And she said it sounded like clinical depression. She thought that I should be referred to a Youth Mental Health Service for medication and more comprehensive counseling. I was relieved and thought it sounded like a brilliant idea. I just had a medical condition, that was all. If I took some pills and talked about how I felt, then surely it would all be OK. It’s a pity my parents didn’t see it that way. My mother did not understand that depression was due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, not a lack of material possessions. My father told me that his father had suffered from severe depression and I was nothing like him, so I did not have it. The counselor mentioned Prozac and Paxil and he said he did not like “those things” because they were addictive and would make me gain weight. Consequently I continued to hone my acting skills by suffering in silence.
Before I go any further, I should explain. My parents have been together for almost 30 years but I cannot understand why because they do not get along. I remember them having big screaming arguments when I was growing up and me or my younger brother yelling back at them to stop. My mother has serious mental health problems but has refused to get help for them. I believe that she suffers from bipolar disorder. She would go through periods where she was up at 5am doing the housework and seemed to have a lot of energy, but it wasn’t positive energy. She was anxious and irritable, almost like she was on a cliff edge and the slightest gust of wind could push her over. At other times she would break down crying for no reason and say that life wasn’t worth living, she wished she was dead. When I was a pre-teen I would get really angry at her for saying those things. But somewhere along the line I got sick of being angry and instead turned on myself.
When I was seventeen these issues began to manifest themselves in a different way – this time through anorexia. Once again, the onset was so gradual I didn’t even realize what was happening until I was right in the thick of it. I play competitive sports and at the time I was determined to do well in the national championships. So I began to train harder and eat less – a lot less. I managed to lose around ten kilograms (22 pounds) in three months. At my lowest, I had a BMI of fifteen.
The only advantage to having anorexia compared with depression is that everyone can see your pain. A bad mood does not strike fear into people like self-imposed starvation does. There is always hope that someone with depression can wake up the next day feeling better; however, someone with anorexia is not going to wake up having regained the weight that they lost overnight. It got so bad that my immune system began to shut down. I was threatened with hospitalization, and even worse for me, not being allowed to continue to play sports. I could either live or die.
Despite the severity of my condition I never received therapy during the course of my anorexia. No one suggested I go and I was too ashamed to tell anyone that I thought I needed to. My sport became my incentive to get well again. I’ve heard that most anorexics would rather die than be fat but I saw it the other way around. What use is it being so thin that you’re not alive to enjoy it?
But once I recovered from anorexia, the depression just came back again. It got stronger with each episode and consequently I reached a similar sink-or-swim scenario with it eight months ago. Up until them I had been able to soldier on through my depression. I am in law school and no matter how unmotivated I felt I would still be able to force myself to write an A-grade essay. If I had insomnia I could just take a sleeping pill. But gradually I found myself spacing out in class, unable to catch what the professor was saying. It would take me forever to write two sentences. I began to self-harm on a daily basis because it was too much effort to continue to try to fight the urge. Part of me just wanted to curl up and let the darkness engulf me.
But another part of me fought back. As with anorexia, this part of me decided that I was too good for this illness. Depression had outstayed its welcome – it was time for it to be evicted. I went on Prozac, as I should have when I was fifteen – one of the doctors at university faithfully wrote out prescriptions for me, gradually upping my dose as I complained about my mother’s mood swings and how tempted I was to cut myself. She listened and she cared, as did the counselor I was seeing. For once I felt like I wasn’t just a hypochondriac, that my problems were real and deserved to be taken seriously. I also decided that my home environment was doing me no good and so I transferred universities and moved to a new city. I have now been there for four months and am seeing a psychologist to help me sort though my family issues and keep me well. I know feel a lot better than I have in a very long time. Now when people ask how I am I smile and chirp, “ Fine, thank you.” Except this time I really am. I am fine. In fact, I am better than fine, I am happy.
Sometimes it seems so hard to believe that I finally have something that is second nature to so many people. Happiness is not always easy, as it requires living in reality. Depression became a security blanket for me because it was so damn familiar. I had built a whole identity around this screwed-up persona, which I was so used to that I began to think it was just the way that I was . When I first went on medication I was scared when I started to feel better because the layers of darkness had been there for so long that I no longer recognized the good that lay beneath them. But once I got to know that good a little better, I grew to love it. My advice to others facing mental illness is never to give up hope. When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hold on as tight as you can.
If you don’t think you can keep on holding consider this: My grandfather was a severe depressive to the point where he could not get out of bed for prolonged periods. My aunt has had bouts of depression. My mother has bipolar disorder. I am the third generation and I have decided that enough is enough. I am now 21 years old and have my whole life ahead of me. I do not want to pass all this onto my children, for them in turn to pass onto theirs. This is something nobody should inherit. The cycle stops here with me. This is my story, as I will remember it…