Finding Hope: Depression

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Having struggled with chronic depression for roughly a decade, I fancy myself somewhat knowledgable.  It’s frustrating and lonely, mostly because it’s unexplainable.  Even the most sympathetic people still can’t understand why you can’t look around you and find happiness.  Because yes, there is happiness to be found.  But it looks so different for everyone.

My depression took many forms – long days in bed, long nights pacing, crying from emotional pain, screaming in anger.  On top of being sad about apparently nothing, you’re pissed off at the world for not getting it and pissed off at yourself for being this way in the first place.  It’s illogical really, because many people who have chronic depression (myself included) have a perfectly fine life.  From the outside, things are good.  Great even.

So because of that, you are convinced that if you just improve x or y or z, then the ever-elusive happiness will find you.  The problem isn’t that you’re depressed, the problem is your sleep schedule. That’s it.  Set the alarm.  Wake up at 7.  Go to bed at 11.  Done.

So you can totally do that for a week.  Maybe even two.  Or maybe not.  But then you slowly start falling back into the old pattern.  One day you’ll just go to bed at 12.  And sleep until 8.  No biggie.  Then after a few days, you’re awake until 4am again and not getting up until noon.  That’s for the stay at home peeps anyway, which was my situation.

Then you decide that fixing that wasn’t as easy as you thought, so you’ve found something new to berate yourself over.  That’s a great feeling.  What else can you fix?  Your weight?  It’s the problem isn’t it?  Or a bad habit?  Cigarette smoking, obesity, biting my nails, impatience, and overspending were some of mine, but maybe yours look different.

Whatever the issue, you make a list of all the things you hate about yourself, and it’s apparent that if you could just fix each of those problems, you could finally be happy.

Because happy people don’t have any bad habits.  How could they and still like themselves?  It doesn’t make sense.

My depression was a secret for a long time.  J knew about it – he would sit with me at night while I rocked myself back and forth for hours.  I will never forget that.  Ever.  I had a partner who didn’t understand – not even a little – but he would not leave me alone.  I said hateful things to him.  I was pissed off that he could sleep and I couldn’t.  Because it wasn’t fair.  No one should feel this way.  It doesn’t make sense.  Lots of people have far less than we did and could find happiness.  Or at least, that was the illusion.  Is it the truth?  I didn’t know.  I didn’t know what happiness felt like.

My first breakthrough came when I finally told my grandma about my feelings.  At the time, depression wasn’t “mainstream”.  I didn’t know that other people struggled with it.  I was fully prepared to be laughed at and ridiculed for being a whiny ass.  But my grandma did the opposite – she commiserated with me.  Lots of people struggle with depression.  And as I started talking to the other people in my life, I slowly realized that a) I had hidden my issues really well and b) I was surrounded by people who knew exactly how I felt.  And my family isn’t unique.  We all just kept it to ourselves.

There’s power in sharing.  It doesn’t fix you – not even a little bit.  But that loneliness can’t be overstated.  Feeling not only awful about your life but then guilty on top of it?  That’s horrible.  Because you aren’t just an emotional person.  Logically, you can see that things are relative and your life is pretty damn good in comparison to others’.  But that doesn’t mean it fulfills you.

I’m not a doctor.  My four semesters (so far) toward my psychology degree don’t really qualify me to help you through any kind of depression.  But I’ve been crawling my way out of the deep and nasty pit for years now.  It’s been slow.  But the first clear steps were all about finding hope.

Even in the last few years, I wasn’t quite happy.  But I wasn’t quite depressed either.  I had made so many life changes, but I still thought there would be a few more that would finally seal the happiness deal.  Now I’m learning that it really doesn’t work that way.  I’m finally happy.  So happy that I’m honestly worried that it’s going to be pulled out from underneath me.  And I still have nearly all of the same bad habits.  I’m chronically late, I binge on sweets, I like to stay up late, and I will absolutely never master patience.

But I’ve learned to accept them as part of myself.  They aren’t the things that were making me unhappy.  I was unfulfilled with life.  That was always my issue.  Always.  And am I totally fulfilled right now?  No.  I still have so much to learn about myself and the world.  I still have a purpose in life that I’ve only began to discover.  But you know what I have?  I have hope.

Hope is what has provided the ladder rungs to climb out of the pit of depression.  When things were ugly, I had hope that they would get better.  Even when the hope was unreasonable.  Even when I had no reason to believe my life would dramatically change for the better, I believed it could.  I feel like that’s saved my life in many ways.

And it turns out that I was right.  Things really can improve.  And maybe you look at my life and think, “Oh girl.  You have it all!  You have the perfect kids and the perfect husband and you’re living in HAWAII!”  But you know what?  In the short time I’ve been here, I know for a fact that Hawaii isn’t paradise for many people.  And whose kids are perfect?  And my marriage is really good, but we fight for it.  We communicate and argue and more than anything, we have decided that there is no alternative to being with each other.  I’m sorry if I’ve ever projected a fake image of my family, because that was never my intent.  And for those of you who routinely read my blog, I would hope you know that.

But yes, in many ways I do feel like I have it all.  But it didn’t just fall into my lap.  I was so sad.  So so sad.  And then I found hope.  And then the hope provided the fuel we needed to start working toward our future.  And neither J nor I have any idea what our future looks like after this stint in Hawaii.  This could be the best time of our lives.  There is no way to know if it will go downhill from here.  I certainly hope not, but if so, we’re going to take advantage of every single day.  And the truth is that, now that I finally understand what makes me happy, I can find it most anywhere.  I really do believe that.  I just had to come to paradise to figure it out.

So my plan is to start sharing with you the process I waded through to find happiness.  This doesn’t mean I think I’m an expert.  But I finally do feel like a success story.  And my weight loss is only one portion of it.  I see my life in two distinct parts: my health journey & my life transformation.  They were integral to each other, but they had their own paths for sure.