How I first realised I was depressed
Diagnosis was never an option for me: I come from a family where the stigma against mental illnesses remain every present. It would’ve been easy for me to have grown up with the same stigma, since the Singaporean society, especially back then, was equally uncomfortable with the discussion surrounding mental illnesses. Yet, I’ve always been a sensitive child. I do recognise the subtle differences between a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and an Empath, but I do believe I became the latter by being unable to ignore feelings I obtained from the former. I felt my own emotions acutely, as I did with the emotions of others.
It really didn’t help that my family situation was a unique one. If your friends knew that your parents were divorced, then they would offer you pity or sympathy. However, when my family has hung in that limbo – where both parents live together but are engaged in a cold war with each other – for more than a decade, then understanding is almost completely absent with the exception of a select few fellow empaths. My highly sensitive nature became combined with a home situation characterised by high tensions and hostile attitudes that slowly began to wear away at my ability to be happy. Furthermore, in my eyes, neither parent had done any wrong enough to warrant me hating them. That only made things more frustrating since I saw forgiveness, and the willingness to communicate and compromise, as the only things needed to fix the problem. I often confronted my parents with this thought. My mom often changed the topic – she never wanted me to know what went down between them. My dad sometimes got angry…and even violent – I was a child and had no right to tell him what to do. Over time, I ended up taking the pressure upon my own psyche.
The most painful was the inability of others to understand my situation. I ended up becoming bitter and angry at the most subtle things. When friends got to go travelling with their parents, I always felt a sense of resentment within me – I want to do that too, without the trip being ruined by the hostility between my parents. Even when friends told me they were having family time, that brings me so much pain because I know that I can never experience something like that. It’s the sense of isolation, of loneliness, where you know that you’ve missed out on so much, and no one really understands.
Once that kind of thinking set in, a lot of situations exacerbated that self-destructive journey towards depression. I lost faith in family – I love everyone in my family, but some of the fundamental, small joys…I will never experience them. And as I got older, I lost faith in love – I still don’t believe that anyone can really love me enough to want a family with me. Sure, enough to be friends forever. Enough to open up to me. But never enough to let me build for myself what I have missed. And then, at some point, I lost faith, in myself. I no longer thought that I deserved anything good, and anything positive that happened in my life was met with the fear of the worst.
I never realised it, but when I did, I felt like it was too much ingrained into my being. Now, 7 years on, people began to believe that I am a natural over-thinker or a person who cannot live without pain. When poetry or stories speak of depression taking over a person, that’s what they meant – it shadows a person’s true self so much that even those closest to them are confused.
How the Change Happened
I…don’t really know. I did attribute it to an important friend for a while, until very recently, but that is not true. The 3 times I came closest to dying, that person I gave the credit to actually pushed me closer towards death – either by ignoring my pleas for help, or saying things that made me feel worse. He can’t be blamed, since depression isn’t something he knows how to deal with – you’re either trained, or it takes one to know one. So, while I am someone who appreciates bluntness generally, when I’m about to end myself, the last thing I needed was for someone to address my death as “that’s a shame”, which registers as “kill yourself then, see if I care”.
So, as all the cliched little quotes tell you: the strength does truly come from within. But what they don’t tell you: you actually need a ‘strawman’ for it. See, I attributed my recovery to a person actively helping me, only to realise months after that what he did in reality was terrible – in those moments, he could have been the straw on the camel’s back. Since anonymity is being upheld here, let’s give an example. There was a night where I had the blade almost half-an-inch into my wrist and I was pleading through messages for him to help. He told me I was interrupted his call with a friend and ignored me. So, in that moment, the strength that made me stop wasn’t him, but me – and if anything, if I did slit my own wrist, he would have been part of the reason for exacerbating the sense of being utterly alone and having no one care. Again, can’t be blamed. The reason therapists exist is because the common folk don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to help someone else, and the natural instinct is to run and self-preserve, no matter who the other person is. Furthermore, if they are your friend, lover, family, etc., your imminent suicide could stir up emotions that impede their decision-making skills…although perhaps, leaving them alone to die is the most selfish one.
What matters here is that strength comes from within, but it wouldn’t be perceived as coming from within. I attributed to someone else, because I was fundamentally unable to believe in myself. Unlike an external conflict, the problem was within me, and the problem had to be solved internally. And so while the important friend did provide solutions occasionally that helped, or yelling at me did snap me out of trances, those wouldn’t have been useful at all if I myself didn’t want to recover – again, those would have put me even closer to death.
The Most Important Things
1. Positive thinking. There are good days and there are bad days. A good day to one person could be interpreted as a bad day for another. Especially for someone going through depression, there is an innate ability to see the worst in even the best. So while it used to sound like the most stupid advice, it is something that one needs to actively, with a lot of mental strength, steer their minds towards. Lost a bunch of friends? Well, they were toxic anyway, and sometimes people do just do their own ways. Failed a test? It’s not the end of the world, not even close. Even things that cannot be phrased positively, there is a way forward.
2. Stop overthinking (so much). The biggest contributor for me in this is the fact that I am genuinely in love with someone who I don’t foresee loving me back anytime soon, or ever. I know I feel emotions acutely, physically, in a way that leaves me physically sick sometimes for months, or worse, send me face-first into depression again. And I know I will watch as this person dates another, something that I foresee will break me to an extent that I’m not sure I can go through without another period of depression. …See the problem here? Why am I trying to ‘foresee’ things so much? I can never predict if and when he will love me back. I can’t even predict how my own feelings might change. Instead of worrying about things I cannot control and cannot change, overthinking has me depressed and unable to appreciate what I have now – a friend that I can rely on and genuinely tries to understand me. Not just one friend like that, but a handful – and that’s enough for life, isn’t it? And that kind of worry seeps into how you interact with that person as well – where I can be laughing and joking, I end up being overly serious. While being prepared for things and situations is not a bad trait in itself, there is a limit that one needs to discover – that I am determined to discover on the way out of depression.
3. Believe in your own resolve. You have been alive for this long, that is an achievement in itself. “Yeah, but it’s not like I was poor and couldn’t afford food.” “Yeah, but it’s not like I was in an accident and pulled through.” “I’m just depressed.” Yeah, and you’re just adopting the stigma against mental illnesses. The pain you feel is real, even if you think no one else can understand your unique situation – let’s be real, everyone’s lives are unique enough that no one that ever truly understand another’s lives, we can only genuinely try. Your pain is as real as you think it is, and in other words, only you can change it, and, girl/boy, if you haven’t heard this from anything, I’m proud you’ve made it this far. I’ve been in that state, thinking that there’s nothing for me to be hurt about, and I don’t deserve pity. Who cares? I felt the pain and I lived through it, and I’m damn proud of myself for it.
My own journey is far from over. Especially when it comes to the whole loving your best friend thing, it still hurts from time to time, when I let the negative overthinking get to me. Yet, I’m not upset at myself for phasing back once in a while – it’s a process, and I’ve been depressed for 7 years. It may also depress me that some people happen to think I’m always depressive…when that’s not what I am at all. But, all of them have solutions, when I need to have a solution for them. Plenty of people are best friends for years, even decades, while dating around the whole time, only to find out that the one they love was next to them the whole time. Or, I could fall out of love. Who knows? Maybe after my depression, I’ll become the cheerful kid I was again, or I’ll have another personality. Who knows? The point is: Don’t worry so much.