flowers blooming through the snow

Coming out on the other side of depression is like being reborn.

The world is huge, bright, a horizon for endless curiosity and exploration. The vastness of the future is no longer daunting and exhausting, but an invitation. There’s a sense that no matter what’s out there, it is what it is and you’ll be OK. You’ll be OK because you carry within you the capacity to be OK. If you’ve made it through this far, there’s really nothing you can’t overcome.

Recovering from depression is a feeling of ultimate empowerment. This seed of your self has been harshly refined — battered, bruised, blown, flooded, scalded, drowned almost to nothing — but look! It’s still there. And then, against all the odds, it begins to take root. No one thought you could do it. You didn’t think you could do it. Yet one day, you wake up and realize: I’m more alive than dead. Life is more good than bad. And there’s your little seed, alive and growing. Welcome back.

I know you might not believe me. A few short months ago, I wouldn’t have believed myself. It reminds me of the first year I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, just in time for four straight months of winter rain. Until I saw it with my own eyes, I didn’t believe that the rain would relent and turn these soggy fields to blackberries and camas flowers and gold hay. But, surprise: spring came.

I know it sounds cliché. But depression gives this simple metaphor powerful weight. Spring follows winter. This is a basic, well-known fact — until it is not. Until depression shows you perpetual winter, and you stop believing that there’s anything but dark. Suddenly, winter-to-spring isn’t a passive process that you watch playing out on the Earth each year. It’s inside you, and it’s a battle for your life. “Spring” means the little truth inside you saying, “My world was dark, but there’s a possibility that light will return.” It means the belief that depression has another side.

When you come to believe in spring again, it’s nothing short of a miracle. It blows you away, again and again. You feel like a child, first discovering the smell of fresh grass or a field of bluebells. Except it’s so much better than that, because it’s a second chance — you’ve already done it once, as a child. And it’s better because of its contrast to the dark that came before. The harsher the winter, the sweeter the summer and spring. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. If warmth lasted all year, August blackberries couldn’t taste as sweet. Each year, this feels like a new discovery to me. It never gets old.

Recovering from depression means rewriting the basic rules you believe govern the world. Light, not darkness, is life’s native condition. Good, not bad, is the way time tends to go. There’s every reason to believe that tomorrow or next year will be even more wonderful than today, and not the other way around. Depression, too, was about looking forward—but forward held nothing but fear and dark and stasis. Recovering from depression is like watching a path unfold where walking forward is a welcomed privilege. Not only are you reawakening to the present, but you’re also reclaiming an entire future that’s yours to live joyfully and completely.

How did you not see this before? If this rebirth is real — as you know it is, with total conviction — then obviously the beliefs of depression were lies. The problem is, they never seem that way. You don’t sit with depression and say, “Look, a veil just descended over the world, obscuring reality with darkness and pain and despair.” Nope. You feel like the veil has finally been lifted. Happiness and pleasure and light were the illusions. Now, you’re seeing the nature of life as it is.

The beliefs of depression are complete and, in the moment, true. But the transformation that comes with recovery is also complete and true. And the strength of the darkness — the completeness of depression’s illusions and veils — makes rebirth all the stronger.

It’s a miracle, really. An exchange of opposites. A transfiguration of darkness into light. Alchemy. And the remarkable thing: this transformation happened inside you. The circumstances of the external world haven’t changed — at least not hugely enough to explain the shift in you. The same streets, the same landscapes, the same jobs and people. Yet all of a sudden, you are different. The power to turn the light switch of the world back to “on” is inside you.

That makes it sound easy. A simple choice: why not just flip on the switch? Nothing is farther from the truth. The darkness of depression is so complete that not only have you lost the light switch — you forget that things like switches and lights even exist. The funny thing is, though, that when it comes to turning the light back on, it actually is kind of simple. You’ve been fighting your hardest, laying down the sweat and tears and soul-work and medication and mental games, until it feels like you’re climbing an endless mountain of shale and keep slipping backward, until — flick! All of a sudden, the entire landscape shifts, and you begin to see the light.

