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What I Would Have Told My Younger Self After My Depression Diagnosis

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Dear Brave One,

I know you are scared. A doctor sat across from you and gave you your first label to carry. You don’t yet full understand what depression means, but you know enough of the weight of the word to figure out it could set you on a different course. The temporary relief at being given a name for what has been happening to you is outweighed by the fear of what the future may hold. Your mind used to be your safe place, a place only for you. Your imagination could take you on endless adventures. You could store all the knowledge and memories you wanted. Your mind was where you built your sense of who you are.

But now this place is no longer safe and no longer just yours. There is a darkness living there that scares you, a darkness that seems to have leached all the happiness out of the world. You no longer recognize the place that used to be your home or the person you have become. And now there are doctors and concerned family and friends all wanting access to your mind. They want to know your thoughts, the exact landscape of your thoughts. They want to throw open doors to rooms you are not sure you want others to see.

Please hear me when I say: depression is not your fault. I know you blame yourself. I know this feels like a weakness or failure on your part. You feel like if you’d just been “stronger” or “tried harder,” you would have been able to prevent this. Some days you have a hard time separating the illness from who you are. It can feel like depression has infected your character, made you less of a person. You struggle to escape the stigma around mental illness, because you carry a part of it within yourself. I wish I could tell you getting better will be easy and in a few short months all this will be behind you and life would be recognizable again. But I won’t lie to you.

Recovery will be a long and difficult road. Sometimes you will take one step forwards only to take another two steps back. There will be nights where all you seem to have is the pain inside you, where all you can feel is the black hole like an open wound in the center of you. You will have days where just existing feels like more than you can bear. When all you want to do is give up, to not have to wake to another morning. You will wonder how the future can ever be anything but darkness.

But little one, those days will pass. The emotions will fade and the pain will start to heal. You will find medication that helps and healthier coping strategies. You will discover you have a strength inside of you greater than the darkness. You will keep showing up for each new day until one day the thought of tomorrow won’t fill you with dread. There will come a day when the hope you have been fighting to find in the darkness will ignite like fire within you. You will realize it is only through the cracks in your heart that light can show through.

Don’t try and do this on your own. You will need other people. You will need the friends who aren’t scared to ask difficult questions, the people who accept you as you are and love you even when you don’t love yourself. Let them in, let them love you. You will need the help of doctors and health professionals, you will need medication and therapy, you will need their care and advice. Trust them, they are there to help. You will need those people who say in quiet voices, “I’ve walked this road too.” You will need a community of people who have fought the darkness and come out into the light again. You will need to know you are not alone.

You won’t believe me now but depression will leave behind some valuable gifts. You will come to understand yourself and the way your mind works better than you ever thought you would. You will grow a wisdom and a perspective on the world that comes from surviving those dark nights. The good times, they are coming. They will be richer because you have known despair. You will learn that hope can be a powerful force for change.

And when depression has become part of your past rather than your present, you will have a choice to make. You could choose to stop talking about it, to omit it from your vocabulary and tear the chapter from your story. Or you could choose to share this chapter to bring hope to others and fight the stigma. We both know which one you’ll choose. I am proud of you. Proud of who you are and who you will be. This will be the fight of your life, but if you take it one day at a time, you can do it.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: February 1, 2017
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