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The Winter Issue

Depression Is an Ongoing Battle—Here's What I've Learned

Care and Trigger Warning

This article contains content about depression and suicide. If reading this brings up uncomfortable feelings for you, you can speak confidentially with trained advocates for free. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Depression is sneaky, until it’s not. I can zero in on the exact day that I admitted to myself I was depressed—I was at a friend’s apartment, writing out our Christmas cards together. It was a picture-perfect day on the outside. The photo I posted on Instagram that day was perfect: my cute NYC card seen through a sparkling glass of champagne.

I wasn’t trying to hoodwink anyone except myself.

If I posted the perfect picture, and had the perfect moments, maybe I would be happy. But despite that nice moment, I wasn’t happy. And I couldn’t fool myself. 

I felt empty inside, like my soul had left my body. That was the first time I realized I was depressed. And it set off a series of appointments, medications, treatments, hospitalizations, and battles to get me to where I am today. 

I had already been in therapy, but after that day, I took another step. I went on Wellbutrin, hoping it would crack through the shell of emptiness. 

When my psychiatrist wrote me that first prescription in 2015, I remember asking her if she thought I’d need to be on it for a long time. “No,” she said, “I think maybe six months or so—just to get you through this patch.”

It turned out to be just one step in a journey to treating my ongoing depression. 

Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way.

Depression Is an Ongoing Battle 

When my psychiatrist told me she thought I’d be on Wellbutrin for six months or so, I took it to heart. But several factors—both controllable and not—made that unrealistic.

Neither of us could have predicted that just four months after that conversation, my mom would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That she would die less than two years later.

I felt empty inside, like my soul had left my body. That was the first time I realized I was depressed.

Or that inside of six months in 2017, I would also lose my job, have to give up my dog, and experience the breakup of a summer fling. A perfect storm for someone struggling with depression.

We also didn’t know at the time the depth of mental illness in my genetics, thanks to adoption.

She didn’t yet know the depth of how much I was drinking…because I didn’t tell her.

The combination of these risk factors really created the perfect storm, and, twice, I put myself in the eye of the storm by chasing several drinks with a handful of pills in an attempt to escape the pain. I didn’t think I could get my head above water, and escaping just felt “easier.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

After the second suicide attempt, I realized nothing changes if nothing changes, and I checked myself in for six weeks of inpatient treatment.

Intellectually, I knew that six weeks of intensive therapy wouldn’t cure me…but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hope that deep down. Although I was nervous about rejoining the “real world,” I also felt my stomach drop as we filled out depression relapse prevention sheets as part of our discharge plans.

It was in that stomach drop that I realized that this is something I might be managing for a long time…or even the rest of my life.

I literally got pushed under a wave a few weeks ago, and as I caught my breath coming up, I realized what a metaphor it was. Sometimes the waves will knock you down, and sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve just barely made it to land, but those waves will pass. 

Everything You Need Is Inside You

It took a long time and a lot of pain to learn this one, but maybe the most transformative realization is that everything I need is inside me. I wrote the words “everything I need is inside me” over and over again in a notebook in my loopy cursive in treatment, willing them to imprint on my brain. 

I even thought about getting a tattoo, in hopes that literally imprinting the words on me would help them seep into my brain. But it took time and repetition—and sometimes I forget even today. 

My journey to that realization, though, was peppered with desperately looking for a magic bullet that would help me. 

I looked ANYWHERE but inside for so long. Grasping for any straws, hoping that it was just an equation I had to solve, and that if I found the right variable, I would solve it! It would be fine! 

It took a long time and a lot of pain to learn this one, but maybe the most transformative realization is that everything I need is inside me.

But I’m a writer and therapist, not a mathematician, so this was a faulty equation. Oh, the way I tried, though. I hopped on every wellness trend—from goat yoga, to healing crystals, to sound baths.

I frantically texted everyone I knew, hoping they’d have some secret answer that would be a game-changer for me. If I just tried this other thing, or I just reframed things in a certain way, everything would fall into place and I’d feel fine, right?

Maybe I just needed to read the right book? Listen to the right podcast? There had to be an epiphany somewhere.

Or if I just found the right medication or combination thereof. Or if I moved to California, away from all of my triggers in New York. When I packed up my bags to head for Los Angeles, my therapist said, "I don’t think California will cure your depression," as I rolled my eyes at her. "Wherever you go, there you are."

But when I can manage to quiet down my busy brain, often the answers do come to me.

Don't Be An A**hole to Yourself

As much as I just said that there’s no magic bullet—Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion work has really stayed with me. If you’re anything like me, the voice in your head is probably far more harsh to you than anyone else will ever be. 

A New Yorker at heart, I thought being nice to myself was something I didn't have time for. How would I ever get everything I wanted to get done without yelling at myself?

Since losing my mom, all I’ve wanted is just for someone to tell me that 'it will all be OK, sweetie.' The truth is that nobody else telling me that will ever carry as much weight as a mom telling you that, but the other truth is that I do have someone with me all the time who can tell me that—me.

Our bodies respond to these internal self-attacks the same way they do to a verbal attack from someone else—or even how they respond to a physical attack. The next time you’re beating yourself up metaphorically, take a look at your posture. Odds are, you’re probably curling in on yourself in protection.