I can’t tell you how it happens. Or when. Or why. Certainly, work and struggle and perseverance lay down the foundation for recovery. They put healing in the realm of the possible. But in the moment, emerging from depression is more like letting go. Letting go of trying, letting go of the illusion that work and thought can fix everything, letting go of your control. It’s not a trust-fall, because you don’t believe that if you surrender you’ll be caught and cradled and shown the light. If you wait until you do believe these things, you’ll never jump. It’s more of a last-ditch surrender. A desperate confession that yes, I’m empty, yes, I’m helpless, no, I can’t do this alone. I give up. I give over my self, my broken soul, to something or someone that sees and loves in a way that’s not possible for me right now.

It doesn’t feel good. It’s a dark night of the soul, the lowest and most broken a person can be. You might stay here for a while — I did, for the better part of a year. But this place is also where you find the tiny seed for possibility. By giving up on the dark way you perceive the world to be — by surrendering control to a desperate hope in the far, far distance — you’re affirming that somewhere, deep and hidden inside you, you might believe there’s another way to live.

The harsher the winter, the sweeter the spring. This is true. But there’s a deeper truth here, too. The strength of depression — the magnitude of despair and betrayal you feel when the light goes out on your world — is testimony for the magnitude of your hidden belief that life can be better. Depression feels so bad not because life is inherently bad, but because life is so good. Somewhere inside you, you know this. You know things can be different. That’s why it hurts so much right now. The strength of your darkness and suffering is not a refutation of, but evidence for, the strength of your hidden faith in light.

Seen this way, light and dark — depression and healing — are not opposites. That’s the miracle of recovering from depression. You’ve glimpsed the way that two seemingly opposing contradictions are in fact interconnected parts of a whole. Darkness is simply the inverse sister of light. Once you know this, you have nothing to fear from your despair. There is no guilt or shame. Yes, life has dark seasons, and we sometimes dwell there. But merely one turn of a cycle, and spring will come back. The remarkable truth is this: in order to glimpse the unity of light and dark, you had to know the darkness completely. You can’t comprehend the wholeness until you’ve plumbed the deepest boundary of darkness and found that even there — especially there — is the boundary into the territory of light. And all this is within you.

It isn’t simple. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. But I promise: one day, you’ll wake up and realize that the balance has shifted. Light is back, and you believe it might grow. Things are still hard. But if you look back to where you were a month ago, or a year, or five, then you begin to recognize the change. Your pain and struggle aren’t over, but you’ve emerged on the other side. You’re on your way back to life. And look at what you’ve learned and felt along the way.

Is depression worth it? Couldn’t you have gone your entire life without learning about light and dark and wholeness this way? Some people do, or they learn in a way that’s less extreme. If I could go back and do it all again, would I choose this crash course in unity of opposites and self-knowledge and rebirth? It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t get to choose. But I can choose to be awake now. Awake to the joy and the miracle and the newness of it all. Right now, I am grateful. I’m happy. I’m full. I’m alive.

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You know what I hate?

Living and not knowing when my next depressive episode is going to occur. For a stretch of time—it could be days or a week or two—I do OK. I feel more “normal,” more like myself. My mood is neither terribly bad nor excessively good, but it’s at least neutral. I feel emotionally stable. I smile more and I laugh more. I act more like my usual, goofy self and take pleasure in small things. I have a better attitude when I go to work. I’m more focused and overall happier. I might even experience tastes of joy again.

But then something happens. Something inevitably sets me off or stresses me out or pushes a wrong button or sends a negative thought into my head and suddenly the color that’s filled my life begins to drain out.

