Yet all of that was nothing compared to the feeling of losing control over my thoughts. I began to have periodic spirals that would leave me wishing for death. Not so much that I wanted to harm myself, but more that if only the universe could intervene on my behalf I would finally have eternal relief from the exhaustion and intense sadness in my life. I would pray to be granted a final and permanent escape. I understand now it was simply a default switch, an instinctual reaction on an overstressed brain, but it was frighteningly real and the occasional risky behaviour that resulted became a threat to my life. This I hid from nearly everyone except a few who were too close not to see it.
Being terrified of a diagnosis of depression or mental illness, and of everything associated with those labels, my subconscious rallied hard against it. The stigma around depression that was ingrained in me in my youth had been further reinforced through life and the psychological barricade prohibiting that connection and understanding stood wide and firm in my mind. Unbeknownst to me I was blindsided by the societal messages of depressed person as victim, the suicidal as selfish and merely desperate for attention. None of that is true, but the messages were etched in me deeply and their inherent flaws were impossible to access in my condition. I couldn’t consider the possibility that the root cause of my physical ailments was a mental ailment, and instead I viewed the suicidal episodes to be just another symptom.
Fortunately through it all I maintained just enough motivation to continue searching for answers and eventually I connected with the right professionals – caring, conscientious, and progressive doctors – and I finally felt deeply heard. Through understanding what I could not, they validated my physical concerns and also pulled back the curtain of mental fog and allowed me to see my own reality. To avoid dealing with the seemingly unending losses and grief in my life I had stayed so busy that my stress had become chronic and was breaking my body. Depression wasn’t a symptom, it was the cause of everything I was experiencing. In the end, trying to outrun my grief had made it worse, and the result was a slew of debilitating mental and physical symptoms.
What finally brought me to acknowledge and accept my depression – no easy task for the person intent on outsmarting it – was quite literally by the book. On the checklist of possible causes for depression I could claim every criterion with the exception of having recently given birth. If a person could become depressed by experiencing any number or combination of things so beyond their control was it reasonable to view this as a weakness or selfish or a bid for attention? Was it reasonable to ever believe depression could be thought away? Seeing that list in its stark reality I became conscious of the fact that while I had by most measures an amazing life – a loving and supportive community, a career I was passionate about, and plenty of travel and new experiences – I couldn’t remember feeling happy or excited in anticipation of anything in a very long time. Once that reality penetrated everything fell into place and I had something akin to a full body shift. Suddenly I could take the energy I had been using to maintain a frantic forward progression, using to distract, using to find a physical cure – anything other than identify a mental illness – and I could apply it to the very core, foundational healing that was so necessary.