What I Wish I Knew When First Diagnosed With Depression as a Teen
I was looking back through my old journals yesterday, and I found one I started right after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, over 6 years ago. It was heartbreaking to read my 16-year-old self’s confusion and pain after these diagnoses changed my life. I wish I could go back and encourage my younger self during this time, but maybe I can encourage someone else instead.
There were some major themes during the first few entries.
1. I felt really, really lonely.
It’s clear from my entries that this loneliness, and a deep fear no one understood me, were one of the worst effects of my depression diagnosis.
Near the beginning, I wrote:
“I have so many good friends that I could share anything with, except this. I just can’t picture myself walking up to any of them and saying, “Hey so-and-so, guess what? I’m taking medicine ‘cause I’m depressed.” I can picture the look in their eyes – one of shock and worry, and I’m sure they’d never look at me the same again. I guess the worst part of this whole thing is that I feel alone and like nobody understands me, but I want them to so bad.”
And a few days later,
“It is so hard to walk out of this house because I feel like none of my friends understand what is going on with me. I put on my happy face, but I just want to scream at everyone, “I am depressed, and nobody gets it!”
2. I was ashamed, as well as afraid I would be judged.
Even right after I was diagnosed, I felt the effects of the stigma that surrounds depression. I was afraid I would be seen as weak, or negatively as someone with “mental issues.”
“I want so badly to talk to someone who really cares, and who won’t judge me based on my mental state.”
3. I was confused.
I’d never experienced anything like depression. In fact, I don’t know if I’d ever had any conversation discussing mental illness at all. No one talked about it to me. I was clueless. It was a whole new world (and not in a magical princess love song sort of way).
“Everyone always asks me why I’m so sad, but the truth is I have NO idea.”
“I still don’t want to do all the fun things that I normally would, but I feel like I should.”
Looking back now, there are so many things I wish younger me would have heard. Things I know would have made those first few months more bearable. At that point, I just needed someone to tell me I was OK, I was strong and I was not alone. Today, I would say:
“I know it’s tough. I know this is strange and new and different. I know you feel isolated, confused and alone. But I promise there are people out there who understand you. There are thousands and thousands of people who know exactly what you’re dealing with. This seclusion thing will get better, I promise. You don’t need to spill everything to your friends, but you can give them a glimpse. ‘I’m not feeling great today,’ ‘I’m not having a great day,’ or, ‘I’m going through some health stuff right now,’ may be good places to start. If you’re feeling too vulnerable or scared to share with your friends, you can turn to a professional. Find someone who has experience in this field. Find a therapist or a counselor, or someone else who can be there to remind you that you are not alone, that there is hope and who can walk with you as you try to figure this all out.
“I know you’re ashamed you’re taking medicine to help treat your depression, but please remember this is a chemical imbalance in your brain and is no way a sign of your ‘weakness.’ Depression does not make you weak, or any less than others. In fact, it takes an incredible amount of strength to battle this illness.
“I understand your confusion. This is all so new. You never expected you would be struggling with mental illness. Who could have predicted it? The thing is, a lot of parts of depression defy explanation. You have a pretty great life, so why are you sad? No explanation. You don’t want to do your favorite things, but they’re your favorite things. No explanation. That’s just the reality of life with depression. I know you’re trying to figure everything out logically, but sometimes there is just no logical explanation. As much as you can, do your best to accept those are side effects of depression. There is no other reason.
“I know this is really, really hard. I know your hope is dwindling or lost. I know you’re afraid things will never get better. But I promise you, there is hope. You will have terrible, horrible days, yes. But you will have good days, too. You’ll figure out how to cope with this mental illness. You may figure out which friends you can open up to. I hope you find a support system. I hope you remember how important you are, and how much you mean to others. And I hope you understand depression is not your identity. You are and will always be so much more than your diagnosis. You are worth so much, and depression can never, ever change that.”
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Thinkstock photo via prudkov.