My personal experience with depression
I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience with depression, after a conversation I had the other day.
I’m only writing about my own personal experience, and it’s not intended to tell anyone else what to think or how to feel. Rather, my hope is that it helps someone somewhere feel a little more understood, and a little less alone, in their own experiences. And maybe, hopefully, offer up some hope that even the lowest of low points doesn’t last forever. It’s worth it, it has been for me, to keep moving forward.
And so, here is a piece of my story.
I had a lot of praise and support when I was growing up. I heard a lot of complimentary things. My brain though, turned these, over time, into twisted and all-consuming expectations:
“You’re so pretty”
“You’ve got such an athletic build”
“You’re so lucky”
“My worth is based on my looks”
“I have to stay skinny”
I’ve been told countless times in my life that I should be a model. I was wise enough to know that it would have killed me. The pressure of trying to maintain a “perfect” image would have collapsed me in on myself.
It’s only been in the last year, after decades of work and self-study and therapy and reading and journaling, that I have come in to the full realization of how much I appreciate, respect, and love just who I am. I’ve only recently been able to accept and even be grateful for compliments about my appearance without having anxiety or my personal value come into the picture.
“You’re so smart”
“Of course you got another a”
“You can do anything you set your mind to”
“I’m not allowed to fail”
“I have to do everything perfectly”
“I need to be an expert before I’m allowed to have an opinion”
I’m still working through this one, it’s lodged pretty deeply in my personal programming. Personal criticism, especially around my opinions or actions, cuts deep. If I set expectations around how something will happen, and then that doesn’t come to pass, I take it as a personal failure - most recently my inability to be able to afford to live on my own because building a thriving business in the midst of a pandemic is a teeny bit challenging…but I took this personally and actually told my mom that I felt like a failure. Like it’s wholly my fault.
If I made a mistake, I thought I was a failure and therefore unworthy of praise for anything in that realm.
If I tried something new, and wasn’t immediately great at it, I thought it wasn’t “for me” and wasn’t worth pursuing even if I enjoyed it.
I’m learning to understand that I’m allowed to “be a kindergartner” at things. That I don’t have to be perfect at something, ever. That it’s actually better to be imperfect, because that opens up doors to possibilities that weren’t predicted in my carefully thought out plans.
“I think you’re cool”
“I think you’re hot” “I think you’re smart”
“My worth is determined by external validation”
It wasn’t until 2020, when I had so much time to myself and I couldn’t use my old coping mechanisms - keeping myself busy by socializing - that I was able to untangle this nasty knot.
I needed people to say nice things about me, because I wasn’t able to say nice things about myself. I craved affection and admiration from people across the board.
If I didn’t hear back from someone that I had texted, I assumed it was because I had done something wrong and maybe they hated me now.
If I felt uncomfortable in my body, I needed to hear that I was still beautiful. Five pounds felt like 500.
I thought endlessly about how to phrase what I felt like I needed to say, and then still wondered if I could have said it better - because maybe the other person took it “badly”.
Expectations are a big, BIG, part of what’s happening here, and have always been a giant part of my depression. The expectations that I assume based on other people’s comments make me put pressure on myself.
Someone compliments me ->
I assume that they’ve set an expectation of some kind ->
I feel forced to live up to that expectation ->
I get exhausted trying to live up to all these different external expectations ->
I realize I can’t live up to all these external expectations ->
I declare myself a failure for not meeting expectations that no one actually set ->
I feel fully horrible about myself ->
(when my depression was the worst)
I feel like the world would be better off without me
It was always, always, about feeling like I wasn’t good enough in the eyes of the people I loved the most.
Like I wasn’t living up to what they saw in me, and therefore I must be letting them down.
And, if that was the case, how could they possibly want me around, if I’m such a disappointment?
I’ve worked with therapists, coaches, and mentors - some short-term, some long-term. I was on medication for a number of years, and am still so thankful I was.
For me, medication was like getting the reins back under control of a runaway horse. I was still being carried along by my wild and shifting emotions, but I was able to tame them somewhat. With medication and therapy, I learned how to understand the horse I was riding - to anticipate when it may buck or jolt - and how to ride that out without feeling like I was going to fall over the edge.
Today, I am in a place where I can honestly and genuinely say that I love myself. I am actually grateful for my experiences with depression, and learning to live with it. I still have bad days, days when my brain lies to me, and days where I feel abjectly LOW. And, I know that they don’t last. I know that my life, in all its ups and downs and with all the twisty loops it takes me on, is beautiful and fun and peaceful and an adventure worth going on.
It took work, and tears, and stress, and conversations, and writing, and tarot, and love and validation from others (yes, even though it was something that was sometimes hard for me, it was also a necessity) to help me see who I am and that I am the good person I always wanted to be.
For anyone that reads this, and thinks, “yes, this is my experience too” please know that you have at least one person out here that understands you. That gets you. That sees you. That knows without doubt that you and your experience and your emotions are valid and true. And, that you CAN get to a place where you are happy in your life and happy with yourself.
It is possible.
I am proof.