I live with major depressive disorder and anxiety. I'm open about this with my friends and on social media, but I've only alluded to it thus far on this blog. At first, I hesitated to discuss it here because of the very public nature of blogging and the stigma still associated with mental illness. However, I think it's important to "come out" with my diagnosis now so that I can be a better advocate for others with mental illness. If even one person is inspired or encouraged by what I write, then it's worth it.
Living with depression is like riding a really big, really rickety roller coaster.
There are months - or even years - when life feels fine, with the expected minor ups and downs and a few exhilarating moments mixed in. And then there are other years when the coaster starts shaking and creaking and the restraint feels loose and you're hundreds of feet up in the air and convinced that you're five seconds from being flung across the park and crashing into the funnel cake hut.
2015 was definitely one of those years.
After years of dealing with seasonal depression on my own, I slipped into a deep, unmanageable hole early in 2015. I struggled with everyday functioning. By the time I admitted it to my doctor, my condition was already severe. I struggled the entire year, which became a blur of hospitalizations, outpatient treatments, and Ben-and-Jerry's-for-dinner days. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better now, and as I look back at 2015 I can now see that my experience taught me much about life and about myself.
Four things I learned in 2015:
1. Asking for help is okay
Vulnerability is hard. I don't like people to see me when I feel weak, helpless or anything less than my best self. It's ironic because I am an open book and don't mind sharing my weaknesses and struggles with others after the fact - I just don't like people seeing me that way.
I had to get over that quickly last year. Reaching out to close friends was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I couldn't have made it through the year without the shoulders to cry on, assistance managing treatment, and swift kicks in the rear when I needed to get my act together. Asking for help doesn't make me weak - it makes me human.
2. Failure isn't permanent
Failure isn't a sign of weakness, either. It's a sign that you're living and growing and stretching yourself to do more than you thought possible. I definitely dropped the ball on some things last year, but I still worked and remained in school, and I'm proud of that.
3. Life is rarely ever all good or all bad
Last year was by far the most difficult year of my depression, but it was also filled with some great memories. I stood by two of my closest friends as they married the loves of their lives. I met my new niece when my oldest sis had a baby, and I had a great time at the country fair with my baby sis, who'd just started middle school. And I was life of the party when my friend Allie came to town for Thanksgiving and we rocked the karaoke joint. Those are the moments I'll remember when I look back at 2015.
4. My story has power
I've become more comfortable sharing my journey with others. Group therapy taught me that there's so much power in knowing you're not alone. This year, I'm excited to reach a larger audience this year by writing for Blavity, a popular news and lifestyle site for multicultural millennials. I look forward to sharing what I've learned about self care and mental wellness.
Like any other chronic illness, depression is no cakewalk. But it's also not a death sentence. Symptom management is a lifelong journey, but it doesn't define me. The hard work of recovery and maintenance will continue into 2016, but I'm looking forward to an exciting year filled with new personal and professional possibilities, as well as the opportunity to share my story with many.