“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.”
I remember feeling different when I started third grade, as though there was an impenetrable glass wall between myself and my peers. I could see them, I could hear them, but I could not relate to them. Kids don’t handle ‘different’ well and they were not kind to me. I was sensitive and became an easy target. Little did I know this was just the beginning of a lifelong battle between what was considered ‘normal’ and how my brain works.
I have struggled relating with others my whole life, but it wasn’t until high school that I began to understand why. When I was about sixteen years old I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I was officially different – certifiably different – from everyone else I knew. The diagnosis was a stepping stone to understanding it; though I couldn’t really comprehend it at the time, those three words were (and are) the reason behind my struggles.
I wish it on no one and wonder what my life might be like if my brain produced the proper chemicals, yet I cannot dwell upon such fairy tales. Depression has shaped every curve, every groove, every move and choice of my life’s journey. Depression does not define me but depression is a large part of me. To deny that fact would be to deny that I need oxygen to breathe. It is the passion that feeds my creative soul and it is the weight that holds me in the darkest of nights.
The depths of my lows are deeper than any sadness, which is more intense than anything you could imagine. It is beyond sadness. It is feeling as though there will never be light again, like the sun will never rise and there is no moon or stars in the sky. It is nothingness, complete emptiness – like trying to fill a bottomless glass.
I fought my diagnosis in the beginning. I was what the psychiatric community calls ‘non-compliant’ because I did not understand why I had to take a pill to be happy. None of my friends or family needed a pill to feel happiness, so why should I? It made me angry. Being different was not popular, fitting in was all I wanted – and I wanted it desperately. I did not understand that my brain and body was, when it came down to it, broken. So I would take the meds sporadically, not realizing this only made my condition worse. My life was, and to some extent still is, a constant emotional roller-coaster; a ride from which I will never be able to disembark.
Attempting to manage depression is a defeating, numbing, and terrifying experience. While there are a multitude of psychotropic medications on the market, there is very little science to determine which medication will work for a specific individual. I refer to it as the ‘medication game’, wherein psychiatrists take an educated guess based on a patient’s diagnosis and then throw medications into the mix to see if they will alleviate the symptoms. More often than not, medications must be changed multiple times before the right ‘cocktail’ is found and the side effects can be worse than the original symptoms of the disease.
I have reached partial remission once. It lasted almost three years before my sanity started slipping away like sand between my fingers – slowly at first, and then as I tried to hold on tighter it slipped more rapidly away. I was hopeful that a slight tweak in the meds would save me, but it did the opposite. I was suicidal within a week. It has taken two years of playing the medication game, as well as trying Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy, and finally a DNA test to determine which medications my body can actually metabolize, before finding medications that are starting to work.
The rest of the world may think I’m crazy because they don’t know what it’s like to fight for their sanity. My body tries to break me but I am unstoppable. My mind is both my worst enemy and my only hope. Depression swims through my blood, giving life to my words, like the marrow in my bones gives life to my body. This disease will never defeat me. Each broken piece of me is fucking beautiful. Even at my weakest, I am strong, for I am still here, breathing – the evidence of strength is in every additional beat of my heart.
Here’s the craziest part of my whole story… I attended and graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. I met an amazing man I married and live with happily. I am a well-adjusted member of our society and an advocate, not only for myself, but for all people with mental health issues. I am a SUCCESS, by the world’s terms, except somehow, having a mental illness negates every shred of it. The world defines me by my illness, in spite of everything I’ve accomplished.
Depression does not define me, but it is a large part of who I am. As much as I despise the disease, I love who I am and I wouldn’t change that – even if the rest of the world would.
And dammit, I AM a success.
Abbie Zebrowski is a published writer and poet who creates with passion and conviction. She doesn’t shy away from the truth and often writes about her personal journey with depression and anxiety. Abbie is a fierce mental health advocate determined to promote awareness and fight stigmas, which inspired her to start the mental health resource, Depression: Catalyst for Change.