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A Letter to Myself Before I Knew I Had Depression

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What’s happening is not your fault.

I know it doesn’t make sense, and I know it seems like if you just tried harder this wouldn’t be happening. I know you’re asking what’s wrong with you, why can’t you pull it together, why are you acting like this, why are you so selfish and why are you letting them down and why are you such a failure and why don’t you know how lucky you are and why are you why are you why are why are you but, please listen to me: This is not your fault.

You’re sick. And no amount of discipline or willpower can fix you. Here’s a way I kind of think about it: You’ve never done drugs, right, but you sort of have a sense of what it would be like. Total euphoria, pure joy, incapable of feeling anything bad, so happy even your body feels amazing. Well, this is kind of like the opposite. Your brain isn’t working quite right and now for no reason at all you’re being crushed by a darkness you can’t understand. Incapable of feeling anything good. So miserable your body physically hurts. And it’s not something you decided, and it’s not something you can un-decide. It’s just not that easy. I know that kind of burns, this feeling of having no control, but there’s also a freedom in it, because if you didn’t decide it and you can’t un-decide it then it’s really, truly not your fault.

I know how hard this is right now, how bewildering. You don’t know why you’re so scared to get out of bed, you don’t know why your mind keeps casting around for any excuse to not. You don’t know why you can’t seem to make a decision or a plan or a start. You don’t know why you feel so overwhelmed by the idea of even the people you love best. You can’t pray, you can’t read, you can’t listen to music — you can’t do the things that make you feel, because you can’t feel, and you can’t do the things that require you to focus, because you can’t focus. Sometimes your stomach is full of this slicing dread, but mostly you’re just nothing. Empty in a way that doesn’t even feel human anymore. You can’t really remember what it was like to not feel like this, and you can’t really believe it will ever stop.

I wish I could tell you that soon you’ll have a huge revelation and find a cure and get all better and it’ll never hurt again, but I can’t tell you that. You’re sick in a way where you’re going to get sick again. But you also won’t always feel this way. This isn’t your new reality. One day you’ll wake up in your own brain and you’ll think oh, here I am.

If you want you can just crawl back in bed and try to wait it out, I won’t resent you for that. But if that’s what you decide, I hope you will try as hard as you can to accept there will be consequences, and also that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You’re sick, and right now you don’t really have any tools to manage that. This is very hard and very confusing and very difficult to navigate, and if sleep is all you’ve got then sleep. It’s OK.

If you can, though, there are other things that might work better. Lots that you’ll pick up as you go along, lots I haven’t discovered yet. Some will be easier than others and some will work better. I know right now making plans feels impossible, so I will help: Go to the doctor. Tell them you don’t leave your bed and you don’t understand what’s happening to you and it’s starting to hurt your relationships and your grades and you need help.

Don’t think that’s going to be an easy instant fix though; it’s not. Asking for help is not going to cure you. You’re probably going to need to see a few different types of doctors, it’ll probably take them a while to start to figure you out, you’ll have to try lots of things and some probably won’t help. Sometimes you’ll think you hit on something when really your brain just cured itself, the same as it would have if you had stayed in bed, and you won’t figure that out until it all happens again. This is going to be a process. Believe me when I tell you I know how dismaying that feels, how deeply unfair.

I can’t tell you this isn’t going to change things. You have a chronic illness, and that will impact your life. You grew up thinking that you had no limits and you could do absolutely anything you wanted, but life is not a bumper sticker and that’s just not true. You’re going to discover there are environments and behaviors that make things worse for you, and you’re going to have to avoid those things. That might mean there are some paths you can’t take. I’ll be honest with you: this is still very, very hard for me to accept.


I also can’t tell you you won’t lose anyone along the way, because you will. There are going to be times when you are doing every single thing you can to make yourself get out of bed in the morning, and sometimes you won’t manage even that, and so you’ll just stop showing up. You won’t return phone calls, you’ll cancel plans. You won’t be present when people want or need you to be. And I think sometimes even for people who truly do love you very much, it just gets to be too much — they need a level of consistency that you aren’t able to offer. And that’s OK. They have needs as a friend you can’t meet, and you have needs they can’t meet, and it ends up meaning that you aren’t going to be able to be in each other’s lives. You’ll be surprised at who is able to choose to stick it out and who isn’t, and sometimes you’ll be saddened. Sometimes it’s going to hurt very much and I’m very, very sorry.

But sometimes it’s also going to make you feel this overwhelming gratitude, because what ends up happening is you are left with these people who just simply won’t ever leave you for being the way you are. Sometimes you’ll let them down and sometimes they’ll get mad, but they’ll also know this is what it means to love you, and they will. They’ll keep track of you when you start to disappear and they won’t let the darkness become who you are in their minds, and when things are terrible and you’re laying on the floor in a ball trying to make yourself take just one more breath, all they will need from you is for you to let them know you’re still there. They will call you and text you and check with each other to see if they’ve heard from you and send you messages in all caps and finally you will say I’m here and they will say OK, I’m here too.

I know this probably sounds pretty terrible, and sometimes it is. But not always. You’re mostly not sick, you’re mostly just flawed, funny little you living inside your normal brain, learning things and making mistakes and growing up and writing your story. You will be surprised and delighted by the weird twists your life takes, all these adventures and relationships and revelations you weren’t expecting — much bigger and stranger and more complicated and beautiful than you’re imagining right now.

But that’s going to take some work. It’s not your fault this is happening and it’s not your fault that it’s going to happen again, but it is your responsibility to try to get better at managing it. It is your responsibility to get help, to seek out tools and resources. It’s going to be very hard and it’s going to take you a very long time. Sometimes you will be more successful than others, and there will be nothing neat or orderly or progressive about how those times line up. This is just your thing — you didn’t do anything to deserve it and you couldn’t have done anything to avoid it, but now it’s yours to manage. It is both uniquely horrible and something that many, many other people have had to learn to walk through.

Try to be kind to yourself while you’re figuring it out. I’ll try, too.

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Thinkstock photo via LiliGraphie

Originally published: July 2, 2017
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