“You were such a happy baby,” my mom told me on the eve of my 21st birthday. “I’d come into your room in the mornings and you’d be standing there, looking up at me, like, “‘hello!'”
My mom smiled slightly, and then promptly started crying. It was all I could do not to join her. My body needed a break from sobbing. I’d been doing it for months.
From my sophomore year in college until roughly about two years after I graduated, I was depressed. Maybe not clinically, since I never took medication to ease the pain or had any real thoughts about suicide, but even if I didn’t have a form of depression you could diagnose, every cell in my body was sad. It was like carrying around a giant backpack full of bricks. No matter where I went or what I did, I couldn’t shake the sadness.
That was probably the hardest part: not being able to climb up out of the wet, soggy hole I was sleeping and eating and working in every day. After all, since I was a little kid, happiness had been my go-to emotion. It’s not that my life was easier than most, it’s just that my general outlook tended to be positive. I didn’t carry grudges and I certainly didn’t stay in bad moods. So why, for three whole years, was I limping through life with a seemingly endless supply of tears?
The depression was triggered by a specific event, the breakup of my first long-term relationship. Obviously, that sort of thing triggers a lot of people, but the circumstances surrounding my specific breakup, for whatever reason, absolutely shredded my heart for a really long time.
The first 365 days afterwards were awful. And when I say awful, I mean even some of my best friends had a hard time being around me. I mean my parents would come upstairs to check on me whenever I was home because they were nervous about my behavior. I mean I went to therapy.
Therapy was something I had sworn I would never do (I hadn’t been abused as a kid, I didn’t have a clinical issue, why would I need therapy?), but after an entire year of feeling like my emotions were limited to “sad” and “sadder,” I was ready to try anything.
As it turns out, talking to a lovely man who was a dead ringer for actor William H. Macy for an hour a week was the best thing I could have done for myself. It didn’t “cure” me, and I was certainly still feeling pretty bad after seeing him for about 6 months (my insurance changed…sigh), but I left those sessions with a realization I’ve carried with me ever since: Society can’t tell you when you’re better. Only you can.
A big part of my depression stemmed from feeling guilty about not being able to “get over it.” TV, movies, books, talk show episodes…everyone was telling me to just move on and forget about it. But I couldn’t. And that made me feel like hell. Something was wrong with me. My “get over it” apparatus was broken. I was a freak of nature who was always going to be in pain and would never have anyone truly understand.
I was sad, but I wasn’t crazy. Sensitive, maybe, but not crazy, and certainly not wrong.
My William H. Macy stand-in, along with a good, long dose of time, taught me that whatever I’m feeling at any given moment is perfectly acceptable. Depression, clinical or otherwise, is not fun and no one wants to languish in it, but any shame or embarrassment surrounding that state should be banished immediately after being identified. I took a really, really long time to get through the pain of a breakup (which to this day still confuses me) – so what? I’m not the kind of person who can ignore her emotions, and I feel things very deeply. This is just who I am. While it isn’t always easy, it’s my current internal state, for better or worse.
I was a happy baby, but from my sophomore year in college until about two years after I graduated, I was depressed. And even though I’d characterize myself as real close to being that bouncing baby again, I’m fully aware that I have the family genes, and the emotional tendency, to slip into long-term sadness. I’m not embarrassed. I’m not worried. Whatever I need to feel, now or in the future, I’ll feel in my own way.
If I could say one thing to the entire world, it would be: don’t get over it. That phrase is thin and broken from overuse; it’s the clichéd easy answer to deep, multilayered issues. Don’t get over it, get through it. Set yourself free from it. Learn to love it, or at least accept it. And then, begin to heal – for however long it takes.