Depression is the pits. But talk to me on another day and I’ll probably tell you about how
life-changing it has been for me, in a positive way. Right now I’ve been dealing with a lot of
life changes and stressors, so I can feel myself sinking lower again. It’s also coming up to
winter – the hardest season for me. So I’m probably not feeling as optimistic and positive
about my experiences with depression right now, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Some people talk about self-care as this beautiful journey of self-discovery. But I also think
(especially when such a journey is forced upon someone) it can feel like a whole lot of
bullshit. The journey is significantly lonelier and not so much of the
yoga-and-green-smoothie-inspired-glow image that is so commonly conjured in the media.
When you are 21 and your life falls apart around you and you have no tools to communicate
that, self-care feels stupid. It feels like a waste of time. It feels like all your friends are out
there doing all the things you used to love and you are stuck assessing whether you’ve done
enough exercise, whether you’ve had enough Omegas, whether you’ve had enough ‘calm’
time this week. I didn’t want to be doing these things, but they became my lifeline, twice now, along with my meds.
At 21 I was endlessly energetic, a bright, bubbly, morning person who was always positive,
motivated, and enthusiastic. I could just go, and go further. I was studying full-time, working
part time, training to represent New Zealand in underwater hockey, coaching both school
and regional level underwater hockey teams, as well as maintaining a social life in between it
all. I could go out with friends and dance all night, meet new people, get up to some
shenanigans, and still pick up and carry on the following day. The whole world was my
playground, and then suddenly it became a big, dark, lonely, sinkhole.
My friends were still going out and I felt like I was missing out by going home early, or not
going at all; but I also couldn’t handle putting on my ‘happy face’ all the time. I felt like my
friends thought I had become boring – I never used to be like that; I was always up for
adventures. Yet I just couldn’t handle being out and awake for so long anymore. I thought I
was just ‘growing up’ before the rest of my friends were, which felt really unfair because I still
wanted to be there with them. I didn’t want to be home in my room sobbing into a pillow by
I felt like I had no control over how crap life seemed. It felt like that was just how the rest of
my life was going to be - that I would just have to get used to it. Maybe everyone went
through this, a phase in life where everything changed and things weren’t as fun as they
used to be, and that others must have just been dealing with it better. Maybe I was being too
sensitive and I just had to learn to live with it, toughen up and carry on. There was no cure –
this was just life.
It felt like I had woken up one day and just suddenly hated everything. My love of sport,
coaching, hanging with friends, food, going to the beach, the gym, reading, making
jewellery… everything I loved just became lacklustre and life felt flat. I didn’t care about
anything, I didn’t want to get up in the morning, I didn’t want to go to sleep at night; work was
a distraction that kept me busy, but I hardly ever wanted to be there.
It took a while for me to accept that it was depression. I felt that I couldn’t just go around
claiming that I thought I had something as ‘big’ as depression when a) I didn’t actually know,
as I hadn’t been diagnosed, and b) there wasn’t anything I could pinpoint that could have
triggered my depression – it felt as if I wasn’t allowed to have depression because nothing
‘major’ had happened in my life.
But there doesn’t have to be one thing. There doesn’t even have to be any ‘things’. Life just
wears some people down. Everybody has limits, and everyone’s limits are different. I had
reached maximum capacity for ‘just carrying on’, and it came in the form of depression. I had
depleted my source of naturally-occurring serotonin (and probably other things too) and I
now had to put a lot of effort in to building myself up again. I was getting migraines every
Monday from about 2pm onwards for months on end; I was tired and exhausted all the time.
My temper was super-short, and everything upset me, or frustrated me, and I cried. Over the
silliest things. As I stopped attending sport as regularly, I watched my benchmarks drop, I
watched my performance sink below my team mates. I couldn’t handle the disappointment,
so I just stopped all together. I had lost my zest for life, I didn’t know who I was anymore,
and I had no idea how to get the ‘real’ me back. I felt so lost and alone. I just wanted to close
my eyes and disappear. I had always done so much and managed - now I couldn’t even
handle one late night. I didn’t understand how that was possible, and I was angry at how
unfair it felt.
