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When My Therapist Challenged Me to Try an Exercise Involving a Childhood Photo

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“I need the thing that happens when your brain shuts off and your heart turns on.” ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, “Prozac Nation”

I got to my appointment early that day — almost an hour early. My favorite playlist hummed through the speakers. All the songs were slow and comforting. I could never really tell if I wanted to smile or cry when I heard them, I just know I was comfortable enough to do both to this playlist. I memorized the license plate of the car in front of me as I sat there unblinking and completely motionless. I imagined the bubble forming above my head, “3CSM320…3CSM320…3CSM320…” over and over again like keys on a typewriter being banged harshly until a ding was heard to indicate the end of each line. Whenever my heart and lungs were not in agreement I would take time and just try to clear my mind and think of the most random thing I could muster. Today my mind was transfixed by the license plate. It was the first thing in front of me that didn’t mean anything and could not be made to make sense. It felt safe. I knew as soon as I walked into that office I would find myself purging all the things that have been digging the dark grooves found below my eyes. I blinked away the numbers and letters much like waving away smoke blown too close to your eyes. The mirror agreed as my eyes watered. Grabbing my bag from the passenger seat, I took a deep breath and opened the car door.

After going through the protocol convincing them of my identity and handing over the co-pay, I sat in the chair next to the magazines that never appeal to anyone so as not to be stolen. The clipboard held the questionnaire that always made me uneasy. It was incredibly sobering to be asked questions like, “Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? (Circle only one number per line).” Then expose myself when asked if I had been, feeling down, depressed or hopeless… feeling bad about yourself or that you are a failure, or have let yourself or your family down… or, not being able to stop or control worrying. The options were so painfully disconnected: Not at all, several days, more than half the days, nearly every day.

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Other clipboards leaned against fidgety knees as pens topped with flowers that had never bloomed and would never die scribbled to fulfill the gluttonous interrogation.

A man walked in and announced, “Everyone here for the session with Dr. Wright, please follow me.”

All but one… Then from the other door, “Angelica Fuentes?” a tiny woman mumbled to a nonexistent audience. My chest rose and fell before I got to my feet and sauntered over to her.

“How are you feeling today?” she asked as she swiveled around to lead me down the hall.

“I’m doing OK.”

I forced a smile even though her back was to me. She opened a door and waved me in. If a couch could be painted to look like leather but made of plastic, this office had it. I sat trying to emulate comfort.

“So I see you’ve been having a hard time lately?” she half inquired, half stated. It was a trick. I knew it well, she wanted me to believe she knew something before I sat down and wanted to make me feel comfortable enough to respond to her observation — the same one deduced by the form I had filled out in the waiting area.

“Yeah, I guess so… I think I just need to talk to someone and I figured you’d be the one because after all, you are the doctor who would know how to un-jumble my brain,” I chuckled nervously. Clearing my throat, I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and shifted in my seat. Next question, let’s get this over with. I met her gaze for the first time, and it broke me. My eyes watered with the realization that her white coat and clipboard meant it was bad enough for me to find myself in her office. She noticed I was uneasy and put the clipboard down on the desk. Still, every now and then she reached over to jot something down, grabbing that familiar blue pen.

“I notice you smile when you say something upsetting… do you do that often?”

I pursed my lips before letting the words come out, “I guess I try to pretend that what I am saying doesn’t bother me much. I do have a hard time smiling genuinely, if that helps.” I made this contribution thinking it would help speed things along. Then she asked me if I have pictures of myself as a child. I nodded as I scanned my brain for family albums sitting on closet shelves.

Then she dug deeper, “Do you remember if you smiled or not?”

Looking down again I said, “I don’t think so… everyone told me I was a quiet kid so I always looked serious all the time, and as you know, growing up was not filled with the greatest memories.”

