How Do You Conquer Depression? Admit You're Weak.
Courtney Chiara Luce Kiolbassa
My college days have always been bursting with people. My friends belt when they sing, get sore from dancing with too much abandon, spend their money on late-night ice cream. My house hosts a constant flow of guests, just stopping by for a cup of tea or meeting up with a study partner. With a life that seems so full of joy, I don’t look like a predictable candidate for depression.
The loving family, the smiling friends, the good grades and constant activities. I didn’t think I lived the life of someone who could ever despair that deeply. Once, in high school, someone asked if I’d ever been depressed. “No,” I replied confidently, victoriously. “I’m a pretty optimistic person.”
As it tends to, depression settled into my life slowly. It didn’t seem to have a beginning—a touch of sadness here, a lack of energy there—but never a single moment to conquer, no clear opportunity to take my plucky optimism into battle. Depression didn’t bust down the door; it crept in, the way afternoon turns to evening and evening turns to night.
During the worst of it, I left houses full of friends to cry in the front yard. I sank into my bed instead of going to meetings, then couldn’t fall asleep under the weight of self-imposed shame.
Nights were the hardest: the stretching darkness, the stillness in my sleepy city. My car became a sanctuary, as I drove for hours just to avoid the people at home, letting my mind race down the streets with me. I avoided overpasses and bridges. I was afraid of where my thoughts would wander.
Sometimes, though, I could not help but let it slip into my mind: What if my life really isn’t worth the trouble of living?
I hid these thoughts—the scariest ones, the ones that didn’t match my put-together, high-achiever image—behind fake vulnerability, sharing with my friends the surface of the suffering but never the depths. In my depths, I was yearning for the richness of relationship but afraid to expose those lonely places. So I talked instead about the stress of an upcoming exam. The nerves surrounding a job application. The fear of illness in my family. None of these were lies. But they were not the whole truth.
My hollowness exposed itself, despite all my efforts to dress it in platitudes about having so much to be thankful for and knowing things always turn out well in the end. My loved ones saw my empty, shaking hands; they noticed my weary eyes, my apathy. How I tried to hold the weight of that dark nothingness all by myself.
Thankfully, they approached gently. They entered into my most sensitive and chaotic places, fearless in a way that I was not capable of being, and they did not attempt a quick fix.
When I was impatient with myself for being so lazy and useless, they whispered my worth, told me to take my time. When I isolated myself for fear of rejection, they tapped on the door and reminded me that the world really is better when I am in it.
It was the small Indian therapist, with her caring eyes and tough questions. The friend who let me sleep in her bed when mine was too much a prison. My family, inviting me closer without ever prying. As much as I’d like to pretend I muscled through depression with my own sheer strength, I cannot say that’s entirely true.
When the whole world looked dark, I did not force myself to see the bright side; the people around me became the bright side, the reason to show them my loneliness.
When I spent days in bed, it was not my own determination that got me up; it was the little “yes” I whispered when someone asked if they could move my limbs to find professional help.
When my mind turned to suicide, I did not “push through;” I retreated into loving arms, the arms that had been there all along.
Depression’s trick is that it comes quietly and tries to stay hidden. It challenges you to a battle, a battle it knows you cannot win on your own, and then it tries to prove that you’re not strong enough. It hides by telling you that you don’t deserve the help. You’re making this up. You’re not even someone who could be depressed.
But here’s the trick of victory: it also continues to come to me without much fanfare. It slips its way in, unannounced, but solid as the ground on which I walk. The decision to admit that I am weak is a strength, a success, a step towards beating this illness. I have had to rely on the people who love me when I do not love myself.
And I can see the dawn’s slow approach, gently overcoming the darkness.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Courtney Chiara Luce Kiolbassa