Most children are afraid of monsters. As a kid, the only monster I feared was the one living inside of me. That monster is depression.
I’ve been living with depression since elementary school. There have been periods in my life when it wasn’t unbearable; I could get up and go to school and make eye contact with people and generally appear to be a functioning human being. The monster was still there, of course, sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear that it wasn’t leaving any time soon.
There have also been worse periods. During these, I can’t get out of bed. I can’t eat, or all I do is eat. I cry constantly. I have several panic attacks a week. I find myself calling my parents in the middle of the night, apologizing for being a shell of the daughter I was supposed to be. I wander around my apartment like a corpse, unsure of what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel empty.
I’ve been like this for a few months now, and I’ve decided to take the spring semester off. I’m not happy about it. I wish I were normal. After years of living like this, I’m fed up. But I know myself, and I know that if I stayed for the spring semester, if I continued to pretend to be OK for a few more months, I would be dead by May. I owe myself more than that.
I’m writing this because I know that there are other students here at Binghamton University who feel the same way. And I want you to know that you’re going to be OK. Depressives have brains that are like “Horton Hears a Who!”; somewhere, in all of us, there is a tiny Who fighting tooth and nail for things to get better. Whenever I feel angry about having been depressed all these years, I cling to the hope that lies within that anger; I’m angry because a part of me still cares. Part of me still wants to be alive.
Depression is so widespread that it affects one in seven Americans, so debilitating that it is the leading factor in over 60 percent of suicides, and yet it is routinely brushed off as something that doesn’t exist. You’ve heard the comments before, about how depressives are only seeking attention; they’re lazy and just need some motivation; they just need to think positively and everything will get better. Maybe you’ve said these things to people you care about, or tossed them around behind someone’s back.
To those of you who suffer from depression, I want you to know how brave you all are. Depression can ruin your life; in addition to eating away at you mentally and emotionally, it takes its toll physically. People who suffer from depression routinely experience headaches, back pain, chest pain, digestive problems, dizziness, exhaustion and joint pain. Think about it: Your mind and body are trying to shut down on you, and yet you keep getting up every day. That takes an unbelievable amount of strength and courage.
You don’t, however, have to pretend you’re OK. You don’t have to act stoic; you are a living, breathing human being, not a Hemingway protagonist. If you had been hit by a train, everyone would be running to help. You have been hit by a train; it’s just that most people can’t see it.
So please, tell someone you love and trust how you feel. I know how hard that is and how hard it is to believe anyone loves you when you hate yourself, but they do. Get help, seek treatment, be it therapy, medication, hospitalization or something else. You deserve to be happy. You deserve a rich and fulfilling life. You deserve to be OK. To those of you who love someone who suffers from depression, be supportive of them. Let them know how much they mean to you.
I cling to my metaphorical Who for dear life. She reminds me that I am not my mental illness, that I am Katie who loves music and the Adirondacks and laughs at almost everything.
My Who hopes fervently that this time next year, we’ll all be OK.