The only real way out of it for me was self-care. Sure I could take medication, but I also
needed to figure out what put me in that place, and make changes so that it didn’t happen
again when I came off my meds. I had to make sure I was doing these four things, over and
over again: get more quality sleep, eat a diet high in good fats and nutrient-dense
vegetables, get a decent amount of exercise in every week, and spend some time on
mindfulness or meditation.
Those things sound so simple, but in the throes of depression they can feel supremely
overwhelming. I felt like the world was against me. There were so many thoughts constantly
coursing through my brain, so many reasons and excuses as to why I wasn’t getting enough
sleep, why I wasn’t eating better food, why I wasn’t doing enough exercise. Depression puts
high-beam lights on every potential obstacle and pushes any rational solutions in to the
shadows. Depression is loud in your head. It is constant. Even when you aren’t feeling
anything, the brain is still coursing with this silly string of chatter.
I’ve had two episodes of medicated depression now, and I’m currently trying to keep myself out of a third one. I find myself constantly having to be on guard and looking out for signs that I’m sinking again. Sometimes I can go for weeks without thinking about it at all, other times it’s weeks on end where I feel like I’m behind on sleep, needing more vegetables in my diet, needing to get outside more. The catch here is that worrying and being anxious over these things, along with whatever else is going on, doesn’t help at all. The further into my personal journey with depression and self-care I get, the more I uncover about what actually sits behind my depression.
Aside from the physiological lack of serotonin, depression also runs in the family down my mother’s side. It’s an interesting one, as there’s not much documented on either side of the family, just stories passed down; memories my parents have. Depression was never really talked about openly in society until relatively recently. We’re finally creating names and opening discussion around things that people have been experiencing for years. While in my first two episodes of depression seemingly came out of nowhere, there are definitely events during my life that I have obviously not dealt with properly, and that have caused a great deal of anxiety for me.
It’s been so interesting and so frightening and also so enlightening to discover these things and unpack them in my own way. These experiences all sit in the realm of relationships, vulnerability, and sexual assault, which is a pretty scary topic. Scary because it’s so gut wrenching for those who experience it, and scary because it is so prevalent and common.
Scarier too because there are so many behaviours that are often not even viewed as sexual assault by wider society, and so they continue to occur, and people continue to be hurt. The sense of confusion around these events is so overwhelming and discouraging. It’s terrifying to be violated in such moments of vulnerability, and to feel as if you had no choice as to what happened at the time. To feel as if maybe you brought it upon yourself, and there wasn’t really anything you could have done in that moment to make the outcome different. To feel like it was so wrong, but to have no words to describe it, especially not in a way that someone else would understand.
While there are some events that have certainly propelled the onset of my depression, I’m pretty confident that the majority of what I deal with is down to factors I can control – if I catch them in time. As I continue to unpack those events earlier in my life, the biggest salvation for me is my self-care routine. Often life gets in the way; it feels so tedious sometimes, and making the time to fit it all in can be overwhelming. But the thought of life without this heightened awareness and the repetitive acts of self-care is something I’d rather not think about. And is definitely a place I’d like to never go back to.
The other thing that is crucial is to build a support network of friends and family who you can
trust. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a list of my symptoms and ways to help me and
giving this list to my partner and my best friend. Communication is so hard when all you want
to do is crawl in to a hole and hibernate for the rest of eternity, so expecting yourself to
communicate during that time is a big ask. I’m currently at an in-between phase. I’m very
aware of the signs and warnings I’m experiencing. So perhaps while I am in this limbo-state,
before I sink past the stage where I can communicate without reducing myself to tears, I
should write down some things to help those around me, and in turn help my future self.
I’ve learnt so much about myself, but I still haven’t arrived at that place where I’ve peacefully
accepted the sustained presence of depression in my life. I enjoy talking to people about it,
as I find that the more I open up, the more others do so in return. That common journey, the
shared experiences, and collective understanding that while you may feel so utterly alone
and hopeless, you’re actually not alone at all. That’s been totally lifesaving.
So to anyone I’ve ever spoken to about this – thank you, from the bottom of my heart.