The Shame of Depression

Crying at school is one thing, but I couldn’t stop crying! As a sophomore in high school, my teacher sent me to the school nurse, who sent me to see my mom (since she was a teacher). My mom let me stay in her office and cry it out…at first. But after one class period, she came back to her office and said, “you can’t stay in here all day. You have to go back to class.” It seemed incredible harsh at the time because the tears were still flowing. I went back to class with a splotchy red tear stained face. The waterworks continued as I kept moving from class to class…just trying to survive, anxiously wanting the day to end. I just wanted to hide, for no one else to give me weird looks. If I momentarily stopped crying, I still had tears welling up ready to flow. At one point, when someone asked me what was wrong, my friend replied, “don’t ask her or she’ll start crying again!” It was definitely one of the hardest days of my life, possibly harder than childbirth, because even though I was surrounded by people, I felt all alone. No one else was crying. No one seemed to know what was wrong with me. I didn’t even know! Not only that, but no one knew how to make me stop crying, or feel better!

Whether my mom knew it or not, the Lord gave me just what I needed through her that day. The experience taught me how to keep moving forward, despite my feelings or uncontrollable tears.

Fast forward to the following summer.

I devoted my life to Christ at 16 just a few weeks before starting my junior year in high school. Sometime that fall, while sitting in my bedroom, reading my Bible, suicidal thoughts entered my brain. My mom walked by my room to check on me and I told her, “Mom, for some reason, I can’t get the idea of suicide out of my mind.” I don’t remember how she reacted, but I remember feeling freed simply by voicing my struggle. My mom arranged for me to chat with a lady from church who worked for a suicidal hotline. After church one day, we drove to the park and I sat in her car while we chatted and watched the falls. I remember her telling me a lot of statistics, like suicide being common among teenagers, less likely as you get older, etc. While I realize now those statistics may have changed, at the time it helped me gain perspective. I left with a goal to live a long life. She also reminded me that whatever I was worried about at the moment probably wouldn’t matter a few years down the road.

That winter, a classmate of mine ended his life. We were told about it at school within a few hours after it happened. He was in my physics class. This might sound silly, but I felt partly responsible. I had a goal that year as the new class president to get to know everyone in my class. (That was 250 people fyi.) While I knew them all by name and face, I had hardly talked to him. My mom, aware of his passing, checked in with me after his death and I felt able to process everything ok at the time.

Those experiences might have been tremors to a much deeper problem. Or it’s possible that they could be completely unrelated to what unraveled the following year.

Fast forward to my senior year in high school.

As a senior in high school, I was a leader in my youth group, class president, high school mascot, an honor student, and captain of the swim team. I don’t say that to brag, but to explain, that I didn’t look like a kid who was depressed. I was diagnosed with mononucleosis (mono for short) around Thanksgiving. This led to a sudden halt of my busy schedule. No more activities. Very little school. Only rest would cure me.

After two months of social isolation due to my mono, I was sitting in my popisan under my lofted bed thinking, praying, and journaling. A conversation I had overheard eight years prior came to my mind. “You know, she just couldn’t get out of bed and was so tired and we finally realized she was depressed!” In third grade, my teacher had been speaking with someone about a friend of hers. As I recalled the conversation, it sounded all too familiar. My mom stepped into the open doorway of my bedroom and I said, “Mom, I think I’m depressed.” My mom’s eyes widened and she slowly nodded agreeing with the realization. She took me to the doctor. Considering I was about to be 18 that month, my pediatrician simply referred me to the mental health center across the street. That was my last visit with the only doctor I had ever known.

The Process
I started weekly counseling sessions with a psychologist. I was told with counseling and medication most people “snap out of it” within a year. I wanted to be better so I signed up for both.

The psychiatrist my psychologist recommended happened to be the father of a previous best friend who I’d had a falling out with two years prior. “He’s the best we have and I’m sure he wouldn’t hold that against you,” the woman told me. What I didn’t tell my psychologist was that when on vacation with that friend’s family, her dad, the psychiatrist, did some things that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t trust the man. I took it to another friend in prayer and she encouraged me to ask for a different psychiatrist. Thankfully, even though I felt weak and not myself, the Lord gave me the courage to stand firm and I was given a different psychiatrist. Although, I still received a lot of grief from my psychologist for requesting someone else.

My counseling lasted the three remaining months of my senior year in high school. It was just like the movies. I sat on a couch in a dimly lit room while my counselor sat in another chair and we talked. It was very Freudian, talk therapy like. I voiced a lot of fears and things I didn’t feel safe or really have time to voice anywhere else.

One of the first things she asked me was if I’d been having suicidal thoughts. I wanted to respond, “well now that you bring it up, it’s on my mind.” But in reality, I didn’t want that. I just thought, “this would be easier if I were dead.” I remember her asking me if I could do anything, what would I choose. I replied “sleep.” I was so tired of doing so much for so long. I was a very driven and stressed out teenager. We talked a lot about stress management in those sessions. My counselor said she was a Christian, but it wasn’t Christian counseling. Medication started toward the end of the counseling and was prescribed for one year.

The Shameful Identity
Dealing with the depression and my feelings was one thing. Dealing with the shame of it was another. I often felt I had to hide this “depression” imperfection in me, but more than anything, I wanted to be told I was loved despite it. Simultaneously, I had to balance opening up to enough people about my depression in order to heal, while not broadcasting my issues to the wrong crowd-which could cause further hurt. My close friends at school knew what I was going through, but that was about it.

One time at home I felt overwhelmed about something and started to cry. My dad wrapped me in a big bear hug and said to me, “you don’t think you’re ok, but you are.” He’d seen my tears and knew my struggle and yet still viewed me as “OK.” I wasn’t a monster in his sight. My parents didn’t always know what to do with me or really understand how I felt. But they did everything they could to get me the help I needed. And they didn’t talk about my struggle to others. Outside of my parents, none of my large local extended family had any idea.

I felt like I had failed my family. My extended family knew I kept an orange traffic cone in my car so that when I had a dentist appointment during school hours, I could leave and still retain my parking spot. (Before school swim practices ensured that we swimmers had the best parking spots.) What my aunts, uncles, and cousins didn’t know was that I used that cone weekly to go to my counseling sessions. The traffic cone reserved my parking spot so I could hurry back to class.

When you’re in high school, it’s not cool to be on medication for depression, or any mental illness. It’s not cool to leave school for counseling each week. No teachers knew-even though my mom worked at the school.

I had to sign out of school weekly for counseling and the lady who I signed out with always gave me grief over it. I think she thought I was selling drugs and had to meet with the drug dealers or something. She asked awkward questions and made comments to try to get me to spill the beans on what was really going on. Thankfully, I had become very good at being quiet over the years. I found it easier at times to allow people to assume the worst in me than have to reveal the truth. Being rejected for something false felt better than risking rejection for something real.

I often wonder, “when did my depression start?” Was it inherited? Is it a chemical imbalance? Were there circumstances that led to it? Was it undealt with emotions? Hormones? Weather? The answer to all of these questions is: probably. Depression is a chemical imbalance. But did certain things lead to that imbalance? Probably. Certain circumstances often bring a brewing problem to the surface. I was “diagnosed” around my eighteenth birthday, but I recall multiple instances before that time that might’ve flagged “depression.” Undealt with hurts, fears, loneliness, and even success all played a part in my depression. I don’t say that to blame anyone. This isn’t about causation. These posts are about healing. According to my treatment, I was to be healed in one year!

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