4 Things You Learn Being Clinically Depressed (As A Child)
I was in middle school the first time I noticed that other people had hobbies that weren't limited to crying or curling into a ball and ignoring everything. Unfortunately, in health class, we talked about alcoholism, smoking meth, bullying, and (weirdly) how to protect yourself from tornadoes. Topics that weren't covered included consent, anal sex, or a basic show of hands for any kids existing in a state of perpetual, agonizing despair.
As if middle school and high school aren't bad enough for almost everyone already, 13-year-old me eventually felt so shitty about things I decided to make a doctor's appointment. They took one look at how many boxes were checked under "risk factors for major depressive disorder in adolescents," cackled (I assume), and sent me on my merry way to therapy, with a shiny new bag of SSRIs, aka antidepressants.
However, it took me a stupidly long time to get to that point, as it does for most kids who suffer from depression, because ...
Everyone Thinks You're Just Moody
No one thinks kids are old enough to be depressed. Apparently, depression isn't depression until you've spent a few decades binge-drinking and dating the wrong people. So, instead of being taken seriously, the common reaction a depressed kid will get from the adults around them is one of two things. You're going to get laughed at ("What do you have to be depressed about? You're a kid! Enjoy it! Just wait 'til you have bills!") or you're going to be patronized ("It's just your hormones/this age in general. Chin up!").
Even worse, those two common reactions constitute incredibly mixed messages. "Wait until you have bills!" implies that you should savor being young, because you'll only get sadder from here. On the other hand, "It's just your hormones and being in high school!" makes it seem like you just have to wait it out until the party that is adulthood starts and things will magically turn around.
Anyway, teenagers excel at a lot of things, like Snapchat and making the opening night of any movie at any theater complete and total Hell on Earth.
"The movie's been over for an hour; go home, you maniacs!"
The thing they excel at most, however, is understanding what's outside the norm. I was incredibly self-conscious about how depressed I was and how seemingly not depressed everyone else was, a fear the adults I trusted basically confirmed for me.
A lot of adults just flat-out refuse to take the emotions of children seriously. And, OK, kids cry over a lot of dumb things, sure. However, there's a difference between crying over One Direction breaking up and crying because you want to rip off your own skin to get away from yourself and you don't understand why. It's like everyone is just dancing around saying, "Yeah, that's called depression. Sucks. You need to adjust your plans and expectations accordingly. Maybe Yahoo Answers has some coping mechanisms. This could be your life for a while."
Maybe don't use Yahoo Answers.
Granted, that would probably be the best thing to say, but if people did the best things all the time, I wouldn't be writing this, you know?
That said, it's very true that teens are so jacked up on hormones it makes them all dumb. Also, as a teenage girl, I was expected by society to be dramatic for the fun of it, because society hates few things more than teenage girls. So, yes, depression can be directly related to hormones during puberty, and it's highly possible that you'll start to feel better when your body is done shedding pre-puberty-you like some kind of irrationally moody serpent. Also, getting out of that shitty hometown you hate may very well help, just like all the indie punk songs you know and love from your Hot Topic days promise.
I hated every single person who promised me any of that. They were well-meaning, obviously, but assuring a person that they'll feel better at some undetermined point in the future does nothing to help them feel better in that moment, which is when they actually need it. I wish I could "That's So Raven" people to let them know that, nope, adult me is still rocking the depression, just with a job and better eyebrows.
Also, looking back, telling depressed children that this is the most carefree they will ever be in their lives is terrible advertising for not killing yourself. Just a heads-up, adults.
Treatment Has Weird Side Effects (Including Having No Friends)
Obviously, treatment options depend heavily on your insurance/resources and if any adults in your life actually give enough of a fuck to get you treatment. I was fortunate enough to have both but unfortunate enough that both were more on the "eh" side of things.
As mentioned earlier, "treatment" for me mostly just meant a prescription for SSRIs. Fun fact: In adolescents under 18, antidepressants can cause suicidal thoughts or behaviors. To combat this, I was given a very stern talk by my doctor that ended with a pinkie promise to not off myself. I'd repeat this process several times over the next two years, every time my dosage was adjusted.
In high school, when it became clear that the Zoloft alone wasn't cutting it, I was prescribed Wellbutrin, which is kind of a serious drug to give someone who still has to ask to go to the bathroom. I can be a fairly aggressive person in my own right, and getting used to Wellbutrin is a process that revolves largely around being awake and hostile. I had already been fidgety, but now I was that weird, super-tense girl in U.S. History who couldn't stop grinding her teeth. Luckily, misusing Adderall is popular with the youths these days, so I fit in pretty well in some respects.
Pills fix everything.
But, then, the more often it kept me up for the first month, the more people thought I was on meth or something. Mostly because I looked and acted like I was on meth or something. To say this impacted my ability to make friends is the kind of understatement you should be able to file criminal charges against a person for making.
