The memory of my deepest depression still sends shivers through my spine.
I was sitting in my room on a sunny August morning after grinding at my start-up job all night. My roommates were back home for the weekend, and everything was finally still. An eerie, all-encompassing stillness that only hits you when you finally realize you’ve been running your entire life.
At that moment, I experienced a severe derealization episode that lasted for about two to three months. I woke up each day sobbing, dropped 20 pounds, and believed life had no meaning because somehow, I must have made a wrong decision and put myself in this hellish place.
I immediately began therapy and antidepressants, but truthfully, I felt so incredibly isolated that I could not form sentences in my first handful of sessions. I begged my family and friends to promise me this would all go away and that I would be okay.
When a version of me emerged that no one was familiar with, the patience quickly wore thin. People believed my depression was contagious, that I was choosing not to snap out of it, that I was self-serving and had no reason to be so upset.
On an already isolated island, I quickly felt I was drowning.
Emotions weren’t something I was aware that I had no relationship with. I was happy. I was smiley. I was funny to a fault. I was a hard worker. I was kind. And I was all of these things at the expense of my truest self… whoever that was.
From the outside looking in, my life seemed picture-perfect. I never let anyone see me in a different light, always masking the chaos of what occurred behind closed doors to preserve my own sanity. Truth be told existence as I knew it was riddled with lies, infidelity, drugs, crime, physical abuse, emotional manipulation, divorce(s), instability, and betrayal.
Even as I type this now, I can’t believe I was able to convince myself I had swerved the repercussions of a toxic childhood. The things we tell ourselves to survive, though, are remarkable. I have a greater appreciation for my mind now more than ever and how it protected me from evil, even if it was at the expense of my memories.
It felt like the ultimate task: learning to love myself.
Seems easy enough, right? I was working against my mind, which was always preoccupied with anticipating danger. I never had had the opportunity to meet myself, and the job felt daunting.
I was then introduced to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD): a condition commonly associated with negative self-esteem, difficulty with relationships, memory loss, loss of systems of meaning, and lack of emotional regulation, amongst other symptoms. During a year where I felt out of my mind for having feelings for the first time, this diagnosis gave me hope.
And for those reading this who are either depressed currently or who have suffered from depression in the past, you know that hope is the difference between life and death.
While struggling through the depths of a healing journey, we often wish there was a button we could press to immediately feel relief. The adventure to self-love is long and arduous, but it is necessary and, ultimately, life-changing.
I am here today, writing to whoever is reading this to encourage you to keep moving forward. I hope to be living proof that even in the most helpless of times, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you must blindly trust that during the times you cannot see.
It took me about a year and a half to feel like I was beginning to plant strong roots in healthier self-esteem and a way of life. This began with educating myself on C-PTSD, practicing mindfulness and learning to retrain my habitual thoughts, and healing my relationship to emotions.
I no longer look at happiness as the goal or as the greatest of feelings, but at my ability to feel the entire spectrum of emotions as gifting me a fuller, messier, more beautifully honest human experience.
Trust that even when you have no clue what is going on or how to find your way, that is exactly where you are meant to be. If not today, eventually, you will look back and admire your strength, resilience, and dedication to life.
I am rooting for you.