Why I Befriended My Depression
"Share Your Story" submitted by Zoe Spirig, 19 years old
About 8 years ago, a stranger knocked on my door. He knocked and knocked, until one day, my door had become fragile enough for him to come in. He did not tell me who he was or what he wanted from me. So, for a long time, he stayed in my home and made me feel estranged and uncomfortable. At first, I could easily ignore him, but after a while, he started following me everywhere. Questioning every decision, I ever made, stealing my smiles and emptying my social battery. He continued eagerly, still without telling me why or who he was. I had never experienced something like this before, so I tried very hard to cover up this new strange addition. Eventually, I became very angry. How could it be that he was so powerful, and I felt so weak? How did he change my life so drastically without telling me why? Who had I become?
I fought him, and therefore, I fought myself. I wanted him gone and the only way I thought I could get rid of him was hating him. I had not realized that he was just some Christmas tree ornament that you could rearrange if you did not like your tree that way. I thought the solution was to just knock over the whole tree. I started by cutting the tree whenever I noticed the Christmas ornament I did not like. Surprise: the tree is me.
As the years passed, I began to lose the energy to hate him, decided to just surrender. The feeling of him setting my lungs on fire turned into filling my body with cement and eventually to emptying my body completely. I let him take my whole room, all my belongings, friends and hobbies. He got into my head, turning all my thoughts to mush, making me believe I was undeserving, unlovable, ugly and replaceable. Sometimes he made me feel like a wandering zombie, and other days like (attention; Katy Perry reference) an empty plastic bag floating through the wind. For a long time, I had always wished for a feeling of complete numbness as my pain was tearing me apart. But when the numbness came, the only force keeping me alive, went away. I was so tired. Although I slept through a lot what was supposed to be my ‘wild teenage years’, I was still tired. Tired of people not understanding me, but also not fully understanding myself. Tired of feeling, and of not feeling anymore. I was so tired that; Three years ago, I almost lost my life to a stranger.
That was when my whole battle with this stranger changed; when I made him my friend. Not only did I tolerate him like before, I started actively working with him, exploring him, and therefore, getting to know me again. The moment I started befriending my depression, I started to become whole again. That may sound very kitsch, but that is what accepting a part of yourself that you have spent loathing for years truly feels like. My mindset changed from feeling my depression as my whole identity, to loathing that weak part of myself, to accepting it as one of my strengths. Nothing has proven me my strength than this battle against my internal forces. And I, and anyone else in a similar situation, can be damn proud of that.
My new approach was (and still is), a very rocky road. Therapy is not a one-stop-shop and environments are not always ideal for healing. But what I am practicing is caring for my friend. Sometimes it is something small like getting up and taking a shower or picking up an old hobby again. When I feel courageous, I take my friend out when he wants to curl up in a ball in the corner of the room. The best part is introducing him to my friends, one by one.
I even force him to try extremely difficult things with me; like, in the beginning, riding the bus alone. This had always been an anxiety-ridden event for us, which we now master effortlessly. Each of these measures were hard for my friend, so it was important to care for him as well. Sometimes, it is okay to stay in and cry it out. Sometimes it is okay to raid the fridge to feel better. Sometimes it is okay to cancel plans. Because the most important thing about mental health, for me, is being able to reflect on your feelings at the very moment and listen to your own needs. Tend to your needs but remind your friend not to suck you into old coping mechanisms. It’s important to remember, that every day is not about beating your friend but accepting your friend. Furthermore, accepting your depression does not mean giving up on working on yourself to eventually get better. It takes hard work to show yourself, how things can be done differently, thoughts can be thought differently, you can be loved differently.
And I absolutely do not want to romanticize feeling depressed like many other social media posts. Because there is nothing that is beautiful in wanting to end your existence or feeling bad for a long period of time. But I want you to remind you that you are capable of change – even when sometimes it can feel like the world is turning twice as fast while you are stuck in one place. I am also writing this for myself, for the days when my thoughts get irrational again and I lose my focus. I am also writing this for every friend, family member, or acquaintance of a depressed person. Because sometimes when we cannot befriend ourselves, we might need a little help from you. And sometimes, when our friend depression tells us it is the only friend we need, we need you to prove it wrong.
I do not know for how many more years my friend will stay, if it will go on vacation for a while or leave me forever someday. All I know is that without this friend, I would not have realized who my true friends are – and most importantly – I would not have become my own. And that, and many more things, I am all by myself.
© All Illustrations by Zoe Spirig
Reflect on yourself. Listen to your gut. If something does not feel quite right or you have not been able to smile as much lately, seek out a trusted friend and/or professional help. Your feelings are worth being heard. Do not compare your struggles to others; there is no scale of misery.
When our thoughts get irrational, or we feel impulsive, it is important to keep in mind our own safety. There are plenty of different services you can reach around the clock.
It can be hard to have to call one of these numbers but take your time, maybe do it with a friend – but do it because it may save your life as well.
Whether you are concered about yourself or a loved one, these International Mental Health Helplines can provide support and offer expert advice.