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I would sit you down outside in a park or forested area. Some place with a natural, calming effect. We would listen to the birds chirping, look up at the blue sky with puffy, cumulus clouds and feel the light breeze on our face. I would hold your hand and look into your eyes. Then, I would tell you, “Major depressive disorder is not easy. There will be many challenges, but you can get through this and when you do, you will be stronger.”

Taking you to a park is something I wish happened to me. To me, psychiatrist and therapist offices seem so banal and intimidating. There is no comfort there, just the beige walls and a professional who might seem disheartening at first. You will try to focus on something in that room, maybe a plant, one with a flower as that is the only bright object, the only happy object.

I was given the diagnosis of major depressive disorder when I was only 14. The office was tiny and barely fit the therapist’s desk and the two extra chairs. I felt suffocated. I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t understand what this diagnosis would mean. It would be many years of therapy, medication and self-research before I would understand.

After telling you this won’t be easy, I will further describe the challenges ahead. I will give you all the information I wish I was told in the beginning, instead of finding out the hard way.

“There will be therapy. It might start out being at least once a week for an hour. You will have to talk, fighting the urge to remain quiet. You will cry there in front of this new stranger. You will tell them so many personal things about yourself and at times you won’t even realize you are doing it. By doing this, by talking and opening up, you will feel better. You will learn to cope. You will learn to alter the way you see things, especially yourself.”

I will then ask you to digest this first bit of information, taking in deep breaths of the fresh air around us. I will ask you to take time to actually feel the breeze, to watch the trees move and to feel serene. Then, I will continue.

“There may be medication. This will be the most painstaking process as it may take weeks, maybe months, to find the correct mixture that helps you. Most antidepressants take six to eight weeks to reach full effect. In this time, you may find you are feeling worse before feeling better. You may find the first drug is not the right one. The second one may not be right either, but you will find something. Don’t give up.”

Again, I will ask you to process this. You can ask me any questions necessary. I have been through many medications. I am your peer, here to help you through this.

“Then, there is the stigma. You will be judged by a few people because now you are ‘mentally ill.’ Most people will want to help you and support you, but there will be some who only see the illness. They will only see you staring in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’ They will hear the words ‘mentally ill’ and envision you talking to yourself in solitude in a straight jacket. They will deem you unfit to work, to parent and in some cases, to live. Don’t let them win.”

So many people live with some form of mental illness. So many more than you think. You will never be alone. I will never let you be alone. I will fight the stigma with you. I will suggest we take a walk, feeling the twigs and stones beneath our feet. We will put one foot in front of the other and proceed onward.

“Do anything that gives you the slightest feeling of happiness, reading, drawing, writing. Binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Exercise. Meditate. This will be hard in the beginning because you are feeling unmotivated. Nudge yourself a little, you will feel better. Self-care is just as important in recovery as therapy and medication.”

Our walk will finish. I will hug you. I will remind you that you are not alone. I will tell you I am here for you, to cry with, to take a walk with, to talk with.

Before we part, I will say, “Major depressive disorder is a grueling pain, but you will survive. I am proof of this. You will survive.”

Originally published: August 5, 2016
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