[My experiences are my own and do not reflect, nor do I speak for, other depressive experiences or depression sufferers. Article contains non-explicit mentions of self-harm, therefore reader discretion is advised.]
Although it's probably not the best note to end 2016 on, and definitely not the most positive to start 2017, depression will never leave you. Not entirely. Now, don't get me wrong, it does get better. It gets so much better - the day you're able to breathe in and feel the cold, crisp winter air fill your lungs and compare it to being alive as opposed to being suffocated, it's wonderful. Finally feeling happiness and sadness and excitement again after months of being numb is indescribable. But it doesn't end there.
The thing about having a mental illness is that you'll never be neuro-typical again. And if you are, you're one of the few lucky ones. Having high functioning anxiety and depression is the worst kind of cocktail. Being suicidal with a strong guilt and responsibility complex doesn't help much, either. I was a stubborn and shy woman who refused to talk to anybody, aside from a friend who I believed was trustworthy. And that was only after a close shave with a nearly fatal attempt at self harm. This friend then proceeded to tell the rest of our social circle, not out of concern for me, but because 'they deserved to know'. This is your first lesson: that is bullshit. Your illness is not their right. You need support, you need to know that you are never alone, but you do not need to be made to feel guilty for adding another weight to someone else's shoulders -- especially if they're the ones to betray your trust in the first place. You are worth more than that.
If you're unlucky enough to have that happen to you, then sharing details about your life will always be something you never take lightly. You'll always wonder about who else will be hearing this news, who else will know your secrets. This isn't healthy, but it's something that will take a long time to get over. I'm still working on it. But there are people out there who deserve your friendship, who will earn your trust. And they will come. Trust me, they will make themselves known, and it will be far better than you could imagine. When you find yourself getting better, when you manage to climb out of that pit in your mind and feel the sunshine on your face, they'll be there every step of the way. Good and bad.
And there will be bad. There will be days where you just want to stay in bed, days where you can't be bothered to move, to brush your teeth or shower. And you think, is this it again? Am I back where I was before, or is it just this day? Just one bad day? You'll ask yourself this every time, and every time you'll never know for sure. Because depression doesn't come from nowhere. It's a weed, its roots buried deep inside, clinging to every doubt and insecurity you've ever had. You'll go through the motions, heart slowly sinking because you promised yourself you'd never be here again. And then, maybe in an hour or maybe in a day, you're okay. But that doesn't stop the fear, the disappointment, that it happened again. And there was absolutely nothing you could do.
You are stronger than you know. It's important that you remember this. It was you who picked yourself up on your worst day, it was you who put down whatever tools you used to hurt yourself, and it was you who made sure you held on. You made it here because you are a warrior, and you will not be beaten. Not by this.
Of course, if you're anything like me, when you're better you'll never really tell people that you had depression. It may come up every now and then, you'll say it's not really an important thing for others to know about you, but having depression and moving past it is such a defining period of time. Then will come the frustration, when people use the word "depressed" so easily, frivolously, completely unaware how the mere word sends a dozen and one memories through your mind. No, that film doesn't make you feel so depressed. That film makes you sad. Do not trivialise a very real struggle. There'll come a time when someone says "give me a break, I've got anxiety" and you want to scream because you've been there, you understand, but mental illness does not give you a free pass to be a jerk. But you can't say that, because they don't know, and you're not too sure if you want to expose that part of yourself just yet.
There are many things that people will never tell you about depression, about what comes after. There's all this and more. There's the rekindled love of things you didn't even realise you missed. You'll love open spaces again, and you'll appreciate a bad grade. Everyone's experiences are different, but I was never better at academia than when I was depressed. I had nothing else to keep me going. The first time I got a lower mark afterwards, I smiled.
Sometimes you'll look at an old scar and think how easy it would be to open it up again, because like all things which are bad for you, self harm is an addiction. You'll look, and you'll trace the white lines, and you'll leave them be. Because the most important thing about recovering from depression is that, in time, you'll learn to love yourself again.
And that's the most important thing.
In memory of Carrie Fisher. De-stigmatise the talk around mental illness. You are not weak for suffering. Make your voices heard.