7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Diagnosed With Depression as a Teen
When I received my diagnosis when I was 15, I felt ashamed and alone. There was no hope provided or resiliency reminders reinforced. I found myself comparing how I felt to what I was used to seeing on TV — girls being completely absolved of their depression within a 40-minute episode and having their anxiety viewed as a cute quirk. They still ended up getting the guy of their dreams, and they looked pristine as they cried themselves to sleep.
When I had my first depression episode, I felt disgusting and like I was worth nothing. My eyes were bloodshot and swollen from crying, and I never had any motivation to do anything — even the things I loved. I thought to myself, why am I so different? What’s wrong with me?
Over the years, I bounced around to different schools and therapists, feeling discouraged over the continual lack of emotion I felt. For me, depression turns off my mind and dissociates me to the point where I experience nothing but silence; and the silence was excruciatingly painful. As time went on, I experienced stigma more and more from various aspects of my life.
There are so many things I wish I could tell my teenage self or anyone who feels lost during their journey to wellness.
1. Your diagnosis does not define you.
For so long, I thought all I identified as was being depressed, but as humans, we’re so much more complex than that. We’re writers, artists, athletes, philosophers, innovators and dreamers, and to define us is to limit us. My depression and anxiety is a part of me, but it does not define me.
2. You will get through this.
All those days you’ve dealt with this stress, wondering why you’re feeling this way and what could have caused it — you’ve survived all your bad days so far, and now with a diagnosis, you’ll be able to better understand something that may have confused you for so long.
3. Mental illness is just as important as physical illness.
Mental and physical health goes hand in hand, and they are both components of wellness. Being on medication for anxiety should be treated the same as being on medication for your thyroid. Going to the hospital for psychiatric care is no different than going to the hospital for a broken leg.
4. You don’t always need to have a reason to feel this way.
Your diagnosis is reason enough. So many times we tell ourselves “suck it up” or have other people tell us so many people have it worse off than we do. Sometimes people neglect to recognize the science behind mental illness. If you looked at my brain, you’d see a loss of grey matter — tissue that contains the bodies of nerve cells — in three regions deep in the brain: the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the left insula and the right insula. These are linked to executive functioning, which is what allows a person to function in life, such as maintaining relationships, controlling impulses, etc. Don’t let your illness invalidate your thoughts.
5. It’s OK to have bad days.
I always was frustrated when I didn’t have the answers or when none of my coping skills helped de-escalate my symptoms, but I’ve learned it’s OK to tread water until you learn how to swim again. Having a bad day does not erase all of the progress you’ve made so far, and having those thoughts is OK, but it does not mean you need to act upon them. All that matters is that you tried. In retrospect, the days where I felt that down and defeated were the days that taught me the most.
6. You are not alone.
For so long, I went through the motions and swallowed my words due to being scared of judgment and the laughter I’ve experienced in the past. We cannot let the stigma we may have experienced in the past define an entire population. I never knew that one-fifth of adolescents have a diagnosable mental illness. There are people who understand and want to listen. It’s OK to reach out. There is someone who wants to walk your journey with you.
7. It gets better.
This is the most important thing I wish I learned when I was younger. There were countless times I wanted to disappear, and some days that feeling was so overwhelming to the point that I tried ending my life. Years later I still have my bad days, but my journey is what makes me appreciate the little things so much more — like laughing with a friend until you’re crying, or the way the sun feels on my skin. My bad days are few and far between now, but when they come, I tell myself I’ve gotten through this before, and I can do it again. When you feel like you can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, remind yourself of the little things that make you smile. Don’t ask yourself why you still feel this way. Ask yourself, “What are my hopes and dreams?”
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.