's lives…it does not fit into one neat little box and just because you know someone with depression doesnt mean you have a complete understanding of mental health issues and how to interact with everyone who has ever had this experience. Please, please, please dont make assumptions! I am not my disease! I am happy to talk about it and very open, that doesnt mean I am happy to let you see me when I am at my lowest points or want to put myself in situations that I know will result in public breakdowns, if I need to go cry in a change room etc instead and dont want to talk about it after then please let it be…I am ok, I will let you know if Im not and no, there probably honestly wasnt a reason for the tears…sometimes it just happens! Just like sometimes I laugh at a lame joke for ten mins straight…it happens! I am an intelligent, capable person, i am strong and resilient and going on even when I honestly cant find a reason to…try and see the person you are talking to, not the depression, it is such a slap in the face to be spoken down to, treated like a child, to not have my opinion or feelings respected, to be met with pity….I dont need to fight the rest of the world to be treated as I deserve on top of fighting my own brain just to get through the day. Sorry this got a lil ranty…just started typing and I guess there was more there than I was expecting!

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littlemissjuicy

Finally, someone who understands just how exhausting everyday life can be, even when we don't have a particular daddy issue, bf issue or any other issue to place our finger on.
I give myself credit for going through what Johanna is going through. When I see someone else dealing with it, I am able to be more generous with praise and love for them. I am 22. I deserve a huge pat on the back for dealing with it, although, I do have a sense of victimization. Why me? But i guess loads of others deal with their own crap too.

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Emily

To reiterate what everyone else has said: thank you for being so honest and open about your struggles with depression. It's not easy and I understand.

I've suffered from anxiety my entire life and depression since the early years of college. While this was somewhat situational (close relative w/cancer, cheating boyfriend, sudden death in family), I realized that my coping mechanisms were just not up to par. What I experienced was definitely a "rough patch," but not being able to get over it meant I had depression.

I'm 25 now and manage my depression well with talk therapy, medication, and consistent exercise. I've found that this combination is the only one that works for me. Writing and sharing my story has also been helpful. I want other young women to know they're not alone.

One more thing about misconceptions. People often don't believe me when I tell them I'm depressed because I'm successful, social, and outgoing.

Remember that depression looks different on everyone.

Thanks again for sharing, Johanna.

xoxo
Emily

http://www.emilylospennato.blogspot.com

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Anonymous

I was depressed for 6 years, during high school and college. I was on various medications, but nothing worked for me. I did CBT Therapy which led me to Buddhism, which was very helpful for me personally.

The best thing I've noticed to help me through depression was just to look at one thing at a time. If you're in bed, and it seems hopeless to get up, just say, I will roll over. And do that. And then say, I will sit up, and do that. And just go from there. That's what worked for me. It's incredibly slow and painful sometimes, but learning to live again can be done.

For me, it was taking a stand against the drugs I was on, and really deciding myself what to do with my life instead of listening to other people that pushed me out of my depression. It's not overnight, for sure. It took me 3 years to finally get to a place of "normal". But, again, consider – what is "normal"? You decide how you want to live your life, and then do it that way no matter who tells you not to.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Beth

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Jessika

When it comes to telling people what depression is like, as commented above; it's really helpful if you are able to articulate what depression feels like. I haven't found a way to do that, i have however found a way to describe anxiety. "Imagine yourself being scared all the time and without any apparent reason. Then make that feeling a constant in your life." That seems to explain it beyond the usual conception of it being something you can shake off or overcome like a hangover. If only it was that simple.

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Tuahla

I've always wondered if I'm depressed…I suffer from a shyness so severe its almost pathological, and I go to a therapist for that. I recently met someone that I used to go to high school with, and we've started going out. I never really knew how bad i felt before because I've never actually been this happy before…when I lose him when I have to move for school in the fall, its going to break me to go back to how I used to feel.

Depression eats at you, takes away your will to live. I never felt like exercising, eating, or interacting with other people. Talking to people is by no means easy now, but its amazing how much easier everything is when you actually feel like someone cares.

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Anonymous

Are you me? I too am a 20-year-old student who's suffered from depression for 7 years. Mine can also be credited to mistreatment at the hands of my "friends", although for me that happened in middle school. Everything you described was so spot-on and well-articulated. Thank you so much for your bravery, and I wish you nothing but the best going forward.

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Mrs. Grievous

I identify with this so closely. Especially when you say you feel like it has always just been that way… I can't remember a time after hitting puberty that I felt anything but just sad. Thankfully, there is medication and therapy. 🙂

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MacKenzie

Johanna's story very closely mirrors my own. I am also a 20 year old college student although I am still attending school and failing miserable largely due to my depression.

I have found that speaking to others who suffer from depression is a huge help, although I have never spoken to (or read) such a transparent and honest person in regards to this massive issue in my life. Seeing how Johanna feels and reacts to her depression gives me hope because I feel almost the same way about my disease. This really is a massive issue especially in young adults like ourselves.

I completely agree that being honest and talking to friends is a massive step. This was a very hard step for me to take recently but I have found it has paid off tremendously. My closest companions now know that when I withdraw socially, they need to pull closer and help me out; where in the past, friends have seen this as hostility and have left me abandoned with my own issues and no hope for relief or escape.

For those of you reading this that have not taken the step to talk to someone or have not yet been able to admit what issues you are facing, PLEASE PLEASE know that there is no shame in being this way. Your brain simply works differently. Also if you do need someone to talk to who has been there, and is there, I am a bored college kid that needs someone to talk to just as much as you do. You can contact me at mackdcamp (at) gmail (dot) com. One stranger to another, no judgement, or shame.

