To all the people who have e-mailed stories, left comments, tweeted, retweeted, interacted with this series in whatever way you have. These stories - your stories - are helping people, including me. I started this on a hell of a low. I might have started soliciting stories for myself, and there's no question that it's been a great comfort to me. But this has become bigger, and it's because of all of your stories; your strength and your bravery and your stories that are so familiar and yet make so many people feel that they're not alone.
This will be the last week that I write at length about my own depression. I will write updates about my medications, my ups and downs, my highs and lows. But it starts to feel self-indulgent, and this series is about all of you, not about me. In future Depression Stories introductions, I'm going to cover news about depression, treatment, public policy and social attitudes. I hope to continue making this series interesting and insightful and I hope you'll keep reading.
As for me, today is my sixth day on Wellbutrin XL. My energy is instantly raised and I feel honestly great. There's a question of how much of this is an effect of the medication and how much is me coasting on a feeling of accomplishment from just doing something to feel better. I know that six days in isn't enough to have a clear answer on that. For now, I'm happy to be feeling better.
As for side effects:
• My first couple of days I was dealing with feeling very antsy, but that's subsided and may have been nervousness at starting an anti-depressant for the first time.
• I had a minor headache the first day, but nothing in the days since. I've also dealt with minor nausea and stomach cramps each day around 2:00, but nothing unmanageable.
• My energy level is fantastic, and I feel very motivated. Again, that might just be a feeling of accomplishment, but worth keeping an eye on.
• My self-esteem is...decent. Case in point: For years, I lamented the fact that I wasn't the "attractive" kind of fat. I wish I was one of those guys that carried my weight in a barrel chest and solid gut, but mine just kind of hangs 'round my midsection. The other night I caught a glimpse of myself in a new shirt and thought, "hey, not bad champ!" Of course, this is all in the service of living up to the "right" way to look, but sometimes you take what you can get.
• Impulsive behavior is something I'm really on the lookout for, because I think it could be an issue while I adjust. Nothing major, but I went to the store to get laundry detergent and I got a wild hair to buy a bunch of cleaning supplies, a new shower curtain and (most importantly) liner and bath mat because the previous bathroom denizen in my new apartment insisted on only having a disgusting white shower curtain. I also felt the need to try to find a few new pieces of clothing. It wasn't a huge deal, something like $86, and they were things that I genuinely need, but I usually agonize more over that kind of expenditure. Something to keep an eye on.
• I haven't really had a low, but my emotions feel much more present. I'm easier with a smile, and I heard "Je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and immediately thought of the English version, "I Will Wait for You" by Connie Francis, that plays over the end of the "Jurassic Bark" episode of Futurama (if you're a Futurama fan, you'll know the one) and my eyes welled up with tears just thinking of it. None of this is a negative; depression, as many of you know, can sap you of emotional capacity.
• I've been smoking more cigarettes in the last couple of days. This is odd, since Wellbutrin is also prescribed for smoking cessation. This isn't a big increase - really, I've gone from 0-2 cigarettes a day to 4-5. But again, something to keep an eye on.
• Eating is different. I get somewhat hungry, but never ravenous, and I enjoy the taste of my food plenty, but I get done eating very quickly and I'm undereating at times. Today I had a headache and got lightheaded in the mid-afternoon, but a handful of chips got me back on track. On the bright side, I haven't had the urge to binge once, and eating - bingeing - was pretty much always on my mind prior to beginning Wellbutrin.
• My dreams have been vivid and occasionally frightening or distressing, taking me a few moments upon waking to gather my bearings and realize that it was a dream. Nothing upsetting enough to have a lasting effect, but a noticeable change.
I hope this works. If not, I'll try something new. Keep trying; keep fighting. Take care of yourself.
As always, I have linked to each contributor's full story. Clicking on each name will take you to their full story. I will be continuing to publish Depression Stories volumes until I have no more stories in my inbox; e-mail me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Depression" if you would like it included in a future volume, and remember to indicate whether you would like your story to be anonymous.
Previous Depression Stories
We Just Want to Be Free: Depression Stories, Vol. 4
'I Feel Like I've Failed': Depression Stories, Vol. 3
Dullness and Fog: Depression Stories, Vol. 2
Somewhere Someone Loves Us: Depression Stories, Vol. 1
*some names changed
In grade 6, I changed schools. I couldn't make new friends. My grades started sliding. My mother is a narcissist and became jealous of me and the attention I got from my step-father. My parents worked a lot and weren't home. I felt alone. And empty. I started keeping a calendar count of how many days I felt like that. 6 months and I was still counting. I asked to be home schooled, but never attended the online classes or did the work. Every day, I slept, or sometimes read. I failed grade 7. I considered killing myself, often. I attempted to drown myself. I'd cut my arms up (and my mother would tease me about wearing long sleeved shirts in summer). I never told anyone. It wasn't for the attention. I wanted to feel pain because it meant I could feel something other than numb and unhappy. I started researching my symptoms and all signs pointed to depression. I told my mother I thought I was depressed and she told me do her a huge favour and kill myself already. That I couldn't possibly depressed. That I've insulted her by even mentioning it. That I was a spoiled little princess, and how dare I talk to her about depression?
