I sat in the waiting room with my head lowered, careful to keep my face concealed behind the largest pamphlet that I could find. I didn’t want anyone to see me in this office—especially not anyone I knew. I was ashamed, so ashamed, to be going to see a therapist. I didn’t want to admit to myself—let alone anyone else—that I needed help.
I’m not sure what caused my depression. A lot of changes were taking place in my life at the time, and many of them may have contributed to the problem, but that’s not important. I think it’s instinctual when you are depressed, to look for something to blame. But blaming something doesn’t help you feel better. In fact, most things lack what it takes to make you feel better.
What I do know is that depression hurts—sometimes physically as well as emotionally. Sometimes you feel like you can’t breathe. Sometimes your head and body ache, and you just wish that you could free yourself from them. Most of the time you feel like the whole world is coated in a dusting of gray haze, where nothing seems beautiful, upbeat, positive, or worthwhile. The people and things that used to have importance in your life slowly begin to lose meaning.
I spent a lot of my depressed days curled in a tight ball on my bed with the lights off, the curtains smashed shut, and the covers pulled tightly over my head. I preferred darkness to the lackluster gray of the world. I would rather be sad than… well… depressed. Because, in my experience, depression is not simply another word for sadness. Depression is something different entirely. It is more akin to apathy—devoid of all feeling, all passion, all significance.
I think this apathy—more than anything—is the reason that people who suffer from depression are often driven to self-harming or even suicide attempts. Most of them are just so tired of feeling nothing. At least pain would be SOMETHING, they think. Luckily, my faith in God and views of eternity kept me a fair distance away from those desires. Still, the apathy was unnerving, and I used to wish that I would simply cease to exist—which is not a great alternative.
It was when I started wishing this that I finally realized I was sick, and decided to seek outside help. This was a very hard thing for me, especially because I have never relished the idea of asking for help. But the pit I was in just continued to get deeper every day, and I was starting to lose hope that I would ever get out. So I went to see a therapist. Actually, I saw three. Not all at once, of course. I just kept requesting new therapists. I don’t know what I expected, really. I guess I just thought that one of them would eventually give me a magical key to unlock the door to my old world—where everything was bright and colorful and full of feeling—and I would be okay again.
But that didn’t happen.
For months, I just went to appointments where they poked and prodded into the things happening in my life, asking me how I felt about this or that—which was hard, since I really didn’t feel anything. One therapist suggested that I would be happy again if I got married. I was so angry that I immediately called and switched to a new therapist after that appointment. After that, I went back to the routine, non-emotive appointments where I was asked endless questions about the forces colliding in my world.
I don’t mean to shine a negative light on therapy or counseling. I think that it is a great process. In fact, I believe it is actually the source that provided my means of escape from depression. But help comes in many forms. First, we have to be willing to seek that help, then open our eyes so that we know when we are receiving it.
My turning point came, I think, when my therapist suggested that I try prescription medication to help me manage my depression. I was so discouraged! However, realizing that I had made almost zero progress in the previous months, I decided to heed her counsel. I was sent to the psychiatrist to be evaluated and prescribed medication. I hung my head in shame as I walked to her office.
The psychiatrist was very nice. She asked for an overview of my counseling visits, and what it was that brought me to her office. I told her about my depression, how I felt apathetic, how I didn’t trust myself to make decisions, and how I had been frustrated with—and even angry at—some of the things my counselors had said to me. She listened very intently, and then said, “Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re totally apathetic. You just explained to me that you were angry and that you were disappointed. And I have a feeling that you can make good decisions. Isn’t that why you’re in my office today?”
I was stunned. What she had said was absolutely true. I had felt emotions! And those emotions had been so real that they had caused me to make decisions—good decisions—that affected my life in powerful ways. The psychiatrist and I continued to have a good meeting. By the time I left her office, I felt… well… better. Obviously, I wasn’t healed on the spot; that process took months. But, by the time I visited her for my follow-up appointment, the ice that had once veiled my life had been significantly thawed. She commented that I looked different, that I had more of a glow about me. I smiled, and told her that I felt a lot better. Then, I proudly told her that I had decided not to take the medication she had prescribed, and had instead opted to take vitamins that I felt were helping my moods as well as my overall health.
Keep in mind that we all need different things to aid us in our struggles. For some, medication is exactly what is needed, and there is absolutely no shame in that. But for me, medication wasn’t the answer. What I needed was to simply have faith in myself. When the psychiatrist pointed out that I was already making good choices for myself, it was like I woke up! I realized then—much to my dismay and chagrin—that the thing I hated most in the world, the thing that was causing me so much pain and grief, was… me. Things in my world had seemed so horribly wrong and I had made so many mistakes, that I had stopped trusting myself. And I had ceased loving myself too—which caused me to make even more mistakes. Even when I had decided to seek help, I had been so ashamed of my decision that I had tried to hide! The whole thing was awful and cyclical, and yet… there was a simple solution: I just had to learn to trust and love myself again.
As I mentioned before, the journey out of my depression took months. It was hard and painful, but it was well worth the struggle. I continued seeing a therapist for a while, and made it a goal to report all of my successes and good decisions to her. I asked for help from close friends, and told them not to let me retract into my dark place. And, most importantly, I did my best to remove from my life all of the negative things that were holding me back from being the person I truly wanted to be.
And when the day finally came where I found myself smiling and genuinely enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and people around me, I knew I had made it. I had painted the color back into my world.
** As a disclaimer, if you or someone you care about struggles with depression, don’t be afraid to seek help. We are often not strong enough to walk forward from such a plague on our own. And that is okay. **