Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of suicide that may be triggering to some.
“Most people dismiss depression and anxiety as ‘just in your head.’ I mean, they are called ‘mental illnesses’ for a reason. Just as physical illnesses are real, mental illnesses can affect your behavior, thoughts, and mood, to the point that neuroimaging practices can observe structural changes among people with depression and anxiety disorders.
Growing up in the digital age with a smartphone allowed me to learn about the best alternative treatments for depression and natural remedies for anxiety. At the time, however, my home state’s legal restrictions stopped me from trying options to self-medicate. Now that I’m an adult, I am free to access these alternative treatments to cope when I go through my episodes.
To provide perspective, I am a clinically depressed 25-year-old white man from a household of three. My single mother has been the family’s breadwinner until I was old enough to get odd jobs as a writer. My younger brother has a heart condition that limits his physical activity. I am only establishing this picture to give a glimpse on how neglect played a role in my adolescence for practical reasons. By this, I mean my mom had two kids to feed, with one of them needing special medical attention.
Every time my brother had an attack, Mom would have to take time off work to rush him to the doctor. He was literally and visibly ‘sick.’ I couldn’t convince her to get me to the hospital for just being ‘sad.’ I was convinced all my depressive tendencies were fake and all in my head. I would think my teenage problems were not real and insignificant. Bills needed payment, and my brother needed heart medications. There were real, tangible problems I was forced to face day to day. I failed to consider my brain was just as real as my brother’s heart.
Against my better judgment, I thought the smartest and most practical solution to my depression was to bottle it up. You know how people say your feelings will burst when you stifle your emotions? Much later in life, I would understand this adage first hand.
I will be recounting my teenage experiences I now realize were manifestations of depression and anxiety. The most common association with depression I experienced was feeling sad, including crying spells for no apparent reason. Perhaps this stemmed from my upbringing. Crying was definitely not associated with boys. With this, I believe the ‘sadness’ I felt manifested more as emptiness or hopelessness. I felt nothing.
Looking back, I realize I was not feeling ‘nothing.’ I avoided the natural emotions I was feeling. As the ‘man’ of the household, I had to suppress the urge to cry over my family’s situation, with all our financial problems and whatnot. I can only be thankful now that I had enough sense to recognize our situation and avoid choosing violence. I feel compelled to mention avoiding violence. I think it necessary to destigmatize the notion of mentally ill persons choosing violence whenever a school shooter who looks like me is featured on the news as a ‘troubled teen.’
Choosing violence from feelings of frustration or anger, even over small matters, is a direct emotional change associated with teenage depression. The most violent I have ever been as a teenager was in my sophomore year. One time, I flipped over a table when a classmate forgot to do their part on a group project.
That same day, I met the guidance counselor. I walked her through my ‘reasons’ for doing what I had done. I explained I did not have the luxury to fail a project worth 50% of our final grade and potentially get left back. At the moment, I suppose I could not control my worry about the future, so I overreacted and projected too much of my unresolved anger on that table.
The guidance counselor was a nice lady who suggested channeling anger elsewhere, perhaps the arts, like writing. So, I considered giving it a go. I mean, why not? She was a qualified lady who knew what she was talking about, and I was just there with an empty, thoughtless head. I had nothing to lose.
I kept a journal, and it only worked for a couple of weeks before I started noticing the little details of my writings. I remember feeling like nothing about whatever I wrote was substantial, and I could have been doing something more practical, like getting a job. Now I see that was the low self-esteem, worthlessness, and guilt manifested.
I think it is safe to reveal this era of my life was happening around 2014. During this time on the internet, dozens of online quizzes assessed whether or not someone was depressed. Of course, I took a few, and unsurprisingly, I was depressed indeed. I followed bloggers who were a few years older than I was at the time. They had access to therapy, and they shared their insights with the community of online bloggers. Their accounts sort of vicariously helped me with my supposed depression.
