The beginning of the journey: when depression kicks in

They say that every journey begins with a step, but this is also standing for the bad periods in one’s life. Every bad period begins with a bad day, or, even more specifically, with a bad event. It doesn’t take that long until the bad you’ve always feared happens, and your world becomes an unrecognizable place to be. This is how the whole journey begins, with an event.

It could be something not that big, at the first sight, but, on the other hand, who can tell what’s big enough to shake another being’s life? It could be literally anything: a failed exam, a break-up, losing a job, losing a loved one, gaining weight…as many people, as many stories, and as many bad possibilities.

Somehow, though, despite all of these, the signs of depression installing tend to be pretty obvious, especially if you’ve had your meetings with her, too. You’ll see the differences in the way that person talks, dresses and behaves.

Because depression brings not only pain, but also change. It changes the way you sleep, the way you eat, it changes the way you’re interacting with people around you and with your own body. You might sleep too much, or almost not at all, and this applies to everything stated before.

But one of the most painful things brought by depression in one’s life is doubt. Self-doubt and, most important, the doubt of a purpose. A depressed person will ask itself and the others around frequently “What’s the point of this?”. It might become annoying and worrying, I can totally understand, but it represents exactly the way that person sees the world around- pointless.

An important thing to say is that these signs do not come as a storm, all at once. They are subtle changes in one’s behavior that appear during a period of time, usually estimated at two weeks. If one of the main coordinates of one’s psychological well-being, such as sleep, appetite, libido, self-esteem, social interaction, care regarding one’s body and health has significant changes that last for over two weeks, there might be a chance to talk about a depressive episode. As many changes one can spot in a loved person’s behavior, as likely it is, if we respect the two weeks rule, to be able to talk about depression.

It is not something uncommon at all, and, as you’ve read this article, there’s a possibility that a name, or two, raised up in your mind. If we listen to the World Health Organization, depression is the lead cause of disability, counting over 300 millions of persons across the world which are being diagnosed with depression. If we think about the people who can’t afford mental healthcare and diagnose, the number is much bigger than that.

In this context, we have to talk about depression. Or, to be more specific, not only about the stimuli that trigger it, but also about what one could do to befriend her. Because it’s not that kind of disease that you’re gonna cure once and for all, no. It is more like we have to learn how to live with and without depression, because, even if our clean periods can, in the best scenarios, last for years, there will also be times when occasional episodes of various intensities will kick back in. And we have to be prepared, to be able to identify when one’s approaching, and to know what we have to do to diminish the possible damages as much as we can.

We have to understand that a picture-perfect life can be just as worrisome as a chaotic one, and that any extreme can be potentially dangerous for one’s long-term well-being. But, for this to really happen, we have to share our own stories about depression, and about the things that helped us overcome it.

I can’t really recall when my first depressive episode happened. It was, anyways, a long time ago, maybe when I discovered that I don’t look the way people label as beautiful. Part of my mental health struggles were due to the fact that I, for a really, really long time, was hating my body. Even now I have days when I look at myself and think “Oh, well, at least I’m smart, and that’s a good thing, too.”. But now we talk about days, not years and years, as in the past. If the recovery after all the years of self-hatred happened in the blink of an eye, I can’t tell you the same thing about my first major depressive episode.

Here’s how things went. It was the summer of 2018, when bad things started to happen. First, I was dumped by the guy that I loved. After that, I failed my PhD admission, and turned back home. I was feeling…no, the truth is that I was not feeling, and that was a first.

I was in a state really similar to the one after anaesthesia, where you know that you were able to feel, but, at that very moment, you can’t. This paired “nicely” with an unfamiliar desire to sleep (at that time I was sleeping somewhere 11+ hours a day) and the loss of meaning. I was absolutely unable to see the purpose of things, and most of the things done in that period were done by default. It was also the period where I’ve cut so many ties, that I ended almost isolated, home, with my books and cats. It might sound pretty and a good thing, but the numbness and the loss of meaning that were always with me, matched with the constant feeling that I’m an unworthy failure, made it one of the worse periods I’ve lived so far.

With all that being said, though, I  never gave up. Actually, I returned to the things that used to bring meaning into my life, like writing. I’ve started to keep a diary again, in a failed attempt of holding myself accountable. I stopped, however, when I’ve noticed the obsessive tendencies that it was revealing. And, most importantly, I’ve returned to a thing that has always been one of my main traits: seeing the good in others.

This is something worth trying a bit day by day. To make other people feel like they are good enough, they are beautiful, they are loved, they are worth it. That their fights matter too, and they’ll make it through just fine. That they are not alone in this. It’s the easiest way to make a difference for the others, and for ourselves at the same time. Kindness is free and feels good. It takes you nothing to empower other vulnerable people around you, but gives you so much in return.

It is, if you’ll ask me, one of the most reliable and powerful tools to use in this journey towards recovery. Because, as I was saying, the depression is a game-changer we have to learn how to live with. And this is why the recovery after an episode is a whole journey by itself.

Because you discover things about yourself that you didn’t even knew they’re there. You develop new mechanisms of coping with hurt, distress, you get to see things from a different perspective. You learn the difference between putting yourself first and turning into a selfish, entitled brat. Between genuine self-care and the marketing, good-looking-on-social-media kind of self-care. And a whole bunch of other serious, or, ironically childish kind of  things.

But everything begins with that one moment when a bad thing happens to shutter everything we believed it was meant for us, that brought us joy, fulfillment and sense. I don’t believe in magic tricks that would help you get over the bad times. There’s no such thing.

