The Black Dog
I was 18 the first time I had a medical professional diagnose me with depression. I was living on campus at university, young, carefree and with my whole life ahead of me. I couldn’t comprehend the pain I was feeling. It made no sense given my circumstances and where I was at.
I took anti depressants and had weekly therapy sessions. I hated the fact that I wasn’t ‘normal’. I hated that while I was pouring my soul to the campus head doctor, my mates were at the uni bar being normal young people.
My attitude towards my mental illness got a lot worse before it got better. I refused to believe that anything was wrong with me. Nothing a little exercise and a big night out couldn’t fix.
When I was in my early 20’s I had a major car crash. It was the lowest point of my life. I was in a hole so deep, I couldn’t see any way out. I got help and went back on my medication.
After hitting rock bottom, it terrified me to ever go back to that place. I made a concerted effort to learn more about my illness. I had come to terms with the idea that having depression didn’t make me weak or any less capable.
Growing up I didn’t know anything about mental illness. It wasn’t accepted as a legitimate malaise. So I believed that I had a flawed personality resulting in weakness and a lack of resilience. That kind of self-loathing was hard to shake and it took a long time. I’ll be honest, that kind of thinking still rears its ugly head from time to time, though it no longer consumes me.
I changed my diet, increased my exercise and found a good psychologist. The biggest and most beneficial change I made was my own attitude towards accepting my illness. As I got older and stronger I thought I had a real handle on my depression and I was in control. It felt great.
Depression is like a cold
Two children, a new city and putting my career on hold led me right back to that dark place. It made me think of depression in a whole new way. Often times I have heard the analogy that mental illness is like a broken bone. If someone broke their leg you wouldn’t expect them to walk on it.
A more suitable analogy is a common cold. You feel like crap, it’s exhausting, you never know exactly how you got it and despite your best efforts to avoid it you may still catch it. Either way, no use getting angry and blaming yourself that you have a cold. Look after yourself to ensure you get better.
That’s what I do every day. Depression is different for everyone. In my own experience, understanding that this is something I will always have to manage has made it more bearable to deal with when I have a relapse.