So I thought I'd finally do it. I'd finally kill myself once and for all. On New Years, Y2K - I would jump off the top of the building they managed and end it once and for all. I still remember dangling my feet over the edge, wondering if it would hurt. Feeling cold, and scared, and alone, more than ever. And through the doors of the roof, 20 people stumbled in, drunk and loud. They were going to have a party. And part of me wanted to be at the party, too - and I realized, I didn't really want to die. I would never be able to experience the party if I died. That my mother would be the real winner if she got her way. And I wanted, more than anything, to prove her wrong, because I was stubborn. I wanted to become successful and happy and to throw it in her face.
Unfortunately, depression doesn't ever really leave you. I've been on a two year down again. I still can't get help for myself.
My depression started when I was 8. I thought it would be best to have a gun to end my life. I was consumed with confusion and guilt and self hatred for something I went through, and the horror of what happened invaded every waking moment. If a person came to observe my teacher at school, I thought, 'They know. They're coming to get me. I am wrong, and they know. It's against the law. I'm going to jail now.'
I never said anything to anyone. I still haven't although I have seen a therapist and had a round of psychiatrists. I took medication; the first one was an SSRI, pre-black box era. I was hired into a full time teaching position, a windfall, at 24. There were seven separate classes to prepare. I had two degrees, both undergraduate, and neither in education.
I learned that work and achievements were necessary to cover up emptiness and shadows, and I worked very hard. But nothing mattered. I had two emotions, one was emptiness, and the other was I have to do this thing, now.
I took the SSRI, hoping somehow that it would free me. Instead, I became overtly and completely unwilling to live. I have an autoimmune disorder which requires round the clock medicine, via injection, to stay alive. I took the vial in my hands, rolled it around, drew out 80 units, injected it, and ended up in seizures.
I've always been acutely aware of the fact that I take up too much space. I'm too fat (heh, even now at the thinnest I've ever been in my life). I'm too loud. My opinions are too much. I ruined my mother's life. I'm too smart for my own good. I try too hard to solve problems that are none of my business. What's that?
Oh, no, yeah, I totally ruined my mother's life. I was an accident baby, and I've known that for as long as I can remember. If I hadn't gotten in the way, she could have gone to college, had a good job, not wasted her time raising some kid. My grandmother told people not to call her "Grandma" until after my younger brother was born (like five years later) because "it's a dirty word."
When my father died, I was eight, and the family whisper about my mother went something like, "It's such a shame that she has these kids. She could have just picked up her life and started over again."
"Well, she wouldn't have had the others if it weren't for the first one."
I am in my mid 30s and despite exercising lots every week, eating very healthy food, working in infrastructure IT as well as learning Germanic languages. I do as much socializing as I can - when my friends all married and having babies that is not easy.
I am not great.
I found out my contract ends start of April and have gone from being optimistic to crashing badly. I have been thinking of how suicide could be a plausible answer as I think I just exhaust myself and everyone around me with my cheery facade.
My pet is my only constant companion and she is very old.
I have been single for a long time and this depresses me in itself. People seem to think I am doing wonderfully but I am not.
I had to leave work today as I thought I would scream at people, and I was at my desk with headphones in with no music as I wanted to be alone that badly.
I cried and caught myself talking alone on the bus.
"I shouldn't be feeling this way. Get a fucking grip on yourself."
"Someone like you shouldn't get depressed."
"You just need to focus on the positives. Get out of your head and talk to people."
"It'll be ok, it's just a phase. This feeling will pass. It'll pass. You just need to keep going. Ignore the rest."
These are some of the things that I tell myself. I'm struggling with depression and it's taken a long time to admit that I am depressed. My family has a history of mental illness, so it used to be a joke that I was one of the "lucky" ones who didn't get bi-polar disorder. I'm considered "normal" and was expected to be "the strong one". The example for the others on how to keep it together. So the times when I really struggled, I hid that fact to myself which only made it worse. Now, I feel like I'm withdrawing into this darkness, and I've blamed myself for creating it.
"This is all my fault. All of it. It's my fault I feel this way so it's up to me to sort myself out."
More things I tell myself.
Recently, I mustered up the nerve and tried to speak to my supervisors and colleagues about how I'm feeling, but they seem to echo my own words. I can't open up to my family, because they'll find it hard to believe "someone like me" is depressed. I shouldn't be this way but I am. I'm at a loss of what to do. I don't know how to be. I feel trapped and frightened and so, so alone.
I started battling with depression a few years ago. Its gotten progressively worse over the years. It's become almost crippling. It doesn't help right now that I don't have much to do with my days. My boyfriend moved out, my business partners dumped me, and my roommate told me she was leaving all within the same week. It was the lowest of lows. Since then I've been trying to crawl out of this hole just so I can look a day in the face. My days are boring. I wake up, force myself to get ready and then I'm on the couch, or back in bed watching TV or reading a book, my favorite escapisms. Every day I think of the next, telling myself, I'm going to go to the gym, and I'm going to go do this, but it never happens. I spend most of my days at home, only leaving when I absolutely have to. My friends don't come around or call on me anymore which is sad, but at the same time suits me just fine, as I seem to have forgotten how to be around people without being incredibly awkward.
