I listened to a YouTube video yesterday. The bestselling author of Untamed, Glennon Doyle, was describing her experience with depression and how she came to terms with it. Her story was captivating and reminded me of my own arduous battle with depression many years ago.
We all know depression is widespread in our society. But how the individual experiences this affliction is unique and completely personal. My story is not hers. My story is not yours.
But perhaps, if we listen to each other’s stories, we can recognize ourselves in them. We may glean some insights that aid us in our own struggle. And if not, at least we discover our shared humanity. Depression may be a personal experience, but the feelings it triggers: grief, despair, apathy, loneliness, terror, self-loathing, low self-esteem, mental and physical immobility, abject wretchedness, helplessness, and so on, are absolutely universal.
So. When did it begin?
My first glimpse of depression descended when I was a sophomore in college.
My childhood dream was to play piano and compose music, perhaps write movie themes one day. So, I chose to major in music. By the fourth semester, I could no longer ignore that practicing piano three hours a day, preparing for weekly lessons that made me sick with nausea (because of my deeply entrenched performance phobia), carrying a full academic load, and working ten hours a week to support myself was just too much. My nerves were frayed and starting to snap. I knew I had to let go of one of the balls I was juggling to ease the pressure. So, I gave up music. Which happened to be my identity, by the way. Oh well.
Tremendous relief came with that fateful decision. Tangible though it was, it also was, sadly, short-lived.
I don’t recall exactly when, maybe weeks later, I was struck by IT. Swiftly and wholesale. Literally a systemic shock. Like a lightening flash, my mind, body, and emotions were pierced with a fiery blast and utterly extorted by this Cloud of Darkness. It was a hostile takeover. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I had no words. No preparation. But it was terrifying and completely out of my control. I felt pierced to the core of my being. I could not fight, ignore, overrule, or resist.
So, I succumbed.
Deep grief ensued. Uncontrollable tears. Self-hatred. Feeling completely lost, alone, inadequate, unloved, and abandoned. I cried all the time. I ate too much junk food and got pudgy. I drank too much and got myself into some “troubling circumstances,” if you know what I mean. I felt like a complete misfit freak and seriously contemplated quitting school. I was utterly miserable and could barely function.
Somehow, I made it through the rest of the term, passed my finals, and decided to try something different for summer break. Instead of going home and getting a job, I landed an opportunity to waitress at a Poconos resort. Lots of college kids around the northeast were congregating there to work for the summer and have some fun. And it was a blast! Lots of concerts, parties, late nights, adventure, and comradry.
Just as swiftly as IT had fallen upon me, my depression lifted. I could barely remember its presence! It really felt like it never happened at all. With the dark cloud dispelled by sunshine, it was easy for me to return to school in the fall, even after giving up on a career in music. I believed IT must have been a one-time thing, a phase. I felt confident it would never happen again. I was so relieved.
Maybe a part of my subconscious feared IT could return. Some anxiety probably still lurked beneath the surface, but I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. I was free, happy, and fully functional. Life was great.
What I didn’t know then, and couldn’t have anticipated, was this first bout of depression was only a trailer for the scary movie still to come. I may have won the initial battle, but I surely had not won the war!
Round two returned with a vengeance a few years later.