One particular account talked about a skill they learned in dialectical behavioral therapy, called ‘opposite action.’ This skill involves performing activities that are the opposite of what your mind is making you do. Like, if you need to flip a table, perhaps reconsider what that would lead to first, and then leave the table alone.
I made it through six years with depression by only reading personal accounts with mental illness online. I suppose I am functional enough to navigate life naturally, despite my mental illness. I understand it is different for everyone, but I, too, got to my breaking point when I physically felt I needed professional help.
I sought a therapist for the first time last 2020, on February 5th. It was a Wednesday and it was overcast, so I hoped I could get all my errands done before it rained. At the time, my errands were only to get a professional evaluation, check the post office for my package, and get a haircut. Although I didn’t make it before rain fell, I accomplished all three things, so that was a little victory.
When I arrived at the clinic about an hour early, the secretary handed me a test, not unlike the online quizzes I took before. In the back of my mind, I figured I really did not need to be paying all this money for something I could easily do online for free. I know the internet costs money. It still does not come close to a doctor’s fee. The only difference between online self-diagnosis and the professional diagnosis was the prescription I got.
My therapist is another nice lady, like my high school guidance counselor. She opened with a ‘Hello’ and a ‘How can I help?’ I began with the moment I knew I needed help. In my past writing gig, I am saying this humbly, I produced excellent output clients praised. I was comfortable with my performance, until my literal boss reprimanded me for not attending a company party because I had to stay home and look after my brother. I would have accepted getting scolded about work instead.
In my therapist’s words, I ‘caved in.’ As small and insignificant as that scolding may have objectively been, it was my breaking point in my reality. She looked over the test I took and flat out said, ‘So, it really looks like you’re depressed.’ Although I sort of already knew, hearing it from a licensed professional only validated everything I’ve been through. I felt seen. My therapist prescribed escitalopram for my depression and scheduled another meeting after a month of taking medicine.
Among the things I’ve noticed when I started taking meds, I felt like I dissociated more. I was also more emotional than usual. I quickly cried over little things, and I didn’t care who saw me. There was clarity and decisiveness I distinctly remember within the first week of taking antidepressants. I instantly swept, washed the dishes, and arranged my digital files when the thought occurred.
However, I also experienced indifference. I have never entertained suicidal thoughts, but after taking my prescribed medicine, I somehow did not mind dying at all. Once, on my walk home from the office, I almost got run over by a truck. I did not panic at all or fear for my life. I simply accepted maybe it was my time. When I mentioned this instance to my therapist, she admitted it was strange because the medicine should help me avoid thinking about suicide. Then again, that moment was not entirely about killing myself.
Now a year into my clinically depressed era, my therapist has given me the okay to stop taking antidepressants. I still practice a lot of the coping skills I learned from real people when I was a teenager. The only difference is now, I have prescribed medicine, which truly helped.
However, from my experience, I can say medicine can only do so much. I actively incorporated real skills into my recovery. Had I started medication when I was younger, doing what I had already been doing in the first place, who knows how stable I would be today.
Just as I’ve learned a lot from an online community of mentally ill bloggers, I think community healing is very interesting. Those of us who have immediate access to professional therapy can share our insights and skills to others without such opportunities. I suppose this explains why I am drawn to topics about alternative medicines.
There are larger factors that contribute to teenage depression and anxiety today. From a global pandemic to a declining economy, it is not surprising for young people to become depressed and fail to see a bright future. Unless we see structural and organizational changes, the best we can do is understand our position in society and make the most of what we can access.
The internet has countless mental health resources available to anyone who can go online. Countless blogs and podcasts offer wellness advice to people with similar experiences we may have. Just remember these are not replacements for a relationship with a licensed mental health practitioner.”
If possible, consider contacting the National Institute of Mental Health through the following lines:
- Phone: 301–443–4513 or
- Toll-free: 1–866–615–NIMH (6464)
- TTY Toll-free: 1–866–415–8051
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.nimh.nih.gov”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stanley Clark. You can follow him on Twitter. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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