Life is Long: Focus on its rewards is key to fighting depression

Depression can cloud the whole world view of those who suffer under its grip.

By: Lexi Sheeley

It’s a radiant day outside. The sun is shining, the breeze only slight, and you’re listening to your best friend talk about his or her day. In the moments that pass, you’re doubled over, laughing at something they said. Your eyes are twinkling with happiness, and you think nothing gets better than spending time with someone you love.

You order Chinese and spend the rest of the night talking about your crushes, while a new television show is playing in the background. It’s just a typical day for you, and nothing seems out of place. As you fall asleep, you wonder what types of adventures you will go on tomorrow. On the other side of the bed, your friend twists and turns trying to get comfortable. You fall asleep listening to her soft breathing, and everything feels at ease.

But the next morning, you wake up, and it’s like something in your brain changed. You wake up and you feel nothing. It’s like you’re immune to what it feels like to feel anything, and as your best friend says something that would normally make you smile, you don’t. You know what’s happening inside of your mind, but it’s something you won’t admit to yourself.

You see, when depression hits, it’s not like a poem, nor is it like a scripted scene out of a movie. Depression comes and goes as it pleases. It’s there for the best moments of your life, and it’s there to take everything away.

So, now, you can see the sun peaking out from behind your curtains, but the light is already too much, and you throw the blankets over your head. You hear the footsteps of your parents running about, trying to get things ready for the day. Your sister is laughing loudly with her friends in the room above you, and you wonder how your childhood got away so quickly. Your phone is buzzing from the texts your friends are sending, telling you to wake up because today you were supposed to go on a road trip and spend the day living wildly before the weekend came to an end. But you shut your phone off and roll over to the other side of the bed.

It’s colder on that side, and the coolness reminds you to feel something. You woke up this morning, and the first thing you thought was damn. You stare at your wall thinking nothing and feeling as if you’re a failure for not getting up or even turning on the light. You’d rather lie in bed because the thought of seeing other people makes your heart race like you had just run a few miles, and you feel sick. Not physically, but emotionally.

Your panic attacks become constant, and it’s like an earthquake struck your body while the world itself stayed still. You’d run to the bathroom at school when your voice started to get weary, and your body would shake uncontrollably. Normal day to day life becomes hard because you feared everything surrounding you. You had a hard time enjoying things, and you knew that you’d fall back into the hands of depression.

You fought and fought until it overcame you, and when you woke up, the lights in your mind went blank. You fall back asleep until three and groan, and you decide to leave your room. Your mom smiles at you but doesn’t say anything because she knows too how your mood has shifted, but she doesn’t know how to comfort you anymore. You shut people out of your life while you try to understand why you can’t be happy like them. Everyone you’ve ever loved somehow becomes background static, and it’s like they cease to exist.

You heat up some leftover food, and as you start to eat, you can’t swallow more than two bites of food. Your mom stares at you as you swirl it around the plate, and you leave it there on the table and retreat back into your room, which hasn’t been cleaned in days.

I became depressed in sixth grade when I started struggling with self-acceptance. It’s something many young people deal with well into their teenage years, but I let my insecurities destroy who I was. It wasn’t easy dealing with the anger I felt towards myself, and I resorted into sadness that has stayed with me. I was unable to cope and love myself, which I’ve learned is a valuable thing. I’d like to think that being able to love and accept yourself is the biggest weapon out there. I just wish I had understood that at a younger age.

I didn’t want to reach out for help. In some ways, I was ashamed of what I was feeling. I was still pretty young when things got bad, and often times people looked at depression as if it’s some type of self-diagnosed illness.

There’s nothing romantic about my story. To this day, people have told me my experiences through depression are some kind of a beautiful yet tragic instance. I’m a hell of a fighter, to say the least, but what I went through is anything but beautiful.

You see, depression likes to make everything feel and look wrong. Depression likes to make living seem like too much of a burden. Thousands of lives are taken from mental illnesses, and I don’t want to associate my life with praising the fine line between life and death.

Seventh and eighth grade were extremely rough. I’d been in therapy, and I was able to start to find ways to cope that weren’t harmful to myself. I developed my love for writing, and I realized I wanted to do so much more with my life than to be weighed down by unrealistic thoughts.

I was on medication to try to balance the chemicals in my brain, but I now think overcoming depression is more than just three or four pills a day over the course of a year. You find a reason to live, and you hold onto that will for the rest of your life.

And, yeah, I had some terrible days. I’d sit on my floor and scream and cry while my parents hid behind my door wondering how they could fix their little girl. Over the good and bad days, I wanted to start living my life as an actual life, but as I started to get better, I’d just crash again. It’s been five years, and I still struggle many days with finding the courage to be happy.

I’ve come to learn I have an amazing life. Even through my darkest years, I’ve managed to be OK for long periods of time. And when I say happy, I mean undeniably happy. I look around me, and I see there’s always light in the worst moments, and it’s helped me get past the days I swore to myself I’d never make it through.

Some days I relapse, and I feel no different than those moments of questioning whether my existence was a gift or a burden, but as cliche as this sounds, I know I’m here for a specific reason.

Allowing mental illnesses to overcome a precious life is truly heartbreaking, and I hope those struggling start to fight for their god-given right to live. It’s extremely hard to stop yourself from falling into the mess of self destroying words you tell yourself day after retched day, but hope is an amazing thing that can carry you to happiness.

I look back, and it amazes me how far I’ve come. It’s OK to be proud of yourself, and I’ve learned to appreciate the things I’ve done. I am not a victim but a mere survivor. Sometimes, it’s just easier to let the darkness consume you, but I’ve managed to overcome those things that stood in my way. Terrifying is an understatement for some of the things I felt, and to be here today is the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt.

To those struggling, I applaud you. I know it takes a great deal of courage to pull yourself up, and it takes strength to keep moving. I also understand that in a judgmental world, it’s hard to reach out for help and comfort.

But don’t be afraid. There are so many lovely people out there willing to support you. I used to think it was cliche to say that over time things got better, but I’m glad I listened. There is always a reason to live, and I hope you can find solace in something.

For a while, I thought I was doomed to be depressed for the rest of my life. Honestly, I was scared of the things I was able to think of when I was at my worst, but I’m grateful I’m still here. I’m glad I fought through it. And I’m glad to be alive and happy.

Cancer and any type of mental illness are no different. Many people will die from both, but whether or not we perceive them as opposites is beyond me. There may not be cures to either, but survivors come out of both. The scars on my body are no different than those of a cancer patient. In the end, we do what we must to survive.

So, I don’t promise much, but I can promise this: no matter who you are or what you’re going through, big or small problems, everything will be OK. It’s easier said than done, but I can guarantee looking back and saying “I made it” is what living is about.

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