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A Mere Experience

“I start to feel like I can’t maintain the facade any longer, that I may just start to show through. And I wish I knew what was wrong. Maybe something about how stupid my whole life is. I don’t know. Why does the rest of the world put up with the hypocrisy, the need to put a happy face on sorrow, the need to keep on keeping on?… I don’t know the answer, I know only that I can’t. I don’t want any more vicissitudes, I don’t want any more of this try, try again stuff. I just want out. I’ve had it. I am so tired. I am twenty and I am already exhausted.” – Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation.

Wurtzel’s autobiography documenting her struggle with depression and experiences with the antidepressant Prozac was published in 1994. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the book’s publication, yet after all this time, the vivid manner in which she describes her disorder is still relevant and ubiquitous for all those who have suffered or are still suffering from this illness. There were a few reasons why I decided to touch upon this topic for this week’s column. One of the biggest of these came from a place of personal struggle.

For those who may not know, I suffer from depression. I have for the last six years, yet it was only until roughly a year ago that I could put a name to the dread that I had felt for so many years. When one suffers from this disorder, it can be very difficult to explain how it feels, especially when each person experiences it very differently.

Before I go on, I do want to make this point clear: This is not an “end-all, be-all”, definitive understanding of depression. My case has ranged from mild to moderate and many people’s symptoms greatly vary. Some of the things I may talk about can be common among those who are diagnosed, while others may have had vastly different experiences. Depression is very much a spectrum and I can only speak for myself and no one else.

Depression can, among other things, completely warp your views on reality. It makes the littlest of things seem like the greatest of slights. A written comment on a paper or exam, such as “You really should have prepared more,” can come off as a vicious condemnation toward your intellect and the commitment to your duties as a student, easily ruining the rest of your day. Or take seeing friends of yours going out and hanging out somewhere without you. They may have a perfectly logical explanation for why they didn’t invite you, but in my mind, I have seen that and thought I had done something wrong or that they really didn’t like me as much as I thought they did. Your mind can immediately run to the most negative of places.

As I got older, my depression would come in waves. Some months were better than others, and there would even be times of great sustained levity and relief. But after a while, my feelings of immense grief would come back. It was as if there was this great hole in my chest and the life had been sucked right out of me. Getting out of bed in the morning was laborious and if I could, I would stay in bed for hours, only leaving my room to grab food or run to the restroom. Food and cigarettes were things I used to assuage my feelings, but they were only temporary fixes. Soon, I would just ruminate and wallow in my own self-deprecation. In a sick way, I looked forward to it being the middle of the night where I could sneak out and be all alone while smoking a pack of Newport’s, spending hours hating myself. I would look out into the night and think of how much of a loner I was, how no one really understood me, how it was me against the world. I thought that if I couldn’t get over it, I could try to embrace it, but it soon began completely enveloping me. I started thinking about my death more often, how I wanted to die, if people would really care enough if I died to come to my funeral, and even if I had the “guts” to kill myself. When these thoughts of suicidal ideation became more and more pronounced, I knew that this was greater than I could handle on my own.

I went to CAPS for the first time last year. My first session was a bit awkward, especially getting used to how this worked. I felt, as a Psychology major, I at least knew the ins and outs, but I also felt ashamed. How could I try and pursue a career as a therapist if I, too, was “crazy?” What would people think if they found out? Luckily, I learned a lot, like how it wasn’t so weird to go to CAPS after all; how graduate students in the counseling program at Rollins are required to talk to counselors themselves as they go through their program. And after a while, things got easier. I started to open up, was taught ways to identify my triggers, as well as learning how to avoid the pitfalls that I had fallen into in the past. Most importantly, I could put a name to what I was going through.

At this point, you may be wondering why I am sharing all of this with you. A few weeks ago, I had an episode. Many of my triggers went off all at once: I was behind on my Fulbright application, the stress of my psych courses was mounting, I had been slacking on thesis work, and of course, problems with my love life was the nice cherry on top. But this time… I didn’t fall as hard. While I couldn’t stop myself from feeling depressed, I could remind myself what I was feeling was okay and I worked on getting myself out of my head.

Depression is a disorder not fully understood by all and while awareness is improving, people still don’t understand how difficult it can be to live with. It’s not something you “just get over.” Just because others “have it worse” doesn’t mean your pain is less meaningful. With midterms and the difficulties that this time of year brings, I write this for those out there who may be feeling a similar way. The best thing I ever did was go and talk to someone. CAPS is truly an amazing asset we have at this school and I cannot stress how important it is to utilize it.

Yes, it is a cliché, but things do get better. I can’t tell you that you’ll magically be “cured,” which was a difficult concept for me to grasp at first, but you go on. You learn your triggers. You go to therapy and, if necessary, take medication. But you can live a productive life. You can survive it. For me, I look forward to the days where I wake up and can easily take on the world. The thoughts of how horrible life seemed are replaced by feelings of peace. It’s those days that make it all worthwhile.

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur, its staff or Rollins College.

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