Dear Hope,

I want to share some of my experience with depression and how I’ve coped with it.  I write constantly, but rarely for a purpose or to an audience, so I hope whoever is reading this will be forgiving.  I’m not an expert – but I am a survivor.

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Depression takes many shapes and forms, and your experience will be unique.   Personally, I would describe it as my worst enemy, one that wants only my destruction.  I first experienced depression when I was 8 years old and being bullied at school non-stop.  I would sit on the roof of my childhood home, stare at the pavement, and long for death.  Back then, I didn’t fit in anywhere.  I felt worthless.  I thought that if I died, no one would care except my parents and my one (1) friend, who saved me from myself for about a decade without ever knowing I was depressed, just by being there.  I don’t talk to her enough now, we grew up and apart, but she always picks up the phone when I call.  I’ve learned there aren’t many people in the world like that, but that there are some people in the world like that. And I’m lucky to know one.

When I am feeling well, the depression takes a quiet backseat, though it is always there, swimming in my subconscious.  When I am feeling low / deficient / inadequate / like a failure, it awakens with full-force.  And as a perfectionist, that can be very often.  Depression bludgeons my self-esteem, my self-worth, my optimism, and my hope.  It’s hard to describe to someone who doesn’t experience depression, but for me, my immense self-hatred takes over and it’s the only voice ringing in my head, one nasty, bitter twist of the truth after another.  I can sit for hours crying to myself, reliving past mistakes, even things I did as a five year old before I had any real concept of right or wrong. 

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Trying to live with my past mistakes is probably the hardest part of depression for me.  I’ve hurt people – friends, family, acquaintances, complete strangers.  I’ve lied, cheated, stolen, been malicious, selfish, resentful, and abusive.  I’ve euthanized animals, and knowingly blamed others for my failures/mistakes, drank more than I should (and knew better), I chose drugs over friends who needed me, been jealous and spiteful enough to sabotage someone else, and I’ve used people.  I have some (in my mind) very real, very good reasons to feel guilty, and ashamed of myself.  To completely hate my own existence.

My sense of guilt and shame most likely stem from my upbringing in an extremely conservative religious home.  I read a quote earlier this year that made the argument that guilt and shame are useless emotions.  I find that an interesting concept, because growing up, I was taught that guilt and shame kept people good.  But in practice, these have been very destructive emotions for me, fueling my self-hatred.  I want to be better than the person I’ve been. But feelings of guilt and shame are not constructive and don’t allow for self-improvement, only self-malice.

I had a pretty huge meltdown last year.  I’d been stable for about four years prior to that – by that, I mean I was depressed but with no serious thoughts of suicide, until around two months before my wedding when I buckled under the stress and had a severe falling out with a friend.

I can’t begin to describe how much it hurt.  I wrote my friend letter after letter, I tried to fix it, I couldn’t fix it… on some level, I know I did everything I could.  I know it takes two people to have a friendship.  That person failed to be my friend, not the other way around.  But my depression has a horrible way of making everything out to be my fault.

I couldn’t get past it.  I started self-destructing again.  Mixing drinks with pills, rarely sleeping, and then I started hurting myself physically, starving myself, making myself bleed, and crying uncontrollably.  I only snapped out of it because someone who cares about me saw me on my spiral down and verbally slapped sense into me.  It was around that time I was introduced to the concept of self-compassion (please check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s www.Self-compassion.org for more on this).

Time heals many things, and practicing self-compassion means telling myself what I would say to a friend in my situation when I am feeling depressed.  I literally have a conversation with myself – out loud – and yes that sounds just a little crazy, but there is a part of me that hates me, that clearly needs to hear this.  I tell myself …

It’s going to be okay. Sometimes things, friendships, don’t work out.  Sometimes you can’t fix things, and it’s not your fault.  You did everything you could.  Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and forgive yourself.  You’re only human after all.

I have learned that no one can make me happy, and no one can give me reasons to live. That this is my life, and I have to make me happy, I have to find my own reasons for living.  The acceptance of others or their perception of me doesn’t change who I am.  It’s easy to write this and it’s much harder in practice, but like love and hope, self-esteem has to come from within.

I’ve learned that being balanced is important to depression management.  I don’t think there’s a magical recipe to being balanced (if there is, let me know), but I suggest this: work at getting enough sleep, eating well, daily exercise, and apply yourself completely in whatever task you are doing (work, relationships, personal well-being).  Don’t neglect yourself or let stress take over your life.  Spend your time on pursuits that build you up.  Try to reach out to strangers.  There are kind, understanding people out there, and it’s worth reaching out to find them.

When the depression takes over and things are bad, I try to remember that I’ve been through this before, I’ve proven to myself I can survive, and that this too shall pass.  I try to help people whenever I can, however I can.  It gives me a sense of purpose, and I’ve found that helping others helps me, so that at the end of the day when I go to bed, I can feel good about myself, and that makes breathing, sleeping, existing easier.  I try to have as much hope as I possibly can for tomorrow.

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I spend as much of my time as I can doing things I enjoy, like writing, making art, listening to music, cooking, and playing video games.  I have a job that I like well enough, and I have a tiny little home I call my own.  But depression doesn’t need a reason, and can rear its ugly head at any moment. Today might be good, tomorrow might be hell, I won’t know until it’s happening.

I don’t know if this is particularly helpful, but I hope it will be to someone.

Thank you for reading.

All my love,
Operahell


Opera has been a long time supporter of Dear Hope and I’m so happy to feature her work. Be sure to check out her blog here and leave some comments and thoughts on her post below.

You are loved!

PF

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