I turn inward. I feel insecure. I get angry at myself for where I am in my life. I feel overwhelmed by external circumstances. I start to feel pessimistic. I feel stuck. It’s like my head is a tub and the plug has been pulled and I start to panic as I see everything good getting sucked away. I panic because I don’t want to be empty. To be empty is the worst feeling in the world. That emptiness is the return of depression.

For the past year, depression has been a close companion. I think it started out as situational depression or so my counselor at college thought. My last semester of college was by far the worst. I didn’t realize it at the time, but slowly my mental health was being chipped away at. What started as situational depression turned into recurring episodes of major depression.

There has never been another point in my life where I’ve felt like I have a dark presence looming over my shoulder. In between depressive episodes my life feels mostly “normal,” except I feel like now I always see a dark shadow in the corner of my eye. That dark shadow lurking is depression and I can’t help but be a bit distracted wondering when it will come back and take away all sense of normalcy I’ve regained since its last visit.

While I want to be fully present in the now, I cannot help asking, when is it going to come back? While I want to enjoy the happiness to be found in today, I find myself thinking, whatever happiness you feel now will be taken away when it returns. While I want to continue taking small steps into adulthood, I worry I’ll be in the middle of taking a courageous step and it will come back, rendering me insecure and sapping me of all motivation. I’ll worry about who I will let down and who I will disappoint when it comes back and it takes away everything from me again.

I have to learn to fight it. I have to believe somehow I am capable of beating depression back when it comes again to drain away my life’s meaning and vibrancy. A few days ago on one of my neutral days, I had a moment where depression threw a fleeting, menacing thought into my head. “Absolutely not,” I said aloud. “Not today.”

Although depression tugged at the plug in my head, I smacked it back down and did not allow myself to be affected by it that day. Having fought off depression in this one small instance gives me hope I can do it again. And I hope when depression’s stronger threats come, I can chase them away because I will be stronger, too.

I want to beat this. I want to be able to move forward and live my life without fear of when the next depressive episode will come. I know it is possible to get there. I just have to take it one day and one thought at a time.

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I am the kid who walks around school with phone in hand and earbuds in ear watching “One Tree Hill” on Netflix. I’m the kid who carries around huge DVD cases (yes, those do still exist) so I can watch “One Tree Hill.” I’m the kid who rushes home after school to watch one more episode of “One Tree Hill.” I’m obsessed. When I watched the pilot, I related to Haley James (Scott!) because she was an innocent, nerdy, people pleasing tutor girl. Throughout seasons two through six Haley remained my favorite character (despite her brief stint with Chris Keller).

Then I watched season seven and my love for Haley surpassed all of the other characters combined because we now had one more thing in common: depression. As I watched Haley’s depression unfold, I experienced so many relatable moments, emotions and realizations.

Here’s what we have in common:

1. We both experience the feeling of numbness.

“I have to tell myself to just be happy, but I don’t feel happy. And when I try to change it, when I try to remember what being happy felt like, I… can’t. I don’t feel joy. I don’t feel inspired. I feel numb.” — Haley (season 7 episode 21)

Feeling numb is one of the parts of depression that is the hardest to explain. Haley called her deceased mom’s phone and left her voicemails about how she doesn’t feel anything, although she tries so hard to. All of the happiness she once felt has vanished to the point of no return. I too, hate feeling numb. I long to feel anything, even if it is painful. I write in my journal how I just want to feel happy again. I beat myself up for being so numb.

2. We can unintentionally be jerks.

One time Haley yelled at Jamie, skipped work and blew off Nathan, I realized how I am such a jerk at times as well. Regardless of how Haley acted, she didn’t intend to be a jerk. Depression makes you someone you are not. Like Haley, I can be a total jerk. I blow up at the littlest of things, lash out at my family and sometimes am the rudest person you’ll ever meet.

3. We both have a great support system.

“One Tree Hill” shows how despite how jerky we may be, people still love us. For example, Nathan parks his car in the middle of traffic to follow Haley. Haley’s son Jamie draws his mom a picture to make her feel better and Brooke gets Haley out of the house. In my life, my support system is made up of my parents who force me to make plans, my sister who drags me along with her, my friends who call me and my church who sends me scripture.

