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I Can Never Be the Person I Was Before Having Treatment-Resistant Depression. And I Don’t Want to Be.

Before the meds, the hospitalizations, and the therapists, I was a 25-year-old grad student who imagined what “the one thing” would be that would help me in my struggle with depression. Now, 6 years later, I’m not the same narrow-minded person that I was before my medical disappointments. When I stepped out of a mental health hospital this past year, I realized that I am responsible for my life and that means chasing everything that can help me. Everything, and not just “the one thing.”

My belief in “the one thing” began in church when I was younger. My legs dangled from the pews while I watched one person after another testify that their illnesses were instantly healed. Their testimonies were passionate: the “doctor’s report” that looked unfavorable until a second test or the limbs that were suddenly pain-free. They demonstrated how healthy they were by twisting their backs or even jumping in place to prove that prayer relieved their ailments. However, I didn’t hear people with chronic conditions speak about their experiences. I believed that either those people didn’t pray hard enough or they simply didn’t exist.

This belief followed me into my struggle with depression later in my life. I felt that not being healed was a sign of personal failure. Shame washed over me that I couldn’t fix myself. Without adequate treatment for my depression, I drove recklessly on highways with tears streaming down my face. I mindlessly dressed in baggy clothes and couldn’t look people in the eye.

After I prayed with a minister who affirmed my doctor’s direction to get on meds after my diagnosis of depression six years ago, I was still obsessed with “the one thing” that would alleviate my depression. This was either a dream drug, my writing career, or a romantic relationship. I mythologized these things to epic proportions, but none of them had the supernatural power to ultimately help me. I was seeking “the one thing” in a different form.

My hope faded with each bout of depression that followed my ineffective medications, the article pitch rejections from editors, and the unrequited pursuit of love. Most times, I feared that managing my depression was out of reach. It took years to look beyond the treatments that didn’t work and realize that the more I pursued just one solution, the less I could explore the fullness of what life has to offer.

Recreational therapy in the hospital reminded me that I had abandoned the things that gave me joy. So in addition to weightlifting, I took dance and voice lessons even when I felt like a child at times. I moved out of my comfort zone and the carefully placed veneer that suppressed my emotions. I stumbled and fell, but every sign of progress felt rewarding because it was the true me that was making these steps.

I also created a list of all the things I wanted to do, like traveling, going to concerts, and meeting new friends. I could no longer wait passively for a treatment to work. My life had to be more than “the one thing” that could fix me.

Through my journey, I have learned that treatment-resistant depression can give you a greater sensitivity to what you can and cannot handle. I didn’t realize how much I was ignoring my needs until a mental health crisis after my hospitalization forced me to quit my journalism job. But what I lost due to treatment-resistant depression created room for more in my life. If I didn’t leave my job, I wouldn’t have gained another career opportunity where my mental health challenges are an asset to my organization and not a burden.

Now, I have a greater understanding of the environment I need in order to thrive. My mental health treatment is a lot more comprehensive – it includes medication, herbal treatments, therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a type of therapy that aims to identify and change negative thinking patterns.

If I could go back in time and stand up in that church as the 31-year-old woman I am today, I would testify that treatment-resistant depression made me a better person. I am more accepting of myself and have found a community of compassionate people who can relate to my struggles.

I would tell that young woman in the pews that in the fight for her life, her worth is not in how fast she is “cured” or how well she can prove her spirituality. She is born worthy. She is born valuable. And one day she’ll be able to demonstrate her joy as a person with depression.

Imade Nibokun is partnering with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to share her story. She has been paid an honorarium for her time.

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