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Sam

Thank you for your honesty, for sharing with strangers, for helping, for your bravery. That is a truly beautiful thing.

Suffocating. That is such a brilliant way of putting it, and one I've never really thought of before. I feel like I just had a light-bulb moment and something makes sense to me which didn't before. I'm 23 and have been experiencing anxiety since early childhood and depression since I was 14. I've been in therapy and on medication on and off since just before my 16th birthday. I'm currently taking an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication and recently my doctor increased my dosage due to higher levels of depression. I don't rally like being on medication; I would rather work through my problems in therapy alone, but for now I know I'm better off taking the meds and going to therapy. My goal is to be drug-free in the future, because even though depression is an illness, it does not always require medication. I don't think medication can ever 'fix' depression, only aid in recovery.

The most frustrating thing for me is not really understanding why I get depressed. Or why it is I have reacted to certain events with anxiety and/or depression rather than "brushing them off" or not letting the rough patches go on forever. I feel like I'm not allowed to be depressed because my life experiences are not so bad relative to many other peoples', even though I know it is unhealthy and unproductive to think this way. As you said, depression comes in many forms and there is no 'right way' to 'do' depression.

This year I have been tumbling down the well of depression again. While I'm not really bad at the moment, the decline has been slow and steady and is just beginning to wreck havoc in some areas of my life. Sometimes I feel like I can handle this, get better, be ok; other times not. One of the most helpful things for me is the conscious choice to not worry or think too much about the causes of my depression. I don't mean my triggers, but the deeply-rooted stuff that started the whole thing off in the first place. I could spend my entire life trying to find the answers to all the Why-questions and I would rather just get on with living, enjoying life, staying above water and managing to hold my own. I, too, have much sadness by how much I have missed out on because of my depression. I don't want to go many more years missing out on all the beautiful, amazing things that are right under my nose and which depression tends to make me blind to.

I wish you all the very best in your recovery. So much love to you and all the other commenters.

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Chelsea

thanks so much for sharing your story. i can relate to so many aspects of it; especially where you describe your social anxiety and how that can be a vicious circle. beautifully written.

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saldalilover

Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. I have suffered with depression for the last 15 years as well as panic attacks. The absolute hardest thing is trying to get people to understand what it is like to have depression and that you can't just change your thoughts with a snap of the fingers and you can't just cheer up. But we have to remember that if you are on a medication and are feeling great – the reason is because the mess are helping. I made that mistake multiple times in the past and went off my meds and relapsed persay into my old friend – the deep dark abyss. Please if you think you may be suffering from depression at all tell someone!

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Gemma

i'm 21, i had depression i struggled with it for 3 years. i also have social anxiety, and guess what else? at the time i wanted to become a yoga teacher. wow. just when you think you're alone, right? i had depression for a lot of reasons. but what got me out of it was completing my 200 hour yoga training, and meeting and incredible INCREDIBLE counselor. sometimes i worry i'm getting depressed again- that suffocating feeling creeps back in though. i don't feel like normal people either- i ALWAYS wonder how everything is so easy for others. don't they worry about what people think like i do? don't they go home and analyze ever conversation they've had? don't they worry about making sure everyone is comfortable all the time? they don't. but i do. i still struggle with the same insecurities that got me into depression in the first place, its a battle everyday. and its nice to know your not alone, even if you don't wish for anyone else to ever have to go through such an awful thing. i'm sending lots of love your way girl, and i hope things clear up for you. the last 3 years of my life were the worst ever. i'm hopeful that the next years are going to be so much better and i hope yours are too.
wow. i'm just so blown away right now. thank you thank you THANK YOU for these true story posts.

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missmoon99

I also have the three disorders mentioned by the interviewee and am considering seeking help. It's just so hard, especially since I don't feel like I'm worth the attention most of the time. I'm 5'5 and yesterday the scale told me I've gotten to 102.4 and it still doesn't feel good enough. I still don't feel good enough.

Thank you for giving me a little encouragement in getting help. <3

Now I'm going to sleep. Lol.

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Anonymous

I am 46 years old and I have been dealing with depression for the past 17 years. It all happen when my mom passed away at the age of 58 years of age. That's when it all started. After my mom passed away, I was in shocked and the doctor had diagnosed me with PTSD which is I guess depression. The memories that I had of my mom all got suppressed and most of the other ones but one thing stood in mind that submerge was I was abuse when I was a child by a family member and that's when it all started, never been the same since. I confronted that person and he admitted it. I could go on and on but it would take too long. To put it in short terms as best as I could is my mom was kicked out of the house on nov 5/1994 by our father and she ended up getting fluid on the lungs and had a heart attack and passed. Fifteen years three weeks to the day my father passed away and it should of been the other way around. We all grew up from the time we were young until our mom passed away the abuse that our mother had taken over the years until she died. God knew she would be in a better place and thats what keeps me going knowing she wouldn't be suffering anymore. So being the past that we all had, that's how I came about and developed depression and still fighting it. you have to go through it to understand what your feeling, the guilt, your to blame, ashame, afraid to share your story because you dont want them to judge you, dont want them to feel sorry for you, etc. I would love to hear from people who have depression and then we can relate to what were both feeling. Today I have a great husband and family that makes me want to live and they are what keeps me going. Anyway that's the short version of my story. Love to hear from other people that have depression. Thank you

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