4. We’ve both had times of realizing our passion for life is gone.

“Someone once said that death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live.” — Haley (season 7 episode 21)

As Haley lost her passion for motherhood, her career, her music and her life, I realized I had lost my passion for my joy, my relationships, my business and my life, too. This realization should hurt, but the sad thing is when you’re so deep in depression, you don’t even care.

5. We’ve both struggled with trying to feel something.

Regardless of my support system, sometimes the feeling of numbness overpowers me. I seek out something to replace the numbness, something that would just let me feel something, anything. For Haley, it was setting her piano on fire and then trying to drown herself in her pool (season 7 episode 20). Did she know what she was doing? No. But she was so desperate to feel something, she would go to such extreme measures. For me, when I am so numb, I can listen to my favorite song and feel nothing. However, I want so badly to feel something so I hop in my car and drive with the radio blaring forcing myself to sing along the way I once did.

6. We’ve both wanted to live again.

Haley: “I was just trying to feel something. Like alive, I guess.”

Therapist: “And did that make you feel alive?”

Haley: “No. But it made me want to.” (season 7 episode 22)

Finally, once we try to feel something, we realize maybe one day if we keep trying to feel, we will. We might do activities mundanely for a little while in hopes of feeling alive again and one day eventually the clouds will blow away and the sun will shine again.

Depression isn’t glamorous and I am so thankful “One Tree Hill” portrayed it in a realistic way. Haley showed how badly it hurts, how unexplained it is and how eventually gets better.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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There are good days, when I love the world, everyone, even myself. There are bad days when I can’t feel that love.

There are good days, when I say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” There are bad days when I say, “What for?”

15936365_10209960648385531_2276104518631398204_oThere are good days, when I feel like the luckiest person in the world. There are bad days, when I feel like getting killed is the kindest thing I can do for this world.

There are good days, when I tell friends, “You are the best friend ever!” There are bad days, when I don’t care if they never talk to me ever again.

There are good days, when I go to sleep with a smile, not thinking about tomorrow. There are bad days, when I’m having a really great day and my last thought before closing my eyes is, “Don’t wake me up anymore.”

There are good days, when I can get from my bedroom to the bath in the morning without pausing for one hour on the way. There are bad days when, surrounded by good friends, all I can think of is jumping out my friend’s window.

There are good days, when I seek out friends. There are bad days, when I let the phone ring and ring and ring.

There are good days, when my flatmates complain about my loud music — my “concert.” There are bad days, when they can’t even tell if I am home.

There are good days, when there are more good days in a week than bad days. There are bad days, when there are more bad days in a week than good days.

There are bad days, when I realize there will always be bad days. And there are good days, when I remember that there will always be good days.

I simply need to hang on and keep walking.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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For those who don’t know what depression is or what it feels like…

It feels like a never ending cycle. Wake up. Struggle to get out of bed. Take your meds. Attempt to eat something, succeed at eating something, go to class, go to the gym, listen to music, all while thoughts run through your head. Is living anymore really worth it? Is there a purpose?

This person in my brain tells me life isn’t worth repeating the cycle every day. You struggle to get anything productive done in your day. Then you stress about how unproductive you’ve been. You want to spend time with friends, go out to parties and enjoy life. But this life you live just holds you back. You repeat the words “I’m just tired” to friends numerous times a week for an excuse to stay at home and stare up at the walls. You question yourself. You question how can some days be so bad and others are good. You think. You cry. You take your meds. You attempt sleep. No sleep, more stress, more thoughts. Sleeping means dreams and nightmares. Sometimes I can’t decide which is better.

Many of us who battle depression are tired, exhausted and losing hope. Fight to end the stigma behind the dark times many of us face in life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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I get it all the time.

