I am no longer depressed!
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week at Columbia, and while I am proud of our community for gradually becoming more open about our current struggles, I want to reflect on a previous chapter in my life and send a dispatch from the other side of depression. There was no catharsis or moment of revelation, but rather a gradual series of simple pleasures that led me to conclude that my depression had subsided. I found myself having fun at a party. I was reaching out to people and genuinely wanted to communicate—and not because I felt a social obligation to do so.
I used to give myself small quotas and challenges—stay at a party for one hour, entertain a conversation with at least three people per day—in order to maintain a veneer of normalcy, to avoid completely disengaging from real life. I thought recovery would feel like revelation, but instead, the cynical, depressive voice in my head has simply been muted. It is still there, but it has ceased to dominate my internal monologue.
With the end of an era comes a twisted sense of nostalgia about my depression. I remember little of my depressed years, which is most likely part of a coping mechanism. My depression and my adolescence are synonymous. My dad refers to the circumstances as "The Great Shitstorm™." My mom went into a depression following the death of her father, and one of my sisters was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hers was a case that was closer to Howard Hughes in its severity than the "charming quirks" of Miss Pillsbury from Glee (FYI: On my scale from Hughes to Pillsbury, Hannah Horvath is somewhere in the middle.) Thankfully, both are healthy today.
I remember my weekly subway rides to see my psychiatrist, Dr. Alter. My family and I referred to Dr. Alter as "The Dude" so I would feel comfortable bringing him up, asking questions such as "Did the Dude call?" or "Would you be able to pick me up from my Dude appointment?" (Despite being Jewish, I still have yet to see The Big Lebowski, for fear of conflating Jeff Bridges' character with my old shrink.)
There was a small, antique-looking lamp and a few uncomfortable chairs, but most importantly, an ever-growing stack of New Yorkers—one of the few things I enjoyed in this period. I was only in middle school, so I would read it backward, starting with the caption contest and proceeding to the film reviews, but then Dr. Alter would open the door before I could get to "The Talk of the Town."
I remember lying across the couch—like you see in those very New Yorker cartoons—and falling asleep once during a mindfulness meditation exercise.
I remember he would talk in metaphors, what with my being young and unreceptive to the details of cognitive science—something about his job not being to cure me, but rather to keep the wheels from falling off. To keep me steady. To keep me from dying.
I remember wanting to die, and I remember explaining this to my mom at a park near our house. I wish I looked at her as I spoke, because all I can remember are my hands picking at the grass.
I remember that when the Dude first wrote me a Prozac prescription, there was a strange sense of joy and relief. Only then did I feel justified in my diagnosis, and only then could I stop blaming myself for these harsh feelings, or lack thereof.
I grew up in—or with—my depression, and I feel that now I need to get habituated as a nondepressed person. When I was depressed, isolation was the solution, and now it is a source of anxiety. In college I am learning to be Not Depressed. The Not Depressed initiate plans, have energy to spare on exercise, and see the benefits of human interaction beyond their immediate utility. I see the benefits of friendship, I have friends, I am a friend, and I want to be a good one.
I still see a therapist, a Columbia med school classmate of the Dude. The Dude is the reason I wanted to come to Columbia. Because he is an alumnus, my high-school-senior self thought that whenever I felt depressed here, I would somehow be able to sense his presence, telling me that I would be okay. I guess I do.
Depression is a brutal beast, but I want you to know that you can get help and it gets better. If you're depressed and reading this, trust me, I would have rolled my eyes too, but please get help and stick around. I still get dysthymic. I still have a loud, cynical voice in my head, but I'm alive and I am glad that I am.
The author is a General Studies/Jewish Theological Seminary junior majoring in American studies. She is a Spectrum blogger.
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