Reflect on high school for a bit. Really immerse yourself in what it was like to be there with the same fucking people every day. Sure, in hindsight, I shouldn't have worried what anyone else thought. In reality, though, there weren't enough "Be Yourself!!!" counseling-office posters in the world to have convinced me of that at the time. I didn't care about being popular; I just didn't want to be weird. Nothing about constantly fluctuating levels of antidepressants in your bloodstream helps with achieving that goal.
Also, they didn't help much. By my senior year of high school, my senoritis was less "skip class to crash the mall" and more "skip class because my mood has fallen and it can't get up."
In college, my SAD (seasonal affective disorder) started to fuck with my regular sad. How do you fix that? Sit in front of a lamp, every day, for 20 minutes.
Radiate your cares away!
Not just any lamp, of course. It mimics sunlight, which should tell you how goddamn blindly bright it is. It is a clunky, glowing box, and it did not fit in with my dorm's PBteen vibe or whatever.
Because of this, my two roommates, who were friends before I met them at move-in, called me Weird Lamp Girl. OK, no they didn't, but my stupid brain was convinced they did.
Either way, I had to explain why I was sitting in front of a lamp for 20 minutes a day, and a flippant, "Sertraline queen is my stripper name," wasn't going to get me out of the conversation. Growing up is hard enough. Having to do it while constantly having to explain the things you do to stay normal in a way that makes them seem normal, as you can imagine, just makes things so much worse.
Nobody Teaches You How To Manage Things
For adolescents, the most successful way to treat depression is to take medication and talk to a therapist at the same time. I've been on medication more often than not since I was 13. The taking drugs part I've always had down. Largely due to the "eh" quality of both my insurance and guardians, I only saw therapists sporadically and never specifically for my depression. It was mostly just a creepy old person quietly whispering some variation of, "Your brain is broken, just like your family. Here are some pills. Ciao."
Some of them put it more nicely than others.
One thing always remained the same, though -- everything was always about "getting better." Depression was framed as an illness with an end goal. I was either going to get cured or I was going to be depressed forever, sucks to be me. I was terrified at the thought that being sad was just going to be my life. At 21, I have zero concept of time or "the future," and 15-year-old-me found it even more unfathomable. No one even suggested that it might be manageable or that the situation isn't completely fucking helpless. Either the drugs were going to work or nothing was going to work.
But when have drugs ever let a person down?
Maybe they just assumed I'd read all the pamphlets and associated paperwork that comes with having any health condition, mental or otherwise, but goddamn that's a huge assumption to make when you're dealing with a teen. Everything feels like a hurdle at that age, and at 5-foot-2 and with my instinctively sunny disposition, I'd rather make a joke about hanging myself from that hurdle so everyone else around me felt as uncomfortable as I did, as opposed to doing anything to get myself over it.
Still, I did my best to "manage" my depression anyway, probably without even realizing that's what I was doing. It won't surprise you much to know I wasn't always great at it.
So You Make It Up
It's like my mother once said, "Sometimes it's either funny or you kill yourself." To deal with my depression, I got funny and loud enough to pretend I was well-adjusted and happy. Privately treating my depression like a joke was the only way I could figure out how to deal with it.
Actually, that's not true. In my darker days of high school, I also developed a self-harm habit. That seems like a detail that shouldn't be excluded here, right?
Occasionally, those coping mechanisms would overlap, like the time I left my iPod on shuffle and realized, mid-cutting myself, that I was listening to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from the Bright Eyes Christmas album.
Yeah, of course it really exists!
I froze for a second and then cackled at what a trite, shitty episode of Skins I'd make.
Don't worry, depending on your proximity to me, you'll be relieved to know that, as of a few years ago, I have since replaced self-harm with unabashedly talking to myself. It's way more helpful and raises slightly fewer red flags. That's especially true on public transportation. Lots of people talk to themselves on the train; no one cares if you're still young and pretty.
It works at home, too! For example, there are days where I wake up and say, "Oh! I see we're thinking about killing ourselves today. That is bad and you're not going to do that, OK? You're going to get up and get out of the house, even if it's just to buy cigarettes or cry in the woods. This is your disorder, and you're not going to fucking kill yourself."
Unless it's with cigarettes.
And then I repeat that however many times it takes until that feeling passes. If it doesn't, then I phone a friend and have them remind me that I am not a hideous hovel shrew who deserves to choke on her own tears and shattered dreams, because depression will tell you shit like that sometimes.
For more from Alice Jane Axness, follow her on Twitter @milkwench.
For more from Alice, check out 5 Famous Lucky Charms That Get More Baffling With Research and 4 Things You Only Learn From Exercise If You're In Bad Shape.