Last week, I was driving south on I-89 when I passed a black Suburban. The backseat window rolled down and a boy stuck his face out, grinning. In his hands was a notebook with one word written on it: Smile.
Passing the car and the sign, I felt strange. Smile? The concept seemed so foreign; it’s been a while since I have truly smiled. It’s been months since I’ve been happy.
It’s not that I’ve faced some awful tragedy this year, but little things add up and I can’t seem to get my feet back on the ground. Looking back, I was never a truly happy kid. After my mom died from melanoma in 2001, I stopped confiding in people about my emotions. I kept them bottled up and used writing as an outlet. In high school, I thought the solution would be to stay busy. I found that I operate better when I have less time on my hands because I don’t have time to constantly dwell on the negatives in my life. This work pattern has continued to today.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I sought help. But this year was different. In January, I studied abroad in Dublin. I was away from my support system: my friends, family, and boyfriend. With the time difference, I barely had contact with anyone. On top of it all, I was taking fewer classes and couldn’t work on a student visa. I started noticing myself slip into a very unhealthy state of mind. I never wanted to leave the apartment. I was sick all the time and cried myself to sleep. I felt alone in a foreign country. I saw a counselor, but it wasn’t the counselor I was used to. Instead of helping me with my loneliness, I felt that she wanted to bring up old topics in my life, like the feeling of abandonment from my mom’s death. I didn’t want to talk about something that happened 11 years ago. Talking about that wouldn’t solve my problems, and it didn’t.
I hoped when I was stateside, and back around everyone I loved, I would automatically be better, but depression just doesn’t go away on its own. You need a support system in your life, and when I was back in Vermont none of people that kept constant communication with me when I was abroad were in the state. I started to worry that I was losing my friends, my support system. I’m not good at keeping friends when I’m not around them. Once I moved away from my hometown, I slowly stopped talking to everyone back home, and I’m worried that if I move away from Burlington, or my friends move away, I won’t know how to create a new support system of friends. These people mean so much to me, and I don’t know how to handle the fear that they may not always be in my life.
So, instead of trying to make the most of my summer, finding out what makes me happy or making new friends, my life revolved around work and settling in to my new apartment— the first time truly living on my own. I got too involved in work that I wasn’t there for my boyfriend when he needed it, and that ended. My dad remarried and although it was supposed to be a happy time, I felt that it was an end of an era—I know my dad will always love my mom, but it made me miss her more. On top of it all, senior year has barely started and I’m already feeling the stress and pressure of graduation and getting a job in my field.
I tried going back to my usual work-a-holic self, but it seems that no matter how busy I stay, I am only temporarily “happy.” Being around people, I can pretend things are okay. I know I’m not really fooling people, but they don’t know how sad and alone I really feel. I know I have a large support system, but at the same time, I still feel alone.
In the past ten months, I spent a good nine of those crying at least once a day. Many nights I can’t sleep. My mind races and races, and I can’t figure out how to turn it off. My thoughts transferred to classwork. I would sit down to do homework and within an hour, I’d be impatient and feel I need to be around people. I’ve lost my self-confidence. My drive for getting a job post-graduation is one of the only things keeping my motivation up. I’ve stopped believing that I am worth anything, but being a hard worker. With all this being said, I would like to reassure my friends and family that I have not had thoughts of suicide.
Since I’ve been back at school, I’ve been seeing my counselor. She asked if I wanted to schedule an appointment with the school’s psychiatrist, and if I had ever considered medication. When she suggested I may have depression, I felt relieved because someone else was recognizing what I felt. It is one thing for me to say I’m depressed, but it’s another for a person in the field to say it.
According to the CDC, it’s estimated that one in ten adults suffer from some level of depression. There are different types of depression and seeing the school’s psychiatrist could possibly tell me how bad it really is. Part of me wants to know, but I want to try to get better without medication. If I know where I fall, I know I will focus on that level. I will worry and fret which won’t help me in the long run. There are things I’ve been ignoring for the last 12 years and as each day passes things are only getting worse. It is time to take things into my hands and try to get better the natural way.
I need to go back to making my daily to-do lists. I need to make short-term goals, and to try to do the little things in life that make me happy, like taking the time to truly smile. I need to figure out how to make my long-term goals happen, how I can become a travel writer. I need to focus on the good things in life.
Instead of being upset about the loss of my mom, I should be happy to the new addition to my family from my dad’s marriage.I should be happy that I have two boys born into my extended family this summer. I should be happy that I am still doing well in school, and although I’m too busy, at least, I have a job, let alone three. I should be proud that I started the school’s online newspaper, instead of feeling like it’s a failure from the small amount of content. I should be excited that I’ve had the opportunity to go to five countries this year, and I hope to go to two more by next summer.
I started this blog because I wanted to live life to the fullest, to chase after my dream balloons, and this year I haven’t been doing that. I haven’t been doing what is healthy for me. I need to find things that make me happy again, no matter how small. I need to keep talking to those I trust. I need to sleep and eat and exercise. I need to love myself.
Frank L. Baum once wrote, “There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” I know the courage is in me somewhere. I just need to know how to find it.
If someone you know has been showing symptoms of depression, reach out to them. Knowing that people care means a lot.