I want to make sure to note that I did not immediately come away from my first therapy appointment with a diagnosis and prescription. This is important! It took a several visits and lots of talking, as well as a couple of inventory-style tests, to determine that I was, indeed, depressed, and not just sickly and feeling down in the dumps.
After a couple of visits, my therapist had me describe the past year or so to her. I recounted the sudden ending of a serious relationship; a back injury that had caused me to drop a magazine internship and left me more or less lying in bed for a month; the recent theft of my laptop (and, as a result, the loss of the digital copies of all of my pictures from my semester in Madrid). I’m sure there was more. When I had finished, she said kindly, “I’m hearing about a lot of loss.”
I sat back and said, “Huh.”
I was happily in a new relationship (hello, husband!), my back had healed after some physical therapy, and I had a better, new computer -- and with most of my pictures on Facebook, I hadn’t really lost them all. In my mind, all of these losses had been resolved. Plus, they weren’t earth-shattering things -- they were normal life things that happen to everyone. But this wise woman explained how sometimes our minds and bodies can catalogue these losses, absorb the shock and sadness of them, and hold on to them, creating a kind of “circumstantial” depression. In her opinion, I was trying to recover from all these “life” things and just needed some help getting over the hump, as it were. She suggested medication to help with that, which I was open to, but I made her aware that I did not want to be on antidepressants for the long-term. “Am I on these for the rest of my life?” I asked nervously. She assured me that she didn’t see that being necessary in my case. I had every reason to believe that this was a temporary state of being for me, and I would come away healthier, happier, and ready to live my life again (without wanting to nap for an hour, every hour, on the hour).
I made an appointment with the doctor at the adjoining health center and she, without asking the specifics of my symptoms or what I hoped to gain from the medication, prescribed a smallish dose of Celexa to be taken daily. She told me it was a “middle of the road antidepressant” and I assumed she had conferred with my therapist (as I had given her permission to do), so I didn’t worry. I filled the prescription and began to take it.
The next few months are a blur, not because of depression but because I was entering the last two months of my college career. I think I did better. I took my medication and continued therapy. I finished and defended my thesis, which ended up being long enough and, I was told, good enough to have been an honors thesis as I had originally intended (too late). I attended all of the senior events -- my eating house formal, myriad college-sponsored celebrations, senior week at Folly Beach -- and had a fantastic time. I graduated cum laude and felt excited to see what was next. Saying goodbye to my friends and professors was hard, but I was content to move back home to Massachusetts with my family and figure out my next steps. By all appearances, I had made it over the hump of whatever circumstances were dragging me down, and in my mind, I was done with this “depression” thing.
I wasn’t done, or maybe it’s better said that depression wasn’t done with me. Now I understand that it likely never will be. I don’t say this with pessimism or hopelessness; just with the comprehension that depression, like most mental illnesses and many physical ones, is a chronic condition. With treatment, self-care and lots of attention, I can help it recede to the outskirts of my life on occasion (and hopefully, eventually, for longer chunks of time). But I’m learning to accept that my depression and I will never be done. Learning to live with that fact is another step toward a healthier life -- and so is cutting myself a break when the disease forges its way back into the center of my existence and takes hold. Depression may not be done with me, but I am most certainly not done with it.