What I Wish I Knew When I Was Diagnosed With Major Depressive Disorder

When I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder, it both made a lot of sense and was utterly shocking. For the last seven months, I have been learning what my diagnosis means to me and how I can best manage it.

I read a lot about the symptoms and biology in the month after my diagnosis. However, what I really needed was something more than diagnostic criteria. Based on my personal experiences and insight gained from The Mighty, I would like to share three things I wish someone had told me sooner.

1. Some people will be supportive and others will not.

Some people will completely misunderstand the implications of your diagnosis. You may be hurt or discriminated against. However, none of these things have anything to do with your value as a person. The hardest thing to do is to not take others’ reactions personally. When your difficulties are minimized or dismissed, it can make you feel like your mental illness isn’t valid or that you don’t matter. These are lies depression tells you.

Depression is a huge challenge to face. You are brave every day. You don’t have to apologize. On the other hand, if you’re lucky, then you will have someone who will seek to support and help you. They may not completely understand, but they will ask questions to understand better.

One of the biggest gifts I have been given since my diagnosis is a mentor who asked questions and advocated for me. Cherish that person. Reach out to them when you need help. They care about you. You are not a burden, even when depression is trying to convince you otherwise.

2. You get to choose whether or not medication is the right choice.  

How you choose to manage your mental illness is no one else’s business. This point comes from a conversation when a trusted supervisor told me she was “anti-medication.” She had asked me what I was doing to manage my depression, and I admitted that I was taking medications in addition to therapy. The decision had already been made through advice from friends with mental illnesses, a recommendation to consider it from my counselor and my own personal consideration.

I don’t think the comment was intended to pass judgment on me, but it really hurt coming from someone I respected. I wish I did not let it bother me. I wish I had been confident enough to educate her that my choice was a valid one and her disapproval was neither wanted or needed. Different treatments work for different people. You don’t have to justify or explain your decision.

3. Depression isn’t your fault.

It’s not your fault if it takes a long time to achieve remission or it always impacts you to some degree. Depression is not a character flaw or weakness. It can result from a combination of many different causes (such as genetic, situational or relational factors). It is an illness that affects your biology. Its impact is mental, emotional and physical. You are not making it up. You do not have to “get over yourself” or “choose happiness.”

If there is one thing I want you to know, whether you’ve been battling depression for years or only more recently, then it is this: You are strong.

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