Life with Depression
It's not always sleeping too much and contemplating suicide.
The surface of the earth is about 197 million square miles and home to 7.6 billion people. In roughly two years, 260 million more babies will be born. Now imagine those 260 million babies as individuals of all different ages, ethnicities, and genders. Add another five million individuals to that and you have 265 million people, all over the world. That’s how many people suffer from depression. I’m one of them. My name is Ashley and I’m 27 years old. I was diagnosed with depression almost 14 years ago, but I’ve struggled with it most of my life. In my early twenties, my diagnosis shifted from “depression” to “major depressive disorder.” It has never gone away and I’ve never been “cured.” I have good and bad days. Others generally see me as a cheerful person, because I don’t want them to experience my pain or show pity. Life with depression isn’t always bad and it doesn’t always entail sleeping too much or not at all, crying every day, feeling hopeless, or having thoughts of suicide. I’m here to share my story and raise awareness of what living with depression can look like to someone on the outside.
Growing up, I had a pretty normal childhood. At age 3, my parents got divorced - it wasn’t pretty. At age 7, I decided to leave my mom to live with my dad, step-mom, and younger step-sister.
Around age 10, I became a victim of bullying. At age 12, I self harmed for the first time, and things slowly went downhill from there. I lost many friendships, struggled with my home life, and lied about how I was doing. I felt completely alone. At the time, my dad didn’t believe in depression. He would say, “it’s all in your head,” even though he went through the same thing with my mom for years. The relationship with my step-mom was never great, and it only got worse as I got older. I was diagnosed with depression at 14, just before starting high school, and began trying different medications at 15 - which is also when I lost my virginity. You can imagine how well that went over with my dad and step-mom.
As high school went on, things got a little easier. I joined the dance team and found a family that accepted me, flaws and all. I wrote for the school newspaper and did well in my classes. I sang in the advanced choir and fulfilled my love for music on a daily basis. But there were still pieces of my life that I couldn’t fix - my relationship with my step-mom and the pull she had on my dad, the people that still called me names when I walked by them in the hall, and the constant feeling of defeat, even on better days.
Halfway through junior year and hundreds of fights with my dad and step-mom, I packed my things and moved back in with my mom, driving an hour to and from school every day. There was tension between my dad and I for a while, and we didn’t talk often. I confided in my mom constantly, knowing she would understand. After graduation, I was thrilled to move on to the next chapter in my life - being 18 and going to college.
I moved to Eugene and got an apartment with one of my best friends and attended the University of Oregon. And I hated it. My roommate was always gone, fulfilling all of her extracurricular activities, I hadn’t made any friends, and I had a class with my high school boyfriend - who was no longer my boyfriend. My new boyfriend was back home, along with all of my family and friends. I made it through one term, then bailed and moved home after overdosing on my antidepressants and Tylenol and passing out on my bathroom floor.
The day before Christmas at age 18, I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I had known each other for seven years, but had only been dating for four months. It was rough. The pregnancy took a toll on my body, my relationship was tested, and I lost many friendships. Again. After my son was born, I started to feel more and more hopeless and irritable. My doctor told me I was suffering from postpartum depression, on top of my clinical depression.
Around age 20, I developed unhealthy eating habits that led to excessive weight loss, but I didn’t want to hear it from anyone. Around age 22 was when my depression was determined to be major depressive disorder. I also got engaged to my son’s dad after three-and-a-half years. The following July, a series of unfortunate events led to our separation, nine days before our wedding. At this point, I began questioning my existence.
When I reached my lowest weight, I didn’t care. I was hanging around with the wrong crowd, binge drinking, doing drugs, and sleeping around every weekend - sometimes during the week. All of my relationships were suffering, and my son was stuck in the middle. I was self harming almost daily, and doing anything to stay awake and avoid a night full of nightmares. Eventually, I ended up at an inpatient treatment facility where I was forced to face my demons.
While I was in treatment, I learned that I was also struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. At first, I refused to believe it. I had never told the truth about the event that caused it, and it remained a secret for a few more months. When I finally said it out loud to my mom, everything became real and I started to feel a sense of hope for the first time in years. I got a great job just before I turned 23, made new friends, mended past relationships, and spent all of my time with my son. Shortly after, I got my own place where my son had his own room. His dad and I split our time in half, so I got to see my boy often. But when he wasn’t around, I was either spending my time at the bar or lying in bed crying about anything, everything, and nothing. I felt numb. I didn’t care what happened to me. I hadn’t self harmed in months and was taking all of my prescribed medications as directed. But I just wasn’t present in my life.
In October of 2016, I stopped all medications on my own. Mind you, I don’t recommend doing this. Stopping medication abruptly can cause many side effects and lead to worsening depression. For me, it was exactly what I needed. About two weeks after I discontinued them, I started to feel the real me coming back to the surface. It felt so good to feel like ME.
Since then, I’ve met an amazing man who accepts me with all of my baggage and flaws. He has many flaws of his own, but I’m able to understand and accept each one. We’re married now and have a two year old son. My older son is seven. We bought a house and adopted a pit bull. Our relationship has endured a lot in the three years we’ve been together, possibly more than many other three-year relationships.
Although there are many wonderful aspects about my life, I still struggle with depression every single day. Although I now have a great relationship with my dad, the tension with my step-mom is still very much alive, but I’m a grown woman and I can stand up for myself. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve learned to ask for help or support when I’m struggling more than usual. I don’t have many friends, but the few that I have are loyal and trustworthy and I wouldn’t trade that for popularity any day. As a mom, I have struggled to find myself. I’m still not entirely sure who I’m meant to be, and that’s okay. Some days it bothers me more than others, but I’ve found hobbies and passions that allow me to have a creative outlet that inspires me to keep moving forward. I will never be “cured” of my depression, but as time goes on, I will continue growing and learning and discovering who I am. I will cry, I will yell, and I will think about the days when a bump of cocaine or a bottle of pills was the only escape I had. But you know what else I will do? I will laugh, I will love, and I will watch my boys grow up to be great men. I will grow old with my husband and hopefully travel the world. I can still be happy even though I have depression, because now I know how to get through those difficult times. And I’m not alone. I never was. I needed to hit rock bottom to see the light. And I’m glad that I did.
Having depression isn’t all rainstorms and sad songs, self harm and thoughts of suicide. Having depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be managed with medication, therapy, and healthy coping mechanisms. Having depression can be completely debilitating, and for some, it is. And to those that suffer, I am sending all of my love, because I know what’s like to feel like the whole world has its hands around your neck. And to anyone that suffers from depression, debilitating or not, please know that you’re not alone - we are not alone.