You’re so positive.
You’re always smiling and laughing.
You’re a bright person, Marina.

Beneath the positivity and optimism, there is more to me than people realize. There is more to me than I allow myself to show. I grew up with an alcoholic father. I did not realize having an alcoholic parent is considered trauma until I started seeing a counselor at my university. When I think of the word trauma, I think of a car accident, an abusive spouse or a soldier fighting in battle.

I grew up “walking on glass” because my father could take any little thing said wrong and blow it out of proportion. I grew up with having to take care of my younger brothers because my mother was busy tending to my father. I grew up thinking I was a problem and my family would be better off without me. It was only until my junior year of college when I realized I have depression, anxiety and PTSD because of my childhood.

I was recently asked to describe my mental illness and while the answer could be written as a novel, I summed it up as best as I could.

For me, depression is when I lose my spirit after I have a good, busy day. My smiles feel like impostors and they lack a genuine response. Some days, my body throws itself on autopilot and my movements are not my own. I’m numb to everything and fatigue smothers my body. It is as if I try to make the day something good in the morning, but by afternoon, my attempts are useless because of the ever-growing darkness building within me. My eyes seem heavy with not only fatigue, but with the ache to cry the tears that always threaten to fall. And most of the time, the tears are triggered by pent up exhaustion, a little bit of frustration, a life setback or because the negative voices in my mind are getting to me.

For me, depression is the negative voice telling me I am a lousy college student. If I get behind on work, they make me feel like I should give up because I can’t seem to work at the same pace as everyone else in the class can. I have been told countless times to talk to my professors about this, but it’s a daunting task. I don’t want to talk to my professors about why I am behind on work or why I have to miss class because the voices keep me from going. All I believe myself to be is a walking excuse and I believe all my professors will see it if I talk to them.

The voices tell me no one really likes or cares about me. Behind a text message from me are hundreds of worried thoughts and “what ifs.” Because of my anxiety, I worry about coming off too strong, too weak, too emotional and too pathetic. The voices stop me from enjoying everything. A compliment on my work, my actions, my looks. Anything that is praise towards me is never truly believed because the voices believe them to be wrong. I struggle to love myself because they won’t let me. It is a battle within my mind I fight every day and sometimes I come out victorious but other days I do not have the strength to repress the darkness.

My life and schedule revolve around my mental illnesses. My student worker position at my university requires socializing — something that takes a toll on my mind and body mentally, physically and emotionally. I tend to take shelter in my room when the darkness is too much. I lie in bed and curl up with a blanket to release my tears and shut out the world. I never used to nap much when I was younger, but because of the battles in my mind and in life, I find myself needing a nap to reset my circuits.

It is a day-by-day kind of life with depression and anxiety, but with the right kind of support system, it is manageable. I take the little things like getting out of bed and dressing myself as accomplishments because they mean I am choosing to live. I take someone’s “How are you today?” or their greeting hug as a form of care because I know the voices cannot take them from me.

Seeing my counselor at my university has helped me counter those voices and calm my anxiety. She has introduced me to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to break down traumatic events within my life and make them smaller. Doing this assists my mind in processing and letting go of the things that fuel the negative voices. I actually recommended this kind of therapy to many of my friends and now they go and see her too. When the EMDR session is successful, it is as if some of the weight I carry on my shoulders lifts and breathing becomes a tad bit easier.

Living with this darkness and the constant anxiety is not easy, but I manage. I follow the “Heart of a Leader” lifestyle that reminds me “energy is everything.” Your life is about how you show up to it. It’s about changing your story when it turns for the worst. It is about holding yourself accountable and seeing every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth. I also remind myself why I open my eyes, why I get out of bed and why I try. I remind myself it is OK to have “off” days, just as long as I don’t let them get the best of me. Remember, no one is perfect. We all go through our own struggles and that is OK.

Follow this journey on Marina’s blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.

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