Breathing full: My journey through a ten year depression
Whatever mix of emotions, thoughts, problems, and unrelenting feelings that are overpowering you and making you feel the way that you do, identify them and be honest and sincere with yourself when you do.
When I was fourteen I couldn’t look at my own reflection.
There was a mirror at school that I’d have to pass by every day and for a moment I’d be forced to look at myself. “Forced to,” as if it were a painful thing and not an everyday occurrence. What I know now at the age of twenty-six that I didn’t know back then was that I was suffering from low self-esteem. This problem would ignite a depression that I wouldn’t gain any relief from for the next decade, a decade that would comprise some of the most significant moments of my life like high school and college. To share my story would be to describe this decade of depression that defined my youth, and then how I managed to liberate myself into a better way of living both emotionally and mentally at the age of twenty-four, and what this experience means for any reader who can relate.
My fight with depression
Thinking about it now, at the age of fourteen I probably didn’t even know what self-esteem and depression were. I might have heard these words mentioned on television or among adults but I had no idea as to the critical importance of such concepts. All I knew was that at fourteen I really didn’t like myself all that much. This began on a physical level with the insecurities that I had about my body and looks, and then gradually escalated to a deeper sense of discomfort with myself; my identity, who I was as a person and my worth in regards to those around me. This deficient outlook on life never prevented me from making friends, keeping up with my grades, or maintaining a healthy relationship with my family, and I never had thoughts of ending my life, but it did make living difficult. Performing a simple action like looking in the mirror, going to school, taking a walk, meeting new people, enjoying nice weather, and just existing, all felt like a challenge because my sense of self-belief and worth was so dangerously low and only lessened as the years went on. But again, I didn’t know what self-esteem and depression were, what I was dealing with, or what specifically ailed me. If you had talked to anyone who knew me during this time they most likely wouldn’t have been able to give you any insight into my depression because I don’t recall displaying any outward signs that would indicate what I was battling.
I would eventually graduate high school and enter college and things would change but not for the better. I was older now so I was doing more, like going to bars with my friends and attending concerts and engaging in other social activities, but as I did more those not so old feelings of insecurity, discomfort, and depression did more as well, more to ensure that I didn’t enjoy the things that I was doing and that misery was my only outcome. At my worst, I couldn’t set foot into a social setting without automatically feeling defeated due to physical comparisons to others, or due to a lack of development of my identity. I was convinced that those around me, strangers, those I would most likely never see again in my life were doing something right, and that I was doing something wrong. I was convinced that they had to be better than me. I would be investing time and money into things that rarely brought me happiness, and this way of living was neither healthy nor right.
When I was twenty-three, the bad days were becoming worse and more frequent, and I found myself going to bed some nights with the goal of escaping the difficult day that had just passed before me and hoping that when I awoke I’d feel better. But new daylight brought nothing but new difficulties, and the cycle continued. Then one morning, I woke up and decided that things needed to change. I told myself that I may not know exactly what my life is supposed to be like, what it is meant to be like, but I knew for sure it’s not supposed to be like this, that I was certain of. I spent the next year making some crucial changes in my life like seeing a therapist once a week to talk in detail about the specific thoughts that bothered me, and together we came up with a drug-free cognitive game plan to combat these thoughts and weaken the effect and cyclical nature that they were having on my emotions. I cut back on alcohol and marijuana which I had been using in recreation since I was eighteen, because although society considers them normal and safe in small amounts, they actually may have contributed to or worsened my depression on a biological and mental level. I kept a closer watch on my thoughts than ever before, those related to how I felt about myself and how I viewed the world, and I implemented whatever cognitive methods I learned in therapy when I needed to, and slowly but surely things began to change.
For the first time in a decade I felt like I could breathe and live and do things among others that didn’t leave me feeling inadequate. By my twenty-fifth birthday I had made enormous progress in bettering my emotions and managing my depression, and through this even discovered a hobby in writing poetry, which has since become my life’s passion and in a way acts as an ongoing form of self-therapy. By my twenty-sixth birthday, my life took a turn I would never have expected, in which I felt an unexplainable spiritual demand to practice my religion of Islam, which I hadn’t been implementing properly despite being born a Muslim. Now armed with my life changing and deeply resonating experience of overcoming depression with drug free methods as well as setting out on this journey to explore my faith, I can proudly say that on more days than not, I no longer fear looking in the mirror as I once did as a fourteen-year-old. In fact now I look forward to it.
My advice to those still in the fight
My advice to anyone battling depression is to first define what it is you’re struggling with. Whatever mix of emotions, thoughts, problems, and unrelenting feelings that are overpowering you and making you feel the way that you do, identify them and be honest and sincere with yourself when you do. These would be the things that you would bring into a therapy session and then together with your therapist you would proceed with a more detailed game plan on healing. If therapy is not an option for you right now then there are other ways that you can begin to fight your disease. You can use free hotline numbers that are available for you to talk or text out your thoughts with people who are properly trained to engage with you. NYC Well is an example of this. There are online communities that provide a space for you to share your troubles, and also familiarize yourself with the experiences of others that may be similar to what you’re going through. Reddit is a great community for this. Not only do these places allow you to speak your mind and gain advice, but it will also show you that you’re not the only one fighting something, because at the end of the day even though no one can fight your battles for you, it does help to know that you’re not the only one in a battle. Everyone has their own share of unique challenges that are tailored to them and their circumstances.
If I had to encapsulate my journey from the worst days of my depression to the best days of my life, I would say that it just comes down to feeling satisfied with who I am and my life, and carrying that fulfillment and peace into the things that I do. I would also say that dealing with things that may challenge my self-esteem or inner peace on the spot as they happen so they don’t grow and burden me in the future is important. This may sound simple enough, but it took time to embrace it as a constant way of living, and even after I did, my emotions and state of mind would continue to fluctuate, and this is just a part of life and being human that none of us are exempt from. Once I confronted all the small things that laid the ground for my depression and analyzed them from a psychological and realistic standpoint, and sought to draw power away from them, not to mention the big things that have made their home at the forefront of my mind, then I slowly began to gain the upper hand on my depression. One method that I used in order to do this is what I like to call the “phone method.” The phone method basically consists of flipping out my phone when I find myself in a situation that makes me feel inferior or frustrated, and making a quick note about what it is I feel and why I feel that way. Then I end the note with a simple statement about why this situation shouldn’t have the kind of power over me that it does, as well as what I need to remember in moments like this, and maybe something positive about myself, and then I put my phone away. This may sound simple but it has profound effects on the way your brain processes things and how you may emotionally and mentally be looking at things. The bottom line is you don’t have to look at your life and everything in it and see only gray. You can see whatever it is you want to see. You get to choose what your experiences mean. I always had the ability to change the way I felt about my life, I just didn’t have the strength to always make the effort to do so because sticking to old habitual and harmful ways of thinking were easier and more familiar.
Once I raised my self-esteem and defeated my depression, it was like the sun started to shine on my life. Nothing in my life changed, I had the same family, friends, job, money in my bank and home above my head, but I didn’t feel less than everyone else anymore. I told myself that if I were to die tomorrow I’d die happy, because I was no longer depressed.
A Poem by Assad Ali
and then I woke up
at the problematic age of twenty-three
blooming and rotting at the very same time
and decided that I needed a change
because the old way wasn’t working