(German version here)
I will probably always refer to the summer of 2015 as the summer of “the big depression”. A lot of time has passed since then, a lot has happened. For quite a while I have been toying with the idea of writing about this very topic. Many times I started writing, only to drop it again immediately after jotting down the first sentences. I just didn’t feel ready then to share this very intimate story of mine. Maybe I’m still not completely there yet. But I have definitely come to understand a number of things, which, for the longest time, have kept me puzzled.
During said summer, I experienced the worst depression of my life so far. Yes, there have been more than just one. I turned 25 three months ago by the way.
During that phase, I lived hour by hour, day by day. Constantly negotiating with myself. How much longer would I be able to do this? Was this really worth it?
Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. There was simply nothing that could make me smile just for a little bit. My body was hurting, my soul was burning. I would spend all day lying in bed, taking turns at crying and then being absolutely silent again, staring at the roof, not moving at all, going through one panic attack after the other.
I was really trying hard to justify this bleak existence of mine to nobody else but myself, moment by moment. Everyday activities like eating, drinking, taking a shower or getting dressed seemed physically impossible. Things I would only bring about due to the effort and persuasiveness of my closest environment. Long story short: I had simply unlearnt how to live.
After weeks of refusing to start taking the meds, which basically every doctor I had seen by that time recommended me to take, I gave in. Yes, I am talking antidepressants. At one point, however, my mental state just got way too critical not to act on it. I really tried not to go down the antidepressant path, having spent weeks trying out all the natural substitutes I was able to find at the time… since I was not gonna be one of those people, you know, the medicated ones. “Me? Naha, not gonna happen.”
Well, eventually it did happen. The weeks until then felt like years. Desperate years with no end in sight. And we’re only talking about a timespan of about probably three weeks here. I already had the prescription sitting at home, mocking me day by day when I looked at it. Like I said, I was just resistant to go there. At one point, though, I was simply ready. Ready to at least give it a try.
So, I did it. I took the first half of a pill, the second half, the third one. After a couple days, I raised the dosage to a whole pill. A dosage to which I would stick for quite a while. Longer than I would have thought. But more on that in a bit.
I was very sceptical at the beginning. Would this even make a difference? Would I keep being me? Would I start blunting? Or even gain weight? heeeell no! I had heard too much about all the side effects of the particular antidepressants at the time. So much stigma has been build up regarding this topic.
After two weeks of setting the optimal dosage, I could finally start to feel a difference. Slowly but surely, I was able to sleep and eat again. And, what made everything even better, the constant panic attacks were diminishing day by day. It simply got a tiny bit easier every day. Little by little, I started to enjoy things again. I slowly relearnt how to feel happy again, to smile… to live. Things that had started to be nothing but alien to me.
Also, I was finally ready to open up to my therapist about certain topics that had been leading up to this difficult phase of my life. My therapist is an angel. I could not be more grateful for her. She definitely didn’t have an easy time getting me to the stage of opening up and being real the months before I hadn’t taken medication yet. I was in my own world. I wanted help, but simply resisted to take it, even though it was right there.
I’m not gonna lie, it is still difficult for me to think back on this period of my life. At least at this very moment. I remember everything as if it happened yesterday.
Gradually, I could feel a sense of deep joy and gratitude rising up in me again. I started moving my body daily, found a new job and spent tons of time outside. I biked in the country, meditated in tears at the bank of the Danube, devoured one self-help spiritual hippie book after the other. I simply started again to enjoy sports, to be in nature, to meet new people as well as to take better care of the already existing relationships in my life. I was ready again to look into a better, brighter future and thus also started planning little projects, setting myself some goals, getting back into writing. Daring to finally act on my passion, setting up a website and planning out my blog definitely represented a BIG part of my recovery – especially on harder days. And it still does up to this day.
Reading all of this, you might be asking yourself, what it is exactly that I want to achieve with this post. Well, those of you who have been following me on my writing path for this past year and/or know me personally – so, basically most of you haha – know that to me one of the most important things in life is being open and honest with one another. Especially when talking about often frighteningly personal matters. Matters which still tend to be swept under the carpet in today’s society. Matters such as depression and antidepressants. So, if there’s one thing I want to achieve with these lines, it is encouraging or contributing to, respectively, an unbiased, open dialogue about mental health.
