I thought my high school experience was normal at first. Surely everyone in my AP World History class sobbed into their pillows three times a week. We all joked about the class making us unhappy. We all felt consistently stressed and anxious. We all struggled to sleep and spent our nights googling “how to be happy.” My experience was normal. I spent the entirety of my sophomore year of high school telling myself that.
Not everything was bad. There would be parts of my day here and there that I would embrace and play on repeat when certain thoughts started creeping in. My family loves each other a disgusting amount. I was and am surrounded by this unit of constant love and support. My parents are financially stable, and I went to bed with a full stomach each night. There was no reason for my unhappiness, yet it continued beyond sophomore year and AP History. When I stopped hanging out with my friends, it was not because I did not like them. I did. A part of me hoped that they would pursue my friendship even after I avoided their texts and phone calls, but it was too exhausting to pretend to be happy all the time.
I do remember coming home from my aunt’s house one Sunday evening after dinner. My parents sat up front in the car, and I sat in the back seat with my twin sister. She was teasing me about something insignificant, and instead of teasing her back, I broke down. I cried. I yelled. I cried more. All of this in a four minute car ride. When we got home, I immediately went to my room, but I was too worked up. I couldn’t figure out why I was so upset, but the feelings were very real and very persistent. So I went for a walk. I found myself sitting among some trees by a parkway. I just cried and held my knees to my chest for about half an hour. The world was loud. My thoughts were loud. The cars were loud. Everything was overwhelming. My thoughts went a certain way, and even my happy memories that I would use to calm myself down were not working. I had considered taking my own life before, but it always seemed to be an abstract concept. Not like this. This felt present. This felt immediate. I stood and watched the cars zoom by me. I thought about how easy it would be to step into traffic. I was tired. I had been aggressively crying and holding myself for the better part of an hour. This was my worst breakdown yet, and I am forever grateful that I was tired. I was too tired to walk into traffic.
My parents and sister were huddled around the computer when I walked back into the house. I tried to go upstairs without talking about what just happened, but my sister stopped me. They asked me if I was depressed. I denied. They asked if I wanted to talk to someone. I declined. I lied to my perfect, only trying to help family. I lied to my twin sister, my other half, but after a year of pretending to be happy, I was finally called on my bluff. I remember the relief of falling asleep that night. I knew I wasn’t fooling my family anymore, and I realized I wasn’t fooling myself anymore. I wanted to live, and in order to do that I realized I had to face my depression. I could no longer passively watch it ruin my friendships, my grades, or my relationship with my family.
My journey to happiness was not completed in one night. It took another year before I had more good days than bad, and it took another year after that before my bad days were all but gone. I was never alone, but it sure felt like it until I opened up to my last remaining friend about my depression. She was going through it, too. I wasn’t alone. We relied on each other to do simple tasks like going to the gym or writing in our journals. She encouraged me to make new friends, and I did. I started spending less time shut in my room.
I now appreciate the bad days when I have them. I think I will always have them, but now they are choppy waves rather than tsunamis. They remind me how much I enjoy life on the good days. I still worry that my happiness will be taken from me for what seems like no reason at all, but I know now that I don’t have to face depression alone. I can now openly talk about my history with it. When I feel overwhelmed, I know that I have people. I hope that in sharing this story I can help eliminate the stigma of mental health issues. I am beyond grateful that I was tired. I am beyond grateful that I have a caring family. I am beyond grateful that I am still alive.
If you think someone may be struggling with depression, I urge you to reach out. Just showing kindness to someone may impact their life. You may provide a happy memory that quells the creeping thoughts. There is no easy fix when it comes to mental illness, but things do get better.