Advice for 14-year-old me, living with depression

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Living with depression is awful for anyone but when it starts at a young age, you can start feeling like there’s no escape. You feel like you’re not actually unwell, you’re just intrinsically a miserable person (which oddly enough does not actually help you to feel better). In the spirit of breaking the cycle, here are some things I wish someone could have told me when I was a teenager. Maybe there’s still time for them to help someone else.

There are people who would be mortified at the thought of accepting how they are affected by things on an emotional level. They swear blind that they are in total control of their thoughts and feelings at all times and that anyone who isn’t is weak or foolish. These are the people who run the world. They believe that everyone falls into either the ‘sick’ or ‘well’ category and they’re quite skilled at getting people in the ‘sick’ category to believe that this is the way things will always be. If you want to challenge this, be prepared for a fight. But go ahead. They’re not right.

Get some therapy and don’t listen to anyone’s opinion about it. I’m serious – only you will know whether the person you are seeing can help you or whether they’re a quack. Maybe the people around you will understand and maybe they won’t (they probably won’t) but you can decide what’s best for you. There are plenty of therapists who have the skills and training to be able to give you what you need.

There are layers to everything – layers upon layers upon layers. Maybe you’re lucky and you don’t find life too hard or maybe you’re unlucky and you find everything very, very hard. Everything you think and say and do is made up of about a billion different factors and if you’re depressed, it can take some serious unpicking before you know what’s going on. Don’t rush to find answers – sometimes they will come to you out of nowhere. If you push too hard to ‘figure everything out’ too quickly, you’ll make mistakes and feel worse. It’s OK to be confused – the mentally well (much like the physically well) are lucky, not somehow ‘better’ than you.

Help other people by all means but don’t make it your mission to unburden them of their suffering. Everyone’s individual suffering belongs to them and you can’t take it away. At any rate, if you actually could somehow consume and experience someone else’s suffering on their behalf, you’re taking away a valuable opportunity for them to learn to look after themselves. Be there for the people you care about but don’t throw yourself under the bus because it’ll get in the way of your health (incidentally, you will be drawn to all the wrong people due to your need to take bullets on their behalf – it’s best to stamp this out as soon as you can).

Pretty much everyone you come across as a depressed teenager will form some opinion about who or what you are. There are plenty of people who don’t really believe that mental health problems are a thing and even more people who don’t believe teenagers can suffer from them. So, just for your reference, you are not any of the following things – a depressive, a depressed person, clinically depressed, genetically predisposed to depression (I don’t actually know this one for sure but it’s no help to you even if it is true so bin it), determined to stay unhappy, naturally shy, anxious or sensitive, hormonal, gloomy, melodramatic or pessimistic. I’m serious – it doesn’t matter how many times you hear those words, do not listen. Due to a complex combination of inherited traits and circumstances, you became depressed. You will not always be depressed and it is not hard-wired into your DNA.

You will meet many, many people who will tell you they are good listeners, that they can help you, that they want you to tell them all your problems because they will know what to do. Only a fraction of these people will be able to help you on a meaningful level. The vast majority of them will just be trying to deal with their own shit by passing themselves off as amateur therapists. Some of them like thinking you are doing worse than them and they will work hard to keep things that way. Some of them will have the best of intentions but still won’t know shit. Others will be really nasty to you if you don’t immediately accept their advice. Don’t keep these people around and, if you encounter them, remember that they are just pretending to talk to you – they’re only actually talking to themselves and you happen to be there.

(That’s not to say that you can’t choose to be around good people who may not always be able to come to the rescue. I have a friend who doesn’t know much about giving advice on emotional stuff but he’s still fantastic to have around in a crisis because he’s always calm. Just because someone doesn’t always know what to say to you doesn’t mean they can’t help you in another way. You’ll get to know who your go-to people are for various situations.)

Getting better from depression does not mean never being depressed again. You will have periods of time when you will feel awful. You will wonder how you ever thought you were getting better. It will feel like all the time you spent improving was for nothing. That is the nature of depression – it will make you feel like everything is hopeless when it isn’t. It’s not your default setting – you will come out of it again and much more easily than you did before.

Don’t ever, ever, EVER worry about how you are living your life. You’re not missing the boat or the bus or any other kind of form of transport. You’re not ‘wasting time’ being depressed. These are not the best years of your life. Let go of any idea of how things are supposed to be and any year can be the best of your life. There is no right and wrong, there is only a series of moments. Enjoy yourself when you can and be nice to yourself when you can’t.

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