My mom doesn't really understand. She thinks I should just just snap out of this, but she doesn't understand what a beast depression is. It keeps you at its party even when you are ready to leave.
I'm on medication, but it doesn't really help motivate me. It helps keep me from going over the deep end I suppose. I think I'm still searching for the medication that works. Maybe someday I'll find it. In the meantime, I just wish I could motivate myself to apply for grad school and find a new job, because right now I'm barely existing.
I'm not sure if I've always been cognizant of my depression, but it's always been there, to the point where it feels like a weird, sick, sticky little friend in the back of my brain, a warm blanket that I know I can run to. This past year has been the worst of my life, and this is with meds and with treatments and with friends and with everything that one could label a "support system". Blame the winter if you want to or blame my stupid brain, but this winter saw me blow off opportunities left and right to shiver under the covers of my bed and become unable to leave the house, to the point where I'm not even sure what I said to whom or when, or who my friends are any more, because there has been so many broken appointments and so many unanswered phone calls and emails and text messages. I feel like i'm just constantly saying "I'm sorry".
I don't really remember when I first became depressed, it sort of feels like I've always been like this. But I know that isn't true. When I was 17 a friend told me that she wouldn't really mind dying. Not that she wanted to kill herself, but just that the idea of not existing was okay, even comforting, to her. I was shocked and I couldn't fathom feeling that way. I cried for her and assured her that life was okay, she would get better. That's how I know I haven't always been depressed. Because I've spent about 90% of the last 9 years agreeing with that once shocking sentiment. Now I'm shocked that I was ever so free.
I often resent the fact that I have a family who loves me. If they didn't exist then I could go away without causing anyone lasting emotional trauma. Except I know that isn't true. Intellectually I know that this is a disease and that I can get better. But after 5 years of talk therapy and medication, with very little light at the end of the tunnel, it's hard to keep that pinprick of an idea alive. Without evidence I have to take others' word for it. And what if they're wrong? What if it never gets better? Was it Einstein who said that insanity was doing the same things over and over and expecting different results?
My mask is pretty well formed. You'd never know what my life is if you met me at a party. I'm intelligent, friendly, outgoing and conventionally good-looking with a pretty rockin bod. I went to great schools, got great grades and have an enviable shoe collection. My family is sickeningly stable and happy. They love each other and me. My friends are stellar. I am not allowed to be depressed, I have no right. But I hurt and I cry and I sleep and I'm not sure when I last felt peaceful.
For me depression is like being stalked by a phantom doppelganger, one that feeds on failure and shame and has plagued me for most of my life. This probably springs from my interest in sequential and art and books.
I have good days and bad days but the one universal truth is it's always there, like something you notice in the corner of your eye but never quite see.
It stands at my shoulder whispering corrosive things in my ear, like some sort of vampire that feeds on mental pain and anguish, "nobody likes you", "it's all your fault," "they're laughing at you", "what did you expect?", "you're a loser", on and on it goes as my resolve and strength drains away.
The worst thing is feeling as though I can't tell anyone because admitting I'm depressed is admitting I'm weak in the eyes of many, especially for men who are under a constant pressure to fit some alpha male ideal in order to be desirable. I find the opposite is true, it takes strength and fortitude to open up and admit to someone that you're not coping and feel overwhelmed.
I've often thought one of the great wrongs in society is how mental health is often associated with shame in a way that physical health never is , "Have you tried just being happy?", you'd never tell someone with Cancer 'Have you tried just not having cancer?', "Just man up and stop being a pussy", "There's always someone worse off than you", the "advice" people offer just makes things worse and the voice in my ear just says "Told you, nobody cares".
I know at very least my mother has depression I think my father did to but he was so drunk all the time I couldent tell. I really noticed my depression in high school, I tried to hard to be happy even when all I wanted to do was be in the dark alone and crying. I was the loud flirty girl all the other girls hated and that didn't help (and it wasn't the girls fault they didn't know it was all an act)
As I got older and out of high school it got worse I got myself in to a poisonous relationship after years of being homeless I finally got myself and my boyfriend a place to live. In order to pay rent I was working night shifts evey day and had to walk a long way home in the cold. On one of them walks I got jumped by 3 guys one had a gun. I'll skip the worst and just say I was raped and beaten. I got home and begged my boyfriend to take me to the doctor I knew I needed a rape kit done. He told me "why do you need a rape kit you wanted it didn't you?" That's when my depression got at its worst, at one point the man pushed me down the steps and almost killed me. Sine then I've had troubles with blackouts and migrains that make it impossible for me to get out and work. My current boyfriend is fantastic he won't make me go out and work he understands that my depression and my blackouts make it hard for me. But when he starts talking about a second job my depression flares back up and I think" wouldn't his life be better without me? Maybe I should just leave or maybe I can take enough sleeping pills and I can just go to sleep." But whenever I've tried he finds me and saves me again and again
Joshua David can be found on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.
Image via D Sharon Pruitt.