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It comes in waves

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Senior Staff

JUNE 15, 2022

Content warning: discussion of suicide and mental health

It never really ends, does it?

It’s a thought that crosses my mind whenever I find myself in a dark place. What my friends and I tactfully refer to as a “blue period,” inspired by Picasso’s three-year era of artistic rendition of despair, is more accurately described as a depressive episode. Much like Picasso, I’m prone to them, though my emotional lows generally last only for a couple of weeks and result in fewer creative masterpieces.

When I was 13, my mental health began to plummet. Having dealt with depression since childhood, I was no stranger to its impacts. However, these years of mild distress didn’t prepare me for the suicidal ideations that soon crept into every crevice of my life. Unable to do anything but entertain my yearnings for death, I came to believe that my life would end before I graduated high school. 

For more than a year, I was so deep in the trenches of depression that I didn’t envision any sort of future for myself. After all, if I would be dead before my 18th birthday, why did it matter?

It wasn’t long before my family caught onto my destructive mindset, which resulted in a brief hospitalization and was followed by six months of twice-weekly therapy. Initially, I participated begrudgingly, seeing myself as nothing more than a backseat passenger in the journey of my own life.

Even in spite of my reluctance to work toward recovery, my health began to improve. I subconsciously absorbed lists of healthy coping mechanisms and self-affirmations. I started volunteering information to my psychiatrist, rather than staring moodily out of her office window. By the spring of ninth grade, I was no longer suicidal; by the time I turned 16, my days held far more good moments than bad ones. Now, I’m at a point in my life where my former suicidal tendencies are no more than fading memories.

As I’ve recovered from the mental anguish that once plagued me, I’ve been frustrated to find that I still endure periods of depression. They’re shorter than they used to be, and I’m so accustomed to them that I can predict how long they’ll last and what I can do to pull myself out. 

Still, each time an episode comes about, I find myself wondering whether I’ve really gotten better at all. I start to question if, at my core, I’m still the same person I once was — devoid of hope. I ponder the possibility that these cycles of distress will always be intrinsic to my existence.

Rationally, I’m aware that this isn’t the case. Looking back on the girl who was certain she would never grow old enough to learn how to drive, let alone make it to college, I can recognize how far I’ve come. To her, the prospect of being as healthy as I am today would be unfathomable. Cognitively, I know this.

Depression has a way of clouding my judgment. It allows me to indulge all of the despondent feelings that live within my mind. In a depressive episode, I begin to experience tunnel vision, able to see only the dejection directly in front of me.

These dark feelings come and go in waves. While the suicidal thoughts I used to experience would hit me with the weight of a tsunami, my depressive episodes exist in the form of much softer currents. They’re strong enough that I can’t avoid them completely, yet easy enough to put behind me. Sure, I would rather swim through an ocean where wind never hits the water. I’m jealous of those who exist on the shoreline, barely touched by depression.

I’ve come to accept, though, that this is my life. Periods of sadness, exhaustion and dissociation are inevitable for me. What has kept me going is learning how to manage the waves. Now, I can see them from afar and prepare for their impact, always sure to keep my head above the water.

The shifting nature of my depression is why I sometimes wonder if the pain will ever leave me. But along with the darkness of my mental health comes lightness, too. One of the most beautiful aspects of recovery is that, when I come out of a depressive episode, I’m filled anew with hope. 

I’m able to appreciate everything that brings me joy, such as seeing a baby wave to me while walking down Telegraph or pulling dandelions out of the grass when I’m tanning on the Glade. In this rejuvenated state, I strengthen myself for the next wave of depression that will come down the line.

The thought that keeps me up at night, the one convincing me that it will never really end, is true to a certain extent — I will likely never get to a point where I don’t experience any degree of depression. But I’ve learned to make peace with the knowledge that depressive episodes are important pieces of my road to recovery. 

I know that, no matter how hopeless I may feel in the moment, I am riding the waves that come along with getting better, well on my way to the shore.

Olivia Rhee writes the Wednesday column on navigating mental wellness. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

JUNE 17, 2022