In previous sessions, I had mentioned hardships in my childhood such as my parents’ divorce, bullying in school, mom having kidney problems and doing our homework on the swivel chairs of the dialysis clinic, then later she developed cancer… The doctor had broken the news to me years earlier that I have a type of situational depression. That’s the kind of depression one undergoes when someone gets divorced, fired, experiences a death in the family, etc.; she explained that often, people can heal from these situations after a period much like mourning.

Today, she said I might have developed something else. Oh, great.

“It sounds like you are looking for an explanation as to why you feel ‘blue’ and there isn’t anything new or worrisome enough to cause you this discomfort, is this correct?”

Biting the inside of my lip, I nodded, “Sometimes I want to cry and nothing is making me sad. Or I get angry at simple things that shouldn’t be riling me up…It’s almost confusing because I wish there was a reason I felt this way and I just can’t pinpoint it.” I placed my hand to my mouth and breathed deeply.

The chair crept closer and she leaned towards me saying, “It may be upsetting however, not uncommon. It sounds like you are experiencing chronic depression… I know that aside from all the earlier trauma, you have been equipped with the tools necessary to process this type of feeling, but if it persists this way without reason it could very well mean it’s part of your makeup.”

There it was, ladies and gentlemen… it was now literally, “all in my head!” A tear rolled down my cheek. The chair rolled back and she picked up the clipboard again.

“So back to you as a little girl, I think I have an exercise for you to practice. Go home, find one of those photos of yourself as a child, and put it somewhere you will see it often. Every day, do something that would have made that little girl smile. It may sound silly, but as it is you aren’t happy now and from what we’ve discussed you may not have been happy growing up; so do that little girl a favor, make her smile. It may heal you too.”

Taking a deep breath, I got to my feet and thanked her for the idea.

That day, I found the picture. I was about 5 or 6 and I wore a Santa hat and did not make eye contact with the photographer. I was looking off to the side… no smile. Next to the box of photographs there was a box labeled “Scrapbooking stuff.” In it, I found some old postcards and magazine cut outs, a deck of 5X7, multicolored paper, glue sticks and other random craft things. What happened next was a complete miracle. I planned my activity. First, I played some music, I lit some sage, I grabbed a drink, sat on the floor, scattered all the items as far as I could reach, and covered rectangle after rectangle of colored paper with a tiny collage and a short message on the back. I had a pretty good stack of handmade postcards when I was done and applied stamps and addresses of the people closest to me… even if they lived down the street! This was a new “purge” for me. I was sending a little piece of myself to all the people I care about. It really got me thinking… I did it for “little Angie,” and “older Angie” felt good.

It reminded me of a quote I read earlier that week: “When a child gives you a gift, even if it is a rock they just picked up, exude gratitude. It may be the only thing they have to give, and they have chosen to give it to you.” ― Dean Jackson

In that moment I understood that although I didn’t have much to give, I gave myself, as well as the recipients of my handmade postcards, a little something, and in that small gesture lied the comfort that even the slightest distraction had its merit.

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This Is the Reality of Living With Depression

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Let’s get real for a moment.

On Thursday night, I lost my battle of keeping shit at bay. It hit me hard. My mask fell off and broke into pieces. The self-loathing, the disappointment I think I am. The pain and guilt that comes with those. I am a terrible person, my brain tells me. I should not be here, it says. I should just give up and let it all go. Stop causing others pain. Stop disappointing everyone. Just stop.

This is depression. So many people just don’t understand it. Unless you live it, you may have no idea what it’s like. There is no black and white with depression. There is only a lot of gray. You know what the truth and reality of life is, but when you are depressed your brain tells you a lot of lies and sometimes, eventually, you give in and you start believing those lies and they become the truth of your living.

Depression is not sadness. Depression is so much more. Depression is being scared, feeling guilty, self-loathing and a whole lot of emptiness. I am all of these things. I am tired. Not just sleepy, but tired of everything. I have absolutely no motivation and no sense of being any longer. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to be a mom. I don’t want to be a wife. I don’t want to be. I am empty. And all of this makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty for needing a break from living for a while. My kids need me, my husband needs me, my job needs me. So in sets the self-loathing for “disappointing” everyone.

