“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)
I have spoken a lot about the last two years of my life because of the back surgeries and chronic pain, but there were 31 years before chronic pain became a part of my daily life. I believe I have had a good life, but I have had to fight. Fight for my sanity, fight for control over my emotions, fight for my happiness. Even before pain and depression became synonymous, I battled with depression and anxiety.
When I was about 12 years old, I remember reading a “Glamour” quiz entitled “Are You Depressed?” I was too young to even comprehend the concept of depression, but from the time I was a child, I knew something was different about me. Luckily, I also realized that what made me different, also made me wonderful. Because I was always living in a tornado of ever-changing emotions, I learned to be empathetic. I truly felt for other people. I was picked on almost every day of school (at least until high school when every day changed to often). I was mostly picked on for my weight, but also for the fact that I would cry easily. It made me angry and it hurt more than any spinal surgery I have had, but I never tried to hurt others, with my words or otherwise. I understood, on some level, even as a child, that the people who said mean things to me were also hurting and that being cruel was somehow making themselves feel better. It didn’t change how terrible it was to grow up hating my body and, to some extent, myself.
From the age of about 7 I was very overweight. My body did not look like my friend’s bodies and as a young girl that was heartbreaking. My breasts were never perky, my tummy never flat. I couldn’t wear the same clothes my friends wore. I spent years hiding under oversized sweats and baggy pants. I was lucky that I had a close group of friends, whom I am still friends with today, more than 20 years later. But, I did not have boyfriends. School dances were about group dances with my girlfriends and going to the bathroom every time they played a slow song. When you feel different from everyone, physically and emotionally, childhood can be difficult. The difficulties I faced in school contributed to the already omnipresent depression. My parents are amazing and they did their best to remind me of what a good person I was, but that did not sink in until much later.
All I knew about my emotions was that I was what my pediatrician referred to as “high strung.” I was moody, I worried about EVERYTHING and I was fearful. I look at myself today, a person who speaks her mind, who is brave, who doesn’t take crap from anyone, a woman who doesn’t give a flying fudgesicle what people think of my body, imperfections and all…and I wonder how I ever lived like that?
Thankfully, by my late teens I started to change, physically and mentally. The summer before my senior year I began to lose weight, so by graduation I was almost “normal” sized. I believe that accomplishment helped me to gain some much needed self-esteem and it began to bring me out of my shell. Getting the heck out of school really helped. I was not at the top of my class in high school, yet when I started college, first at a community college and eventually all the way through to my masters, something clicked and I realized I was smart. As a matter of fact, I graduated with honors for all three of my degrees and my GPA was never lower than a 3.95. It was like suddenly I realized I had talents. As a kid I knew I was funny and I was a good artist, but when I got to college it was suddenly a world where I could choose (mostly) what I wanted to learn. I could use my strengths and improve my weaknesses. I felt liberated and I started to believe in myself. I started dating here and there and became less painfully shy around boys. I joined the theatre club and some other activities and I started to find my voice. I truly believe that my acting class was far more helpful than any therapist ever was. My college years were the first time in my life where I really felt like I was coming into my own, but the one thing that was always there was my depression.
Like a fly that buzzes around your head, the depression and anxiety were always there, regardless of how hard I fought to keep it away. Every small let down, every bad date was like the end of the world for me. I was sure that other people held it together better than I did. I was certain that something was not right. It can’t be “normal” to be this sad or anxious or irritable all the time, can it? It was not until I took an Abnormal Psychology class that I really understood that there was a name for what I was going through. The teacher warned us on Day 1 that we would start to believe we had every psychological disorder in the book as we read and learned, but not to worry, it was all part of the learning process. I, however, did. I learned that I suffered from depression. It was actually a relief for me to finally have a name and a list of symptoms that made it clear to me that all these emotions that seemed out of my control were in fact, as Glamour posited, depression.
Throughout my adult life I have taken medications, mostly unsuccessfully. It took me MANY years to learn that my greatest medication was myself and my knowledge of myself and my diagnosis. When I was looking into graduate school, I thought to myself, “I can help others who are going through this because I know what it’s like, first hand.”
Would I prefer to live my life without depression? I used to think “Absolutely!” But the more I think about it and write about it, the more I realize that I would not be who I am if not for my chronic battle with depression. I wouldn’t be strong and (mostly) fearless and self-aware. If I hadn’t gotten to know myself and my depression and learned to fight for my sanity, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Considering what I have to deal with a daily basis, I guess my younger years were like boot camp for what was to come.