I’m Not “Mentally Ill,” I’m a Student with Depression

I’m Not “Mentally Ill,” I’m a Student with Depression

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By Emily Farris
Mental Health Association Oklahoma Volunteer

My best friend saved my life.

He didn’t push me out of the way of a car or jump in front of a bullet. It was much simpler than that. He saved me with his words.

“Wow … just wow” with a photo from the front page of a newspaper. He was making fun of a hideous newspaper cover. I was a newspaper designer at my student newspaper, so we shared photos of pages all the time. The words weren’t profound or groundbreaking, but I’ll never forget them. What they were was a reminder. Most importantly, they were an interruption.

I had a stash of pills. I had been storing them for awhile, but March 11 was the first time I had seriously thought about taking them.  The round, white pills felt small in my hand, but I knew the damage they could do. I felt alone and dark, and in that moment, nothing could have been worse than the sharp edge of that pain.

But that message, three words that would seem insignificant to anyone else, including him, made me think twice. It reminded me of just how much I’d be leaving behind.

I threw the pills away. I didn’t want to be tempted to use them again.

The next week I promised the same friend who had saved me the week before that I would make an appointment with a therapist. That message made all of us realize a lot of things, including that the thoughts I had been having meant something needed to change or I wouldn’t make it.

At my first appointment, one week later, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety. Depression.  Sometimes I wish that word would disappear altogether because it makes everything seem so simple, that ignoring its existence would make it go away, but it won’t.

Ignoring it wouldn’t bring my motivation to live back. Ignoring it wouldn’t make me feel happy again. Ignoring it wouldn’t save me.

Finding a Reason

I didn’t like seeing a therapist at first. I didn’t think it would help anything. I didn’t think talking to someone would change my depression because I knew the root of my depression couldn’t be changed or helped.

My mom was dying.

There was no dancing around that. The cancer she had fought for 12 years was finally diagnosed as terminal, and life turned into a painful waiting game. How long would it be until she was gone? A year, six months, six weeks? No one could give me the answer, so I spent my life building a shield, preparing myself for the loss.

Therapy and antidepressants couldn’t save my mother, so I didn’t see the point. If there was no cure for what was causing my depression, how could there be help for the depression itself?

I wanted to hide my diagnosis. I thought it made me crazy. I was wrong.

Forty-four percent of American college students report some feeling of depression, according to psychcentral.com. All of those people aren’t “crazy” – they’re human.

I thought the feelings I was having couldn’t be helped. I was wrong.

I grew to love my therapy sessions. They taught me to fight in a time that I thought all of my fight was gone. Sure, I was skeptical of all of the seemingly silly exercises my therapist had me do. One time she even told me to put a finger over one nostril and take 10 deep breaths, then switch. All I could think when I was going through the motions was, “Why am I actually listening to this? What is this going to help, really?”

I answered my own questions the first time I had an anxiety attack.

I was sitting at work, in the student newspaper office, listening to a list of tasks my adviser needed me to add to my to-do list. I don’t remember anything on that to-do list. My only memory of that day is darting out of the room searching for lost air, grasping at my chest, hoping if I pulled hard enough it would open back up. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die right there in the hallway.

I would have done anything to breathe again, so I put a finger over my nostril and started trying to control my breaths. It worked.

There was no secret to stopping depressing thoughts or anxiety fits, but therapy was my secret to getting past them.

I thought no one understood.  I was wrong.

Loneliness is a familiar feeling. It was easy for me to tell myself that no one understood, that I was going through something no one else had encountered. But as I looked around, I started realizing just how many people had been where I was at, even in just my small circle of friends. The people I was around every day had experienced all of these things, too.

I said earlier that 44 percent of college students experience some feelings of depression in their lifetimes. Depression is difficult. It’s meant to show you that it doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s meant to show you that you really aren’t alone in your struggle.

It can get better.

It’s been almost a year since I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and it’s been the most difficult thing I’ve experienced.  I’ve had several anxiety attacks. I’ve taken a leave from work because I couldn’t handle everything going on in my head. Just the other day, I broke down on the same friend’s floor at 2 a.m.

The one thing I haven’t done is pick the pills back up.

It’s not just an uphill battle, it’s a battle up several hills every single day, but I’m winning this fight.

Please, don’t wait until you’re holding the pills in your hand. No one will think you’re crazy. Your depression can be helped. Someone understands.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Oklahoma State University newspaper, the O’Colly

 

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