It’s reported that more than three hundred eighty million people across the globe (eighteen million, or one-in-ten people in the United States) struggle with depression. (Forty million, domestically, struggle with anxiety.) Depression reigns supreme as the leading cause of disability for those between the ages of 15-44 (in the US) and claims the lives of more than forty one thousand people per-year by way of suicide (domestically). That’s an average of one soul every thirteen minutes per a web-based study out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Depression and anxiety disorders hold no pretense. Those three hundred eighty million people suffering from depression, worldwide, range in age and culture, religion and gender, race and economic background. They make up your friends and family, your colleagues and other community members. They’re baristas and creatives, doctors and lawyers, teachers, athletes, scientists and even bloggers too.
Clinically speaking, I have been living with depression for more than half of my life. I was twelve years old – and on the heels of my first suicide attempt – when I was first diagnosed with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was a jolting diagnosis as a teenager; even though I was totally aware of my troubling [then] recent thoughts and actions. I knew I wasn’t well but I had no idea the deficiency would last a lifetime, that it would require so much of myself to overcome, or the impact the diagnosis, its symptoms, and my recovery would have on those around me.
To say the least, the last sixteen years have been a whirlwind experience tracking and maintaining the evolution of my depression and anxiety and tweaking the trial-and-error process of my treatment plan. I’ll be the first to admit, I have regretfully failed to prioritise my mental health in recent years and am still working, daily to get to “a better place.” Still, over the years, I have engaged with almost every clinical and holistic treatment plan you can think of from traditional medications and therapy to acupuncture and hypnosis, group work, herbal remedies, and beyond. (The hypnosis was the most fun. Some of the herbal remedies have been the most effective.)
The thing I struggle with most, however, is the vulnerability required to fully integrating my treatment efforts into the most crucial part of everyday life: Instilling awareness in those around me. The anxiety does a great job at creating its own awareness with all of the chronic fidgeting, chest pains, sweating, muscle spasms, insomnia, and symptoms of vertigo. But, the thing about living with depression is that it’s far more easy to manage or overcome if you’re open to to talking to those around you about your struggles, explaining how your experience has been unique, and allow them to support you in your treatment efforts.
Talking about your depression not only vindicates you from looking just as crazy as you feel (because, yes, people notice when something is off) but you’ll need those confidants there on the high days as much as the low ones. Those people, the ones that get it, will be the ones there for you the mornings when you can’t get out of bed and the evenings when you can’t shake the doubt. Together you can keep an eye on symptoms and hold more frank conversations about your mood, psychological state, and even the physical toll your treatment plan is taking.
The most significant moment in my sixteen years of treatment happened almost two years ago, in the autumn of 2016. Frankly, I think I had just had enough, met my brink, and lost all interest in wondering when the Universe would let me feel better. So I took matters into my own hands; over the course of a few short months I had incorporated pretty consistent independent wellness practices into daily life. I started with the commitment to practicing meditation and/or yoga, daily, and made sure I reserved time in my schedule to exercise my curiosity and creativity (learning and production) each week.
They were small strides but even so I would be lying if I denied the struggle to maintain my focus at first and a hypocrite if I said I never entertained the idea of giving up. It’s hard work, to incorporate anything new into your daily life, I know, but once you do it’s even harder to break out of it, especially when the results are positive — and they were.
Once I got a taste of that positive change, I couldn’t stop its momentum. I eventually hired a Raquel (my nutritionist) and Jamel (my personal trainer) to help me take everything to the next level, as soon I knew I could fully commit to the cause. And, I remember, even in the moments leading up to that commitment the voices in my head were saying, “You’ll never be able to stay committed to their regimens. You’re going to fail. You’re going to be this way forever.” The only way I can even remotely begin to describe what they brought to my life and the results of their efforts is: Literally, life changing.
Now I know better and so I do better. Not only am I able to identify the triggers and warning signs of my depression and anxiety but I am able to make healthier choices in a more comprehensive effort to overcome the more difficult times. Sure there are still things I dread (my triggers) but at the reality is the only thing we can really control our own thoughts, actions, and how we navigate the consequences for each.
In the words of Kevin Love, “Everyone Is Going Through Something,” and no two depression or anxiety journeys are the same. It’s important to remember that discovery, severity, triggers, symptoms, and treatment options and their relative success rates can vary person-to-person; the best thing we can do is practice self-awareness, look for signs that those around us might be struggling, and seek help.
There has been a lot of momentum, globally, on opening discussion surrounding mental health; more than ever before. But, we’re not done yet. Together, we need to work to make sure that this momentum doesn’t end and that we’re telling our stories with the best of intentions; to ensure others they are not alone and to inspire more voices to come forward.