The secret truth about depression

By Victoria Knobloch

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Courtesy Luis Sarabia/Flickr.com

I wish someone had told me.

I wish someone had told me that I had a disease. This disease has no cure. This disease can be fatal. I will fight this disease until the day I die. Some days will feel healthier than others, but this disease will never fully go away. This disease is a disability that very few people will consider to be legitimate. No one ever said these things to me. Instead they told me at 13 years-old that I was depressed and prescribed me medication I do not believe I will ever stop taking.

I wish someone had told me that it wasn’t my fault. People love to say that I am depressed because I am not exercising enough or not eating right or watching too much TV. I wish someone had told me that it is the other way around; it is my depression that causes me to eat junk, lie around all day and watch daytime talk shows and infomercials instead of doing homework or going out with friends. If someone had explained this to me I would not have had to carry the guilt of causing my own illness. Then I might have felt less helpless.

I wish someone had told me that depression is not simply being too sad to function. Sometimes I function just fine even when I feel my worst. But sometimes I find myself physically unable to move, like someone has pumped lead into my veins and made all my limbs unbelievably heavy. I am exhausted all the time, I get chronic headaches and backaches, sometimes my hands shake uncontrollably, sometimes I am nauseous for hours at a time and sometimes I throw up. My immune system refuses to fight a New England winter and I always have a mild to moderate head cold. These are all symptoms of my depression. These are all elements of a disease. But no one told me that. I just thought I was lazy and a hypochondriac.

I wish no one had ever said that I would feel better in a few weeks. I wish no one had pretended that this would eventually go away. I wish no one had suggested that the pills were magic and would heal me. Over the years I have had many, many doctors, some of whom were fantastic and helpful. I can probably credit a few with saving my life. But, while rarely coming right out and saying it, everyone implied that if we found the right combination of therapy and medications and diet and exercise and sleep patterns then the depression might leave my life forever. I now realize that it is not pessimistic or fatalistic or admitting defeat to say that I will never be cured or healed or fixed. My depression shows up year after year, after medication changes and life changes, and it has been hard not to view this as a failure. To instead prepare myself for the reality of coping with a debilitating disease for the rest of my life is to save myself from the annual despair of still being sick.

More than anything I wish someone had told me I have a disability. Now it makes sense. I am unable to get out of bed in the morning, I am unable to complete everyday tasks, I am unable to do school work, I am unable to do anything but watch TV and cry. I don’t say that for pity; I know it paints a pathetic picture. It’s just a reality of my life. But so much guilt and stress and shame and disgust with myself could have been avoided if only someone had validated me with the label of disabled. I wish I had known that Disability Services on this campus is set up to help with depression. This is legitimate, this is real, and I am far from the only one who suffers like this.       

When I reflect on my years of living with this disease I cannot help but feel like things could have been different. The only way we can make the lives of depressed people more invigorating is by taking away the shame and stigma. If I knew in advance that missing weeks of class due to my failing psychological health would be treated the same way as missing weeks of class due to mono, I would be more inclined to just let myself stay in bed instead of dragging myself through the increasingly difficult and stressful process of facing the world. My depression might not get worse and worse under the weight of all the responsibilities I am unable to fulfill. I might be able to be upfront with my teachers and bosses about where I am and what I am able to do. I might not be boxed in by a world that views me as lazy, whiney, pathetic, and helpless.

I wish someone had told me that every day I wake up is a victory. I wish someone had told me that simply living is being strong. I wish someone had told me, even when I am in bed surrounded by candy bar wrappers with season after season of 30 Rock cued up on my Netflix, I am fighting. If I am fighting instead of failing, if I am struggling against instead of crumbling under, if I am really sick instead of faking it for an easier time, then life will be less of an impossible feat with only one way out.

I can and will survive. Because now I know.

Victoria Knobloch is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]