When I was 21 years old and living on my own for the first time, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. (I later learned from a university professor that there are three groups that are most prone to depression: women, twenty-something’s, and creative people. Great, I thought. I was hit on all three counts).
It was with a desperation I’d never before felt that I’d visited that psychiatrist (the last patient of the day and only because I begged to be seen before they closed the office) and all I wanted was an immediate fix.
I got one. In the form of Effexor, an antidepressant.
I all but rushed to my local drugstore to begin treatment immediately. I treated the prescription like a holy grail, the answer to all my problems.
But something happened. Actually, a lot of things happened.
For one, I wasn’t hungry anymore. In fact, days would go by and I’d completely forget to eat because I didn’t feel an urge to. I later learned that loss of appetite was a side effect of this drug (too bad the psychiatrist never went over those side effects with me). So I started a new drug called Wellbutrin.
But then I noticed other things. I couldn’t cry. It was as if the fountains of tears inside of me had dried up somehow. I couldn’t feel anything for that matter. I was numb. A zombie for all intents and purposes.
Yet I felt far more depressed and emptier than ever. (The catch-22 is that if you’re under 25, anti-depressants can often make you feel even more depressed than when you first started taking them).
The antidepressants, I began to believe, would never cure me. They existed only to numb me and keep me on the border between sad and happy while never really allowing me to experience either.
I resented the drugs for that and for other reasons but I also didn’t know of any other solution so I continued to take them.
However, I did come to realize that one thing was definitely true about my situation: the drugs (whether they worked or not) were definitely serving to anesthetize a greater pain. No, it wasn’t the depression, because even the depression was being caused by something else.
And that’s when I first realized that you could have everything in the world going for you, but if you’re plugged into the wrong systems and you have unresolved issues from your past, Doomsday is inevitable if you keep sweeping that crap under the rug and ignoring it.
It’s not going to go away on its own. You have to deal with it. This is the only path toward freedom.
Here’s what the crap under my own rug looked like:
- I was in a dysfunctional relationship where I all but worshipped the man because he was all I had to hold onto. Even though I hadn’t felt emotionally ready for it, because he wanted it, I tossed my own wants and needs out the window and used sex as a way to ensure our intimacy (sex does not guarantee this, though) and to keep him close. Like I said, I felt like he was all I had.
- Why was that? I didn’t have any other friends. I didn’t have a support system. Back home, I had a family, friends, and a friendly church. But here in Chicago? I was completely on my own. I was isolated from the few friends I had made while in graduate school once I’d moved up north and decided to live by myself.
- I wasn’t currying favor with the neighbors in my apartment building because my dog was a barker. My neighbors cursed out my dog and would spit derisive comments to me in passing.
- I worked at different dog day cares during this time (so that I could have a place to bring my dog so he wouldn’t be a nuisance to my neighbors) but I struggled with deriving fulfillment from the work I was doing. (I also didn’t like being nipped and pounced on by dozens of large dogs every day).
That’s just a glimpse of what my systems were looking like. But here’s what my past looked like and how it was taking form in the present:
- I was sexually victimized as a six-year-old at the hands of a family member and the shame, disgust, and emotional pain from those encounters had haunted me for decades ever since.
- I held massive amounts of unforgiveness toward the offender as well as toward my parents for not effectively protecting me as a child
- Forget about unforgiveness, though. I was also angry. Infuriated. Where was my justice?
- I hated that the situation had never been dealt with or spoken about. At this time, not even my dad knew about it. I was told to keep it a secret from him. “It would destroy him,” I heard. Never mind what it was doing to me!
- And what was it doing exactly? I was overwhelmed with anxiety and experiencing panic attacks. I had self-esteem issues. I had issues with asserting myself in a relationship. I had issues trusting people and would often pull away from friendships before others could hurt me. I couldn’t even hug family members because of the anger and discomfort I felt.
You see, try as I did to suppress all of those emotions and try as I did to make dysfunctional systems work, the contents were under too much pressure. Eventually, I was going to erupt. And it wasn’t going to be pretty.
In my case it resulted in overwhelming despair and an uncontrollable rage that hurt me and the others around me.
I’ve come a long way from that time, which I affectionately refer to as the Dark Ages of my life. And I’ve learned a lot about living life with depression and overcoming its control.
The truth is: a diagnosis isn’t your identity. It’s not your master. And it sure as hell isn’t your future.
I could give you a list of ways to overcome depression. I could tell you to exercise more to get your endorphins going. I could tell you to avoid sugar, which will bring you high only to give you a hangover. I could tell you to make a gratitude list, to engage with a support system, and to shift your energy from low-level thoughts to high-level thoughts.
But even these solutions are only going to remedy the problem on the surface level. You’ll chase away depression for the day but what about the day after that? And the day after that? What then?
If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, please let it be this: your present depression/frustrations/discontent/hopelessness is 99.9% of the time caused by an underlying pain/issue/habit that you have never fully resolved.
You may not even realize or remember that it’s there. It can be sneaky like that. But its effects and control over you have started to manifest in your life as addictions, trust issues, depression, fears…the list goes on.
So here’s what I want you to do. Here’s where the real deep work is going to occur. Set aside a block of dedicated journaling time at some point this week and reflect on the following:
–In what ways have you been giving away your power? (To a person, to a negative thought, to a fear)
–Why did you give your power away in the first place? What were you trying to protect yourself from? (Maybe you gave your power away to a significant other to protect yourself from loneliness; maybe you gave your power away to a food addiction to protect yourself from ever going hungry again)
–Where did this need to protect yourself come from? (Maybe you wanted to protect yourself from loneliness because you never felt loved as a child; Maybe you push people away to protect yourself from getting hurt because of abandonment or neglect as a child)
–What do you need to do to get your power back? What’s one step toward getting it back that you can take this week? (I.E. maybe you need to have an honest conversation with a loved one, get professional help for an unresolved issue from the past, look into remedies for an anxiety – one step can be setting the day & time to do these things)
These questions are going to start to open the doors to your heart and soul and get you to really start thinking about some of the root causes for the pain in your life. It may be scary. It may feel uncomfortable. You might even cry sometimes.
But it’s this work that is life-giving, refreshing, and revolutionizing and that’s going to begin your path in the right direction toward healing and also toward a more fulfilling life.
Trust in the journey. Be gentle to yourself. Open up to love.
In the comments below, share how you’ve been giving your power away and the one step you’re committing to taking to get it back!