There is, instead, honesty, support, even if we talk about the emotional support provided by the people who love us or about the professional support, provided by a specialist, and in the magic of doing. These are very powerful tools fo growth, through managing emotional struggles. Is important to surround yourself with people who can still see the best in you, even when you’re unable to.

In my dark times, even if I was almost isolated, I still had my people who’ve genuinely cared about me and supported me. Even if that meant sometimes sharing dope music with me, and other times showing me potential collabs, to keep me going, they were there, and I wouldn’t be here without their unconditional love. Needless to say, I’m deeply grateful for their existence.

Forbidding something to yourself, even if it might, at first, seem the right thing to do, as we usually tend to associate it with discipline, it means nothing. Just a road leading to NowhereLand. Of course, this is not meaning that we are allowed everything and anything, as things are obviously not standing that way. But saying always No! didn’t help nobody accomplish anything.

I hate giving advice, but if I’ve understood something during this journey, is that’s gonna be one of the most surprising times in one’s life, so you’d better not simply walk the walk, but try to see, understand and enjoy the new version of yourself that’s blooming slowly, but surely. Continue doing the things you used to love, even if you can’t feel a thing at the given time, continue growing your relationships with people that show you love, and don’t give up.

At the end of the journey, which is not that much of an ending, but more of a stop, you’ll see that it was a bad period, not a bad life. That there were days when you’ve felt almost happy, almost like you’ve got the whole thing put in the right box again, days where nothing seemed to ever make sense or progress, and days that, well…just were. Not good, not bad, but they were there. And, above all, you’ll see that life has always kept its fabulous beauty, all the time. Because not even depression could ever take that away.

Life after trauma

Traumatic experiences are not a taboo topic anymore. We’ve started to read more about them, talk about them, and to notice that they’re not as rare as we have initially thought they are. Actually, it seems like everyone has had at least one traumatic event during its lifetime, even if we talk about ordinary people or celebs who seem to have it all. But firstly, what is a traumatic experience?

According to APA, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible life event, such as an accident, rape, natural disasters, as well as physical and emotional forms of abuse. And, if we take into conssideration forms of abuse such as bullying, sexual harassment, the number of people affected by traumatic life events is nothing to be neglected.

This is also one of the main reasons why the public conversation about trauma and living with a traumatic history is rising and spreading sparkles on the Internet, as well as in the offline. Because is something relatable, a piece of shared history, a collective narrative that allows us to say that’s my story, as well!

But there’s also a dark side to this seemingly all-glitter-and-support narrative. We do talk about our triggers, about the depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mental health issues we encounter as parts of the post traumatic life. We exchange tips and tricks about how to manage the episodes in order to obtain a minimum level of damage. But we don’t talk that much about the recovery process, and this is one of the parts of the conversation regarding mental health that, in my opinion, goes wrong. It happens, even so, for some really understandable reasons.

Firstly, the recovery after a traumatic life experience is a really intimate topic. More intimate than the story of the trauma itself, because if the traumatic event is a fact, something that could have happened to literally anyone else, the recovery is not. The recovery is a personal decision, to take back your own life, while freeing yourself from the depression, anxiety and other issues that put your progress and well-being on hold, but it’s also how you deal with your traumatic history. A journey, a decision, and a way of reacting at something that has obviously changed you.

But that’s not the only reason. It happens often that mental health problems are treated with a suspicious attitude, involving social stigma. Those are not really problems, they say. Or the already famous there’re other people in the world who have it so much worse, that you’d better stop complaining.

And why would someone talk about a thing that he or she knows that’s gonna be belittled for? Not to feel more inadequate than it already feels like.

Yet, recovery talks remain one of the most unexplored parts of the mental health discussions. Talking about it, however, would bring on the table some real emotional support, created by sharing not only stories about facts that happened, but also strategies of coping with what’s left behind, tips on rebuilding yourself, or about how to recognize and avoid another experience with traumatic potential.

It can be, if you ask me, a really powerful tool, serving both the person who chooses to share the journey to recovery with the others, and the people who are interested in finding out more, as it has the power not only to inform the people about what this process really takes, but also to inspire, empower and create.

By sharing the recovery journey after a traumatic event, it means not only that it loses its power, as you begin to heal, but also that your bad experience helps other people. It helps by letting them know that, yes, there is life after the trauma. It empowers them, as they reach a deeper understanding of their life experiences and understand the fact that they are not the things that happened to them. It creates a real diversity, as allowing people to show themselves without the stigma, even if they feel like they’re at a low point in their life, that they are not good enough or simply unworthy.

It was only after having my share of traumatic life events, that all of this got at me, and I’ve understood that it is something worthy, needed to be talked about openly. That it could help others who happen to live the same things, and face the same feelings. That now is my time to give back, after receiving the support, advice and courage to move on.

And by writing about my own mental health, about everything my recovery taught me, I hope that I will help the ones who read the articles find their ways to well-being, and towards discovering new parts of themselves. Because, at the end of the day, the biggest, scariest, yet most beautiful goal of this whole talking about mental health is finding out about ourselves. About what brings us joy, about what makes us angry, sad, about what makes us overreact or become apathetic. About our bright and dark parts. About what make us to really be who we are, because the answer of this question is never what happened to me. We are far more than just the things that happened to us at certain points in our lives, but this is a truth that only together we can truly, completely understand, and this articles series wishes to help with that, as much as it is possible.