I lived two lives for more than a decade.
From the time I was in seventh grade until my early 20s, there was the me that everybody knew — the happy, funny, outgoing Lauren — and the me I hid from the world — the introverted, sad Lauren that, if left alone too long, got lost in the dark recesses of her mind.
Here’s the thing, though: I always felt like both lives were the real me. I never felt like I was putting on a show for my family and friends. I truly was as happy as I was sad. As loving as I was self-loathing. The difference was that I knew others wouldn’t want to know the sad version of me. My unhappiness, my eating disorder, my suicidal tendencies would only make others uncomfortable.
When I was 23, a series of events and mistakes led me to the darkest place I’d ever been. So dark, in fact, that I was no longer able to separate my two selves and my relationship began to suffer. Stephen urged me to get help.
I didn’t want to see a therapist. I didn’t want to open old wounds. I didn’t want to invite a stranger into my life to analyze and judge me. But, more than anything, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help.
But, I loved Stephen so much more than I loved myself, and so I consulted Google. On a page full of “Baton Rouge therapists,” I found the friendliest looking woman, swallowed my pride, and called.
That’s it. I tried.
An hour later, she called back.
As my rational side knew she would be, Brittany was fantastic. She listened intently. She offered practical suggestions for dealing with anxiety. And she told me what I needed — but certainly never wanted — to hear: I had major depression.
Of course I did. I’d always suspected I did but maintained a “this couldn’t happen to me” mentality. Admitting I had a mental illness felt like admitting I was crazy. And admitting I couldn’t manage “my crazy,” as I called it, by myself. It felt like losing my power.
But, admitting all of that, realizing that my daily thoughts of suicide were not normal, and accepting that I did, in fact, have depression, was empowering in its own right. It was owning my crazy. I was able to face my demons head-on with the help of my pretty little friend, Pristiq.
It didn’t get better overnight. Just as depression isn’t a headache, anti-depressants aren’t ibuprofen. But, it did get better as the medicine helped increase my brain’s serotonin.
Once it got better, I was able to get off the medication. And then, my relationship became long distance and it got so, so much worse. I cried myself to sleep every night. I gained 80 pounds in a year. And I got back on my medicine.
That’s the thing society doesn’t seem to understand: depression is a disorder. Often (as I suspect in my case), it’s genetic. It doesn’t just go away forever like a virus your body has fought off. Stephen and I have been living together for three years, and I have countless other blessings in my life. But, it’s still a struggle. Every. Damn. Day.
But, I now know I have the support of friends, family and the love of my life. I know exactly what is happening when a suicidal thought starts creeping into my head — and exactly how to squash it. I know the mantras to keep my crazy in check. I know the workouts — not the foods — that relieve the most stress and produce the most endorphins. I now know how to manage my depression by doing things I love like writing and reading and spending time with Stephen.
That’s all I’m doing, though: managing it. I’m not cured because I’m happy. It’s something I’ll manage my entire life. But, it will never manage me again.
Am I terrified that opening up like this will hurt me professionally? Of course. I know the stigmas. For the longest time, the stigmas are what kept me from getting the help I needed. But, when I told my first boss, she was nothing short of incredible. She increased her mentorship of me but made sure to never relieve my responsibilities. When an asshole at my last job told both my supervisors — and all my coworkers — that I was suicidal, I thought it was the end of the world. But, my boss actually started being nicer to me. (There’s a silver lining to everything, right?) Fortunately, in my current job, I feel safe and am confident that my colleagues will only support me.
Regardless, I have to talk about it. Because, until society understands the realities of depression and mental illness as a whole, the stigmas will continue. I will still be told to “just get over it.” “Friends” will still consider it to be a juicy bit of gossip. And those undiagnosed will continue to suffer in silence.
If you suspect you may have depression or a mental illness, please tell your family or friends. If you’re too afraid to do that, seek out a therapist (most are covered under most health insurances). If that’s out of the question, go online for resources. Hell, message me. I’m in no way qualified to give you advice, but I can listen and help you find the resources and help you need. But, please, don’t continue to suffer. There’s a whole life worth living. A day worth seizing. And it’s up to you to take control.
To be honest, sometimes the depression has control and it feels impossible to seek help in any form. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the ones you love. Had Stephen not, essentially, forced me into therapy, who knows where I’d be. If you think someone you love may suffer from depression or a mental illness, be kind. Love them. Support them. And help them get help.