“The appearance of a person with depression is totally subjective… different than what the reality in their mind is. It doesn’t matter that you had a great GPA, that you got a 3.6, that you got A’s in all your important classes… you just aren’t good enough. You are worth nothing and your friends are still your friends only because they don’t know how worthless you are.”
[Content Warning: In-Depth Discussion of Suicidal Thoughts, Dated Therapeutic Techniques]
Reading Time – 6 minutes
The Slope: The Emergence of Depression in College
I was diagnosed with depression during undergrad… the fall of my third year… 2004? Yeah, 2004. I think they said moderate… it wasn’t severe… I wasn’t incapacitated or anything. I can’t remember how I figured out that I was depressed. I’m sure it was probably months and months before I actually realized, “Oh! This is why I feel like shit all the time!”
Everything probably started at the death of my grandmother one year earlier. I was very close to her, because my grandparents had always lived fairly close to my neighborhood. We saw her a lot, and she and my grandfather watched us often when we were growing up. We’d go over to their house after school pretty regularly. So… we were fairly close, and it had been a very long and drawn out death process… a long gradual decline. Then, it all started to transition from grief into me constantly feeling like I was a bad person. I kept telling myself… nothing I could do would be enough. I would never succeed in anything. I wasn’t worth having friends or a boyfriend.
I had a long-term boyfriend through college. I’m guessing the relationship started to fall apart that spring prior… but it kind of hung on until the following fall, when I was diagnosed. We had a very immature relationship, as one does in college. He was generally very excited that I didn’t have any of those “weird emotional ups and downs that girls usually had,” so he told my friends. So, his response to depression and me having… emotions… was to pull back… panic is too strong a word, I guess. And that obviously didn’t help how I was feeling. We were both drunk one night, and he told me he didn’t love me anymore. He was like, “But we can still stay together!”
He was graduating that year, but I wasn’t… and he already started the process of breaking off all of his friendships… which was a weird way to go about it. I figured I was next in line, so I broke it off. I at least had the sense to get myself out of it. It affected me a lot, because we shared an apartment over the summer semester, and he had a bunch of my stuff. We lived in the same town, were in the same major, and shared a lot of the same friends. Though, my friends dropped him… which I appreciated (laughs). Still, I was already working on deciding that I wasn’t not worth anything, and then it was like, “Obviously this is true!”
The Possibility of Being Dead
It felt like life really wasn’t worth living, but I didn’t really want to die…? I think I didn’t actually want to kill myself, but I wanted the possibility of being dead. So… there was a busy street between my apartment and campus. I rode my bike to school, uphill on my way to school, downhill on my way home. As I was peddling to the street, I would just reinforce how worthless I was. Every day, I would consider… seeing if I could make it across the street without looking. Down the slope, into the street, maybe across, maybe not. If not, there’d be blood, a mess, then nothing, or else there’d be enough pain that I’d have a distraction. Every day, I’d think, “Oh, maybe I should just peddle really fast and see if I would make it. And if not… eh, it’s okay.”
So that was my main plan… risk-taking behaviors. If I would happen to die… that’s not too bad. There was something kind of comforting about the potential of ending… in a way that’s out of my hands… so that I’m not responsible for it. If I died… it would show me that the universe didn’t want me alive. Or, the opposite… that the universe does in fact want me alive… if I made it through the traffic.
But, I didn’t want someone else to be responsible… like, that’s not fair to this person who’s just going to work… going to the grocery store… to be responsible for potentially killing somebody. I also thought about slitting my wrists… bleeding out might be kind of interesting… but then I was like, “If I do this, who’s gonna find me? My roommate… I can’t do that to her. She’s such a nice person.”
Stigma and Invisible Depression
I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of talking to my friends about what was going on, because typically the response was… “You don’t seem depressed! Why do you think that way? Your grades are good. You’re carrying two majors. You have a job. You have friends. You’re social.” It’s like they’re saying, “Don’t be depressed!” The appearance of a person with depression is totally subjective… different than what the reality in their mind is. It doesn’t matter that you had a great GPA, that you got a 3.6, that you got A’s in all your important classes… you just aren’t good enough. You are worth nothing… and your friends are still your friends only because they don’t know how worthless you are.
Seeking Connection in Group Therapy
I ended up calling my mom and saying, “Hey, I think I’m depressed.” And she was like, “Oh! Well… that runs in our family, so you probably are. Here is a list of all the people in our family who have depression, and here is a list of all the people I think probably have depression. Find someone to treat you.” So I went to my school’s clinic.
I think my school’s policy was probably medication as a last resort. I did the little checklist thing, and some psychiatrist or psychologist interviewed me and told me I was depressed. She said that the first thing we were going to try was a group. I joined a women’s group with five or six other women. It was kind of funny, because one of my classmates was also in it… and we were like, “Oh! Hi!” But we were never like, “Hey, see ya at group!” when we saw each other outside of group. It was a whole semester, but I don’t think I ever talked about what was going on with me. I mostly just participated in other people’s conversations, because their problems all seemed more urgent. Even despite that, it was really helpful for me to just be around people with similar problems, a safe group of people. The next semester there wasn’t a group that fit my schedule, so I stopped going.
The Rubber Band
My mom sent me this book too… and I can’t remember the title of it. It was one of the big 80s / 90s self-help books. Thought stopping… I think they’ve actually decided that this is not a good idea anymore. The idea was to wear a rubber band on your wrist. When you start to teeter into your monologue about how worthless you are… you snap yourself with the rubber band, gently. It physically reminds you to snap out of it. I bet that could become self-harm really easily, but it was a good way for me to remind myself that I was mentally monologuing and to stop telling myself I was worthless… strangely useful. Eventually I just needed to look at the rubber band, then I stopped wearing it.
After that year, my depressive symptoms never really came back. Now I can recognize these thoughts, take a step back, think about what’s going on to cause them and not fall back down that slope. When my husband and I moved across the country, I started to have some depressive thoughts again. I would tell my husband, “I’m stupid,” “I’m too stupid to do this.” He’d be like, “No, you’re not!” He became my rubber band. Now, I’m more aware of the patterns that my mind wants to take and can better cope, and my husband is great support.
Side Effects: The Pill as a Trigger
I’ve also realized that certain birth control pills are a trigger. I was on one pill when I lived in Japan, which was fine… a Japanese brand birth control. I didn’t have any weird symptoms from it. But when I came back to Pittsburgh, I got on something that would cause me to randomly burst into tears. Like, I’d be putting on my socks and start crying. I went back to the gynecologist, and she said, “That’s a really rare symptom. I think you’re just having trouble with your relocation.” (laughs) If I had been younger, I would have just agreed… but I had been through depression before, and this was not how depression went for me… not a sudden sadness over socks. Now I don’t take birth control pills.
Advice for Others with Depression
Try and seek treatment. There are a lot of free services out there, especially if you’re at school. It’s either covered under your activities fee… because that’s a fun activity (laughs)… or in your health insurance. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting with a group of people who understand. It might not cure you, but it helps.
Advice for the General Population
You can’t always see depression. Be aware that someone might look fine, but be thinking about throwing themselves in front of traffic.
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