I was standing in a field, in the middle of the night on a backpacking trip. I held my head tilted backwards, and I stood in complete silence staring at the stars and the full moon. The sky was overflowing with stars, and there wasn’t a single cloud. The warm summer air filled my lungs, and I listened to the sawing of crickets. I started to cry. I stood there and wept and wept. I wept for the moment. I wept for myself.
This last year has been the first year I haven’t been in therapy for a long time. Last summer was the first summer I could get out of bed and hike miles in the woods again. In that moment, standing in the field, I felt overwhelmed by the reality that I was going to be okay. I couldn’t stop marveling at the silent dark night that made me feel a part of everything.
Since I can remember I have deeply struggled with depression. Circumstances in my life accelerated the struggle I had with my mental health growing up. Like any angsty teenager, I would sleep in, drown myself in art, and read Harry Potter until the wee hours of the morning under the covers. As I grew older, I still wasn’t able to recognize how often I was crippled by my depression, even after considering suicide several times.
All I knew was I felt everything so deeply.
After college, I started describing myself as feeling, “like a brick was sitting on my head, and it was too heavy to take it off.” The things I loved seemed impossible to do, and there was no rational way in my mind to handle the struggles I was having. Thankfully during this time, my best friend was able to gently tell me that I needed help. She encouraged me to start therapy, and maybe consider medications.
After college, I started describing myself as feeling, “like a brick was sitting on my head, and it was too heavy to take it off.”
The fear of stigma, the fear of what other people would think, drove me to keep my therapy a secret. For the entire first year of therapy I told only a select few close friends I was getting help. I was often so afraid that I told no one in my family. My friends encouraged me, listened to me, and shared all the coffee with me on the days when I felt really broken.
Even now, sharing this story is so difficult. The old thoughts come running through my head: What will people say? What will they do? Will they treat me differently? However, I now know telling this story will in some way will help another person.
On a very cold winter morning, I drove to my friend’s home. I was so unstable. I was working third shift, never sleeping, polysubstance abusing, the skinniest I had ever been, and drinking heavily. All of it I was doing in isolation, and fairly often, while watching a few favorite 90’s films to make it seem sentimental and “okay” in some way. I felt shattered, and afraid. I told my friend on that cold morning, “I don’t think I can go another day living life, and I have no control of how I feel about anything.”
With my friends logical medical rationale, and her tender heart’s encouragement I started taking antidepressants, but still I felt more shame.
I decided something else had to be a part of my therapy. I have long loved to travel, and spent a lot of my younger years all over the world. I knew traveling would heal some of my wounds. I have a beautiful friend who always calls me, “a gypsy soul.” I traveled to Maine to see her, and spent time on the ocean in Acadia National State Park. Shortly afterwards, I flew to New York City and visited one of my oldest friends. I journaled until my room was filled with random pages of thoughts, emotions, plans, dreams, and hopes. I read every book I could tolerate. One girlfriend packed me up, took me to the west coast of Michigan and we laid on the beach, listened to live music, walked around downtown Grand Rapids, and stayed up all night laughing.
All my adventures in travel started to bring me hope.
I would love to say this was easy, but it was not. I gained 15 pounds and felt worse for a while. I had no self esteem, and everything I tried to accomplish I felt “less than.” After a year, I finally told some of my family that I was in therapy and taking medication. My friends and family supported me, and were so patient with my erratic behavior and unsettled life.
I will never forget the day I sat at my boyfriend’s kitchen island and I realized I had not had an obsessive thought, suicidal thought, or a panic attack in months since starting my medications. I could not have arrived at this place without the help of all of the people that never gave up on me.
They saw me drowning, and brought me back to shore.
I write this to remind other women that I see them. We see each other. You aren’t alone, and I will spend my life trying to end the stigma that leaves so many women isolated in their mental illness. My girlfriend once told me, everyone should do at least 6 months of therapy just to learn more about themselves. She was so right.
I write this to remind other women that I see them. We see each other.
If you read this, and can relate to the heavy weight of depression… you are not alone. You will get through this. You will overcome this. Finding the right therapist isn’t always easy, but don’t give up. Once you find the right one, you will never regret the lessons you’ll learn and the freedom you’ll find. If medications scare you, just imagine yourself being able to function and breathe without the overwhelming lack of energy and distaste for life.
Things are not perfect. I still have moments where my depression gets the best of me. I have been crippled by anxiety, and unable to work at times. Unfortunately, you will also have people say things to you that are so hurtful, even with the best intentions. The classics: you need to pray more, you need Jesus, you need to take B12 vitamins, listen to this [insert random religious song], you’re just too sensitive, medications are bad for you… I mean the list keeps going. You might even lose someone or multiple people along the way as you find healing. Your bravery and boldness will frighten others. Your ability to speak for yourself and stand up for yourself might push people away. Just remember, you are better off and you will only grow deeper relationships with those who really matter.
Every time I go backpacking I take with me a copy of, “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. Her stories make me laugh and are always a reminder that it is OK to have struggled and wrestled with yourself. In her chapter on ‘Grace’ she says,
“I don’t know why life isn’t constructed to be seamless and safe, why we make such glaring mistakes, things fall so short of our expectations, and our hearts get broken and our kids do scary things and our parents get old and don’t always remember to put pants on before they go out for a stroll.”
Her words resonate in my heart, and on heavy days I cling on to the following quote;
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”
You wait and watch and work; you don't give up. Don't give up on your mental health. Don’t give up on one day feeling whole.
Maybe one day we can find ourselves in the same field, or sit side by side on a cliff, or even smell salt air together… this universe or the next, and smile as the warm air blows in our hair… and we are reminded, we have survived. We did not give up.
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not
for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and
Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the
Written by: Jenifer Veloso
Picture by: Matt Wright