We tend to associate mental illness with being weak. In everyday situations, we use expressions such as “wow, she’s so bipolar”, “he probably has ADHD or something” or “I was about to have a panic attack” way too liberally (and yes, I’m guilty as charged), almost making fun of the particular disorders. Without even realizing it – let alone even wanting to do so.
Willingly or not, our language shapes the way we think. It shapes us so much in fact that, should we ever find ourselves in one of these mental states, we ourselves will most likely feel ashamed, weak or worthless. We consequently might even deny ourselves urgently needed help since… you know… “this only happens to other people”, “I’m going to be fine”, “I don’t need antidepressants, that’s for people who really struggle” and so on. Well, what can I say? I’m all too familiar with these thoughts.
In the end, I took antidepressants for more than a year. Day in, day out. Never would I have thought I would keep going for this long. When I started taking the pills, I even made a pact with myself to come off them as quickly as possible since it all was just an “experiment”, after all etc. etc. blablabla.
Ultimately, it was precisely the slow and steady effect of the medication, which let me start off new when I thought there was no light any more. Which let me come to appropriate conclusions for my mental health and myself once again. With time, I could reflect on certain aspects of my life. I started to question particular views I had had until that point. This whole experience was like a reset. I was able to breathe again. Until this very day, I am incredibly grateful for this very difficult, but more than instructive period of my life.
To be clear, I for sure don’t want to talk anyone who is currently going through a rough patch into thinking they have depression and/or need to be treated with medication. Not at all. What I really care about, however, is to always always always question so-called “socially acceptable” paradigms and points of view. What I care about is that we reach out for help when nothing seems to work anymore. What I care about is that we talk to each other. Without stigma. Without prejudices.
Without the antidepressants, but with all the noise up there in my head instead, I would have probably only been able to think clearly again way later. If at all. Without the medication, I might not even be here today anymore.
What I know for sure, though, is that without this phase of my life, I also wouldn’t be the strong, honest and brave person I definitely am today. Without this phase of my life, I would have probably learnt to love myself a whole while later.
Quite a while ago now, I eventually came off medication completely. I decided to do so after a months-long phase of reducing the dosage. Because I was ready to get to know my true, pure and raw self again. Like already mentioned above, I was on medication altogether for more than a year. I refused going on it, but could quickly notice the positive effect it had on me when I was finally ready for the next step. In the same way, I knew when the time was right to reduce and eventually stop again.
I do not want to play down anything on here, though. It was a big decision for me to get off the antidepressants. Especially during a phase of my life when the universe would put me to the test on a freaking daily basis. But I took this challenge consciously, knowing it was the right time to go for it, completely trusting myself and my intuition.
To anyone out there, who might be facing a similar, but for sure their very unique challenge – listen up: trust your gut and trust yourself. Listen to what your body wants to tell you when reacting a certain way. It’s probably talking to you. Talk to a close friend, talk to your family. Reach out for a therapist and, in case needed, a psychiatrist. You are not alone. Help is out there, I promise.
If my depression has taught me one thing, it is the following: even the darkest hours, the longest days, the biggest pain will come to an end.
But you have to keep going. You must not give up in order to eventually get there. Life consists of constant ups and downs. Life is change. There is simply no point in resisting change. I can only repeat myself.
Like already stated above, I have been thinking about whether I should publicly share this very personal chapter of my life for quite a while. This week, exactly one year after I first started my blog, it simply feels like the right thing to do. I don’t want to pretend I’m something I’m not. I want to be real with you, whoever might be reading along. I want to be authentic. Which was the whole purpose of this blog, after all.
Now, I don’t ever want to forget how I felt back when I was facing my darkest days. When I was fighting strong every day, when I was taking responsibility for my own happiness.
I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to go through what I was going through. However, I also wouldn’t be who let alone where I am now nor would I lead this life I’m grateful for every day now, if it hadn’t been for the summer of 2015. And precisely because of that fact, I don’t even want to forget even one single day of that summer onwards. So that I never stop being grateful. So that I never stop experiencing every new day as a precious gift.