I don’t remember exactly when I crashed. I was cruising, the road ahead looked clear enough. Everything was normal. Then something hit me, and when I woke up I was confused, disoriented, in pain. A deep sadness wrenched at my insides. I never even saw it coming.
Of course I didn’t. Like I said, everything was normal. Not perfect, just normal. I was used to the anxieties and pressures of work and university, accustomed to boredom. But overall I was fine. I had shelved my quest for eternal happiness for the time being, tending instead to the here and now. If someone had asked me, ‘are you happy?’, I’d have struggled to answer them in the general sense their question seemed to imply. But I could refer them to plenty of moments in the past week or so that I’d definitely felt happy. Sure, things could have been better, but they were okay as they were. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was always good.
Then, suddenly, it became harder to get out of bed. The morning sun brought none of its usual joy. Excitement for the day ahead became dread; the daily habits I’d grown fond of repulsed me. A gnawing anxiety gripped my stomach. I felt cold, sad, alone, and I had no idea why.
I never like to use the word ‘depression’ when talking about myself. Too many negative connotations, perhaps; fear of marginalisation; a desire not to be categorised; the worry that naming it was, in a way, granting it too much presence — admitting to it, succumbing to it. It felt almost presumptuous, as if I felt that the label ought to be reserved for those who I felt had suffered more than I.
Yet the symptoms were there. Just a phase, I told myself. I still went out. I enjoyed the sunshine, cooked healthy meals and chatted long into the night over beers with friends. I attended my classes, went running in the evenings and set aside time every day to read. I had a girlfriend since a couple of months earlier, a beautiful, compassionate soul who was the most effective and wonderful distraction from my troubles. When I needed to talk, she was honest, understanding and fair. A real partner. Our relationship did not stall because of my depression, and I’m thrilled (and fortunate) to say we are still together.
I tried to make a point of telling myself that, though I was battling, life was good. At times when the anxiety was unbearable I would stare myself down in the mirror and talk. “You’re okay. Everything’s fine. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong…” But all through each day I could not escape an incomprehensible feeling of futility. My mind was suddenly flooded with questions about where I was headed, what I had achieved, who I even was. I hadn’t notice the time slipping by, and now it was leaving me behind. All the missed opportunities of my past began to haunt me. The invitations turned down. Projects never finished — some never even started. Plans never followed up on. Substances never ingested. I couldn’t accept that my time at university was coming to an end. Was I really already twenty-three-and-a-half?
A cliché it may be, but it felt like I’d grown up before my time, painfully aware of the years that had already passed. I looked inwards and began to judge myself. I ought to have done more, been more, by now. I was torn between wanting to go at my own pace and striving to be worth something in the eyes of others. I felt too old for things, guilty for my lack of productivity. I was caught in an awkward, in-between period, pining for the carelessness of youth and hurtling, kicking and screaming, towards adulthood. Whatever that meant.
In these times of confusion I sought refuge and guidance. I was in need of perspective; I felt that life was spinning beyond my control and I needed to re-calibrate. Perhaps I should have seen someone. Not content to dull my senses with alcohol or drugs, I delved inwards for answers that I suspected were there already, and I needed only uncover them rather than learn fresh. Meditation was hit and miss — to silence my mind was at times too big a task. I kept up my reading, though, and while in my distracted state of mind I found it hard to settle into a book, I would read articles online, or whatever else caught my attention. Sometimes I didn’t care what I was reading; I just wanted to remind myself that there was a world outside my head.
On this went. On the surface I guess I appeared much the same as ever, and though I struggled, I’m grateful that this phase of my life didn’t prevent me from living normally. Depression, as I experienced it, was more a feeling of futility than anything else. I failed to see the point in a lot of things, and I tried my best to counter this by doing things without thinking about them. (This is not a strength of mine.)
There were, I should say, some good things to come out of my experience. I read intently across a wide range of subjects. Rather than sticking to reading things that would comfort me or reinforce my views, I made a point of reading to learn, both about the world and myself. The long periods of introspection led me to understand myself better, and I feel that I have grown wiser as a result. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, by forcing myself to carry on, to live each day as normally as possible, I was able to continue to learn and grow and make my way through life without stagnating. It wasn’t a breeze, and at times it felt near impossible, but I can look back on that period and say, with confidence, that I kept moving forward.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. This article began as a late-night exercise to get back into the habit of writing. The mental struggles I have endured have become a rich vein of inspiration, and the more I mined the deeper I found the vein to be, the more I felt I should have done this much sooner.
I’m afraid I have no advice to others suffering from depression or anxiety. Everybody is different and what works for me may be inadequate for somebody else, and vice versa. Like I said, I wrote this to explore and express my own experiences, not as a guide to others. That said, I’m aware that I could have opened up sooner, and if you’ve suffered too and this article helps you to make sense of your own experiences or encourages you to open up, I’ll be very glad. Drawing on my very basic psychological inclinations I would say that my problem was situational, a prolonged state of dissatisfaction that eventually lent itself to mental anguish. I felt that by removing myself from the environment in which I’d crashed I was able to leave a lot of my problems behind. You might see this as running away. I see it as getting the change of perspective I so badly needed.
Since this period of struggle I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. For the first time in over three years I have no immediate commitments. I’m on a break from university until February and worked to save up enough money to support myself until then. I feel rejuvenated. I recently turned twenty-four, yet in a way I feel younger than before. Since breaking away from the rut I was in I have a renewed enthusiasm for the things I previously enjoyed. I’m writing again, ideas are flowing, and my creative output has recently expanded into photography. I’ve been travelling again (I’m abroad as I write this), and am more driven than ever to seek out the novelties and simple pleasures of day-to-day life.
I’ve made new friends, and reconnected with old ones. My relationship is a constant source of excitement and happiness, and grows stronger by the day. And I’m eager, once again, to learn, to discover, to fill my mind with deep thoughts and new ideas and fresh perspectives. I still get anxious. Some days I feel bleak. Looking to the future worries me. But I accept these things and try to work with them as best I can. The future is uncertain, but every day is a chance for me to grow and be better, and to be good to those around me. I’m thankful for that.
-This post was originally published on Medium