Trigger warning: This piece contains details about suicidal thoughts.
This year, the World Health Organization’s theme for World Health Day is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. The campaign aims to open up the conversation about mental health, remove the stigma surrounding it, and encourage individuals struggling with depression to seek help. In light of that — hi! My name’s Madeleine and I struggle with depression. Let’s talk, shall we?
I don’t really remember not being depressed. Maybe when I was little. I remember thinking I was the hottest shit to hit first grade since the Spice Girls or Tamagotchis. Then, around 10 years old, a fog rolled in and just… never left. It was a dark, heavy fog, filled with sinister figures that whispered cruel nothings into my ear and disappeared before I could face them. They told me that I was worthless and unlovable, that everything is pointless and life is pain and joy is an illusion. These whispers became my truths, beads of certainty that I strung together and prayed on, like some sort of toxic rosary.
I didn’t think I was depressed, of course. I was popular, I played sports (badly), I got good grades. In high school, my friends and I had an elaborate dance routine to Cher’s “Believe” that we performed regularly and publicly, and I had a great bit where I would stuff a pillow down the front of my gym shorts and go around thrusting my “front butt” (It will SHOCK you to learn I was single). Depressed people didn’t do these things. Sure, there was a constant, nagging despair at the base of my skull, and some days I felt so hopeless and empty that I wanted nothing more than to dissolve into nothingness, but who didn’t have those feelings?
It wasn’t until college that I started to suspect something was off. Freshman year was wonderful, but challenging: I was in a bad relationship, I gained a bunch of weight, and my grades were underwhelming because I kept skipping class to watch Maury. I came back sophomore year feeling like I was on some sort of delay, like I had somehow ended up in the shitty, poorly dubbed, pirated version of the movie we were all in. I skipped more classes, slept through entire days, drank to black out — anything not to be conscious, anything not to feel.
Once you’ve reached the point where you never want to be conscious, it’s not a huge leap to suicide. When I realized I could end my life, I didn’t feel sad; I felt overwhelming relief. Because here’s the thing: for me, depression is exhausting. It makes going through the motions of being a human exhausting. Doing anything besides laying down and feeling numb is exhausting. Actually, even that’s exhausting. Being alive is exhausting. I didn’t want to kill myself because I wanted to die, I wanted to kill myself so I could get some fucking rest.
But of course, suicide isn’t rest, it’s not relief. Only a very sick, very tired brain could convince you of that.
On the outside, I was more or less fine. I was in a sorority, I wrote for the school paper, I hung out at the campus coffee shop and dressed as a ketchup bottle for Halloween. But for almost a year I thought about suicide every single day. It was a terrible jewel that I kept hidden away inside of my soul, and in my moments of solitude I gazed into its monstrous depths.
That summer, after one particularly explosive fight with my mother, I wrote a letter that I read to her at our kitchen table. I told her everything. As I read, my nerve endings felt like they had been set on fire and my stomach turned and I thought I would vomit and I cried the whole time. Depression thrives on secrecy, on darkness, and my body fought the light with everything it had.
My mother cried and held me and made me promise that I would get therapy when I went back to school. I did and that helped, and then I went to group therapy and that helped even more, and slowly, very slowly, things got better.
Talking about my depression — to my mother, to my therapist, to my friends — saved my life. This is why #LetsTalk campaign is so important. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people are currently living with depression. It affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in every corner of the world. It is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-29. Depression is a global health crisis, and yet it's still shrouded in shame and secrecy. Talking about depression is the first and most important step in combatting the stigma surrounding the illness — not only the societal stigma, but the stigma that we internalize, the one that tells us to ignore or dismiss our pain. Overcoming this stigma saves lives. It saved mine.
I still struggle. I go through entire weeks or months where I’m not really there, where my brain feels like it’s filled with television static and it's like I’m watching my life from behind a soundproof window. That’s just the way it is. Depression is part of me. And while I don’t want to romanticize it, I truly believe that if you’ve experienced the depths of depression, you have a unique appreciation for those moments of joy and clarity and connection that make life worth living.
Let me be clear though, this is only my experience. Maybe your depression is such that you can’t work or attend school full time. Maybe you need medication, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve never thought about suicide, maybe you have. Maybe you’re fine 80 percent of the time, but 20 percent of the time you really struggle. This is why we need to talk about depression. As a society, we have a narrow, incomplete picture of the disease, and if our experience doesn’t fit that narrative, it’s difficult to believe we’re deserving of help. But know that no matter what your depression looks like, you deserve health, and you deserve help.
Finally, my experience was also one of immense privilege. I had friends and family who I could talk to, who were supportive of me, who encouraged me to get help, and I was in a situation where help was readily available to me. Neither of these things are a given. There are people who reject the idea of depression, who will make you feel small and weak for your struggle. Their attitudes will hurt you, and your disease will thrive on that kind of hurt, but it is not real. Depression is real. And if you are not in a situation where help is readily available, there are resources out there, like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Treatment Services Locator.
Depression is real. #LetsTalk.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.