I have spent my entire weekend lying in bed. Trying to distract myself with books, TV shows, social media, anything really to get my mind off everything I am and am not feeling. When I’m not distracted, I’m crying; I’m crying for being this person and not the person I think I should be. I’m crying because the pain of living is too much sometimes. I’m crying because I’m scared. I’m crying because my family is going on without me while I lie in bed and can’t do a damn thing. I’m crying because I feel like I’ve let everyone down.

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Today is my son’s birthday and I have to try to make it feel like a great day, even when all I’m feeling inside is pain and emptiness. Today I’m trying to work through this. I’m hoping that by writing this all down, it will help make a difference. It’s Sunday, which means tomorrow I don’t have a choice but to get back to reality. I can’t lie in bed all day and cry. Somehow I have to get back to “normal” and put the mask back on. I have to go back to pretending I am OK and that my life is great. If only it were that easy.

Follow this journey on jessicamoretter.com

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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When Depression Is Like a Bubble You Can't Escape

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

For me, depression is just like a bubble I feel around myself all the time — a bubble of darkness and sadness, that only reflects the feeling of “being never good enough.”

It is a bubble that sucked out all hope until the last flickering flame went out. It doesn’t let the light of positivity shine in and there is nothing but loneliness. It made me forget to live and left me with a struggle of survival.

What people around me don’t seem to understand is that I don’t choose the bubble willingly, nor I am residing in it of my own will. My friends may think I am rude by not talking to them. My family may think I prefer my room over them. I don’t know how to explain this to them. They might not understand because for them I am 20 years old with nothing to be worried about. Maybe they are right, but all I know right now is that with each passing day this bubble around me is shrinking, with less space left to breathe in.

Every day is a fight not to end my life by suicide. While friends are planning their lives, I am trying my best to live another day. It’s a war with my own mind, numbing the voices in my head that tells me every second it doesn’t isn’t it, and I should give up already.

I don’t know if I will make it out of this bubble or if I will die in it. Right now, I am not even worried about this. All I am concerned with, for this moment, is to make it out alive.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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When Depression Recovery Makes You Question if You Are Surviving or Thriving

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Dear depression,

You have been part of my life for longer than I care to acknowledge. You are my worst enemy, pretending to be my best friend. I feel like things are not true especially with the people I love.

You tell me I am not good enough, I am not lovable, I will never be good enough. I have tried ways to make sure you are not there, that you are no longer part of my life, but you always succeed. As a result, You make me feel like a burden. You make me feel misunderstood. Sometimes you make me think people talk about me behind my back, laughing at me, judging me. You tell me nobody in my life cares and everybody would be better off without me here. You scare me.

I am so over you!

I know I am loved, I know I am wanted. I am sick of depression clouding my judgment, clouding my thoughts. It’s hard to push the positive feelings forward to the front of my brain and acknowledge you have the strength to sometimes keep them back, terrifies me.

Words mean nothing when depression overtakes me, actions are all that matter. Today I will stop fighting with you! I have learned some valuable lessons, but now it’s time to leave. In a way, you won the battle, but I have won the war. I will continue to speak about depression. I will overcome the obstacles you throw at me.

I miss my old life, the old me. The happy me, bright and smiley me. This is my life, not yours! I am ready to take back the reins.

Sincerely,

Nicole

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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Depression in College: How Taking a Break From the Sport I Love Has Helped Me

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“Please. I need someone. Anyone. I need someone to hold me. Tell me everything is going to be OK. Will it be OK? I just don’t know anymore. Embrace me. Hug me. Until this toxin is released from my mind, soul, heart. Cleanse me from this poison. It fills me up more and more every second I’m here. It’s filling fast and I feel myself getting too full. It’s becoming dangerous. Please suck it out of me. I’m drowning from the inside, out.”

