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When You're Terrified to Recover From Depression

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When I saw the phrase, “Recovery is terrifying when you don’t know who you are without your sadness,” I stopped scrolling, inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly.

Finally, I thought, someone understands just how scary it is to let go of sadness and try to recover.

I’d been hiding behind depression’s thin veil for over two years. I loathed it; and yet, it was my friend. My depression needed me to survive. So I fed it, took care of it and put its needs before mine.

That anonymous quote was right – I was terrified to let go. Depression was my crutch, my excuse, my explanation. 

Why did I need so many excuses?  

Because I couldn’t eat breakfast or make it to school on time if my bed swallowed me whole that morning.

Because I couldn’t finish assignments on time when it took all of my energy to shower that afternoon.

Because I couldn’t keep social plans if, by the end of the day, I felt too exhausted to keep my eyes open, yet too anxious to sleep.

I grew tired of hiding behind my veil. I physically ached. I felt like a puppet on a ventriloquist’s lap – going about my day, saying what I was supposed to say, acting how I was supposed to act, making people laugh with my dry humor. 

On the inside, I felt nothing. I was a void. I’d lost myself.

I no longer knew who I was without my sadness.

And that was the most terrifying feeling of all.

I finally snapped. Because I was tired of feeling so tired.

I stopped feeding my depression and put myself first. And slowly, my true self began to resurface as a tiny voice in the back of my mind that would shout supportive messages from the sidelines.

It felt awkward at times to put myself first, similar to the uncomfortableness of a first date.

I had to learn who I was again, what my likes and dislikes were, what I was passionate about, what my goals were.

I started by doing one simple thing for myself a day, like a face mask, a manicure, a good meal without feeling guilty for eating. I realized I was starting to feel like recovery was possible.

Once I got a taste of recovery, I felt unstoppable. I made myself run, play tennis, socialize, read, do my schoolwork, reconnect with friends. It was exhausting, but the positive energy returned to me tenfold. I felt alive. Lighter, stronger, smarter. I felt like me: the person I’d so dearly missed.

Strange things started to happen.

I’d find myself crying in my car at Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine” and other songs about lost loves. It turns out, my lost love was me.

I felt better than I had in years, and yet I cried all the time.

I cried for the months I’d wasted coveting my bed like a safe hiding place, when it was actually my inhibitor.  

I cried because I remembered how dreadful I’d felt and how I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I cried because I felt like I’d manipulated people.  

I cried because I felt guilt over being a bad friend, sister, student and daughter. 

Most of all, I cried because of how sorry I was for treating myself so poorly. For choosing anything and everyone over myself. For believing I was not worthy of happiness.

That was my breakthrough. I finally applied the compassion I’d so willingly given to others, to myself.

Now, I am the best version of me. I am finishing up earning a degree that at one point I thought I would give up. I run and play tennis with my favorite people. Eating is not an awkward chore. I will explore Europe with my mom and cousins and a best friend in a few weeks.

Relapses happen, as most people who struggle with any disease know. Some days, depression loudly begs. It tells me we can stay in bed and avoid responsibilities, people, rejection, stress. I still have days when I eat for a village or feel uncomfortable thinking about food.  

For me, what it comes down to is who I want to put first that day: my depression or myself. I make a choice, sometimes multiple times a day. The choice is simple: I come first.  

I have depression that I have finally tamed. Depression is only a feeling, a label, a disease.  

I am a beautiful, wild, intelligent human being, and my depression would not exist without me. It would not exist without me, and therefore, I have the power to take it away. 

I would be ignorant and insensitive to say recovery is not intimidating. But recovery is not what I find terrifying. Putting a disease before yourself is terrifying. Not recognizing your worth is terrifying. Losing yourself is terrifying. Loathing yourself is terrifying. Not knowing who you are without your sadness is terrifying.  

But recovery?  Recovery is beautiful. 

I am a machine. I am a force. I am a strong, powerful human being, and I am terrifyingly astounding.

sign that says life is beautiful

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Originally published: April 22, 2016
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