We have enough external stimuli attacking us in different ways—why also do that to ourselves?

You Have to Be Honest—With Yourself and Others

Several days before I left for inpatient treatment, one of my friends said to me, “You know, you need to not try to outsmart this therapist.”

My face flushed with indignancy. She wasn’t in the room with us! What did she know?!

So much, dear reader, so much.

And as my therapist began to rip my soul bare, I saw what she meant. I had been so afraid to tell anyone about some of the emotions and actions I was most ashamed of. The convenient thing about the self-medicating I was doing with alcohol and benzos is that you lose any self-awareness.

I’ve blocked out much of 2018, when my depression was the worst, in part because it’s too painful to remember how I felt, and in part, because I carry a lot of shame for how I acted when I had no idea how I was acting when I was desperately trying to escape my feelings.

We have enough external stimuli attacking us in different ways—why also do that to ourselves?

I was so scared to be myself. A person who had a range of BIG feelings—including the “socially unacceptable” ones. The ones a woman shouldn’t have. Jealousy, anger, pettiness, etc. 

I’ve been writing about my mental health on the internet since my first panic attack in 2011, and readers have always commended me for being “open.” 

Really, though, I was playing a part—that of a cool, breezy girl. In truth, I am as breezy as the NYC subway in August, and all my close friends saw what I could not at the time.

I’d wound myself up so tight in trying to preserve that identity that I didn’t even realize it was a mask, a part I was playing poorly, until long after it started unraveling. (Suffice it to say, I did not move to Los Angeles to become an actor.)

Facing Feelings

To know me in real life is to know I have an incredibly expressive face. I should never play poker. 

My therapist in inpatient treatment was as perceptive as I am expressive, and I still remember literally squirming on the chair in her office, shrinking back into the chair, as she pushed me harder to identify an emotion. 

I’d spent so long “coping” with my emotions by just pretending they didn’t exist—numbing them through alcohol, a packed schedule, trying to rationalize them away—that I’d let them have so much power over me. 

I’d wound myself up so tight in trying to preserve that identity that I didn’t even realize it was a mask, a part I was playing poorly, until long after it started unraveling.

And sure, facing feelings is hard—but stuffing them down and dealing with the consequences once they inevitably pop up is harder. Seven years ago, I couldn’t even identify my emotions, much less sit with them, so forget about any kind of emotional regulation

I’ve been seeing the same psychiatrist, Dr. Wendy Wolfson, this entire time, so she’s been “lucky” enough to have a front-row seat to my depression.

I know we can be faulty narrators of our own lives and stories, so I was curious about what she saw as the biggest change she’d seen in how I’d managed my depression over the years. 

Without skipping a beat, she replied “emotional regulation.” I used to be completely at the mercy of my emotions. They still sometimes try to drive, but I know how to apply the brakes before they cause a pileup. 

It Won’t Always Be the Same

One of the hardest parts about depression is that it’s a pesky house guest who I never know when is going to stop over. Sometimes I can see the patterns—since losing my mom Carol (named for Christmas carols) the holidays can be incredibly painful. The anniversary of her death can be hard.

But sometimes these expected triggers barely affect me, while something seemly smaller can throw me into a tailspin. While it’s incredibly frustrating to be kept on my toes like that, I now know these episodes aren’t as random as I once believed them to be, even if they may be unexpected. 

One of the hardest parts about depression is that it’s a pesky house guest who I never know when is going to stop over.

What worked last time might not work this time. My medications may need to be tweaked—and have been more times than I can count. Ketamine has been a game-changer for me over the past few years, but I know there could be a possibility it might not always work for me.

Sometimes I may need to exercise more, such as if I have lots of restless energy to burn off, but sometimes I need to chill out on working out because I’ve run myself into the ground.

Accepting the Ongoing Battle

I don’t want the fact that I deal with chronic depression to be something that makes me different. 

It frustrates me to know that I have to carry a fistful of pills, carefully counted out before I travel anywhere. That impromptu overnight stays are more difficult because I’m afraid of the side effects of not having my medications. To know that depression is an interloper who could show up at any time, very much uninvited and unwelcome.

In fact, now that I am a mental health professional myself, it scares me even more that my depression could come back at any time. What if I become too depressed to do my job? What if I need to be hospitalized again?

And while there is plenty that is in my power, that I can do to help myself, at the end of the day, depression is a disease—one that carries a high relapse rate. Half of the people who’ve had one major depressive episode will have recurrent episodes. Knowing that makes me feel less like I’ve “done something wrong.”

I weathered the storm, but I can’t outrun my genetics. And there will always be something that triggers my depression. I’ve learned to ride the waves as they come and keep fighting.  

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Thibodeau PH, Hendricks RK, Boroditsky L. How linguistic metaphor scaffolds reasoning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2017.07.001

  2. Burcusa SL, Iacono WG. Risk for recurrence in Depression. Clinical psychology review. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.02.005

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer using her experiences to help others. She holds a master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University and is a board member of Still I Run, a non-profit for runners raising mental health awareness. Theodora has been published on sites including Women's Health, Bustle, Healthline, and more and quoted in sites including the New York Times, Shape, and Marie Claire.