This is an excerpt from my journal back in June 2016. I was living with depression, and I didn’t even know it. I knew something was wrong, but I pushed it away in hopes that it got better. It didn’t until I got help.

When some people hear the word “depression” they might not think much of it, they might even roll their eyes. They might think, “It can’t be that big of a deal.” I used to be that person. Before I was diagnosed, I never thought depression was something that could ever happen to me. Throughout my life I always found myself to be a genuinely happy person. I mean, of course, I felt sadness and loneliness like any other person, but I never envisioned my life to be completely enveloped by those two feelings. Someone once said to me, “People with depression and anxiety don’t talk about it if they actually have it. If they do talk about it, they just want attention.” I now realize that this is completely false. When you actually do have depression and anxiety, you do want to talk about it but sometimes you just don’t know how. Because even you don’t understand what is going on. Most of the time you feel so confused and lost. You spend hours sobbing into a pillow, thinking about nothing and everything. You can’t really pinpoint your reasoning for crying other than just existing. You have anxiety attacks when you have to go out into public, especially bigger crowds. You need constant reassurance on your relationships with people. You are in a constant state of loneliness even when you’re around others. You feel so lonely, but you also hate being alone at the same time. You just want to be better, but you don’t know how. You feel like you’re battling the world on your own. Sometimes you wish you weren’t even in this world at all. You pretend your life is amazing when you now you’re not happy. Because it’s easier to fool everyone else than to fool yourself. You cry by yourself because being “weak” just isn’t an option. You don’t let your mom know that your number one fear is disappointing her. Or let yourself sister know that all you want from her is to hug you so tightly until you can’t breathe anymore. How do you explain to others that crying is hard for you and that when you do cry you cry for hours? When you battle with a mental disease by yourself, one day you will crash.

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Since the middle of last semester my depression has gotten worse. It was so bad that I had no desire to play golf, and those who know me, know golf is my life. People have been confused on my sudden lack of desire for golf, but it is not so easy to explain. For the past two months I have not even come close to picking up a golf club, and it should make me sad but it doesn’t. These past two months without golf have actually been relaxing, and I have gotten to know what being a “regular” college student feels like. While a break may seem like a scary concept, it can be one of the most important and rewarding parts of your training. The time away from golf has given me the opportunity to reflect on why I even love this game in the first place, but today I have decided that my “vacation” has to now come to a close. I am happy to say I am starting to get in a better place mentally, and I am ready to start practicing and regaining the love and desire that I once had.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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To My Classmates, From the Girl You Didn't Know Was Hurting

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I’m the girl who sits in the back of the classroom with my friends, always a huge dopey smile across my face. From the outside, I look fine. Unless I tell you what I’m going through, you will never know. I refuse to let you think less of me because of my struggles.

So, you think I’m happy. What you don’t know is how many times during class I plot ways to escape to the bathroom so I don’t break down in front of everyone. You don’t see the breakdowns that occur when I’m all alone. You don’t know how one fight, mean comment or diss can turn me into a weeping ball on the floor.

I couldn’t expect you to know. That’s not fair.

What I have noticed is as soon as I open up to you, you become a lot nicer. Why is that? Don’t you think we should treat everyone with the same respect and kindness? Does someone not deserve your love because they seem happy?

Here’s a secret. People who look happy on the outside, still hurt sometimes. They still have feelings and their own personal struggles.

The girl in your class who always seems happy can struggle with depression. The person you look to for comfort can have anxiety. The hard part is when it’s not noticeable, so it becomes ignored.

Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

It’s kind of funny actually. Ever since I noticed the signs in myself, I have looked for them in others. It shouldn’t take a label to make us care about each other. Letters and words don’t change what we’ve gone through. They just call attention to it. People can be hurting without having a name for it.

Don’t mistake someone’s tough exterior for a “perfect life.” Don’t assume someone’s smile isn’t followed by tears.

Maybe if we looked out for each other more, we could help each other. So, who are you going to help today?

Love,

Your goofy, but hurting classmate.

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

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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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