Mental Health & Dealing with Depression
Erin Bagwell, 27Brooklyn, NY
Although I have always been a relatively happy person, I tumbled into depression my senior year of high school. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong, but in retrospect I’ve begun to understand. I was scared of going to college, scared because I didn’t know what I was doing, scared of having to live up to myself. And just generally lost. The worst part of this experience was the shame and the guilt I felt for being depressed. I chose to hide it from my family and my closest friends. It was a nightmare to just manage the pain I felt, but then to have to hide it felt even more overwhelming.
I used to have secret spots I would go to and cry. I carried such sadness all the time I had to physically hide myself so people wouldn’t know anything was wrong with me. At school it was the student council room, at home it was my car or the shower. One afternoon in the spring I was showering the with the window open and I started to cry. What started as a cry slowly turned into a sob. I remember the rush of letting go, and the cool water streaming over me. This was around the time I had finally talked to my parents about my situation and was on an antidepressant that just made me feel worse. Each day was an emotional blur, even the water from the shower seemed to slide off my skin without a feeling or a touch. I was in the shower sobbing and my mother bolted up the stairs to shhhhh me because we had company in the backyard. Our bathroom window was right above her guests and I was howling like a hyena. After she told me to be quiet and made sure I was OK, I slumped to the bottom of the tub.
I went through two or three therapists before I found one I could actually talk to. I think it was hard enough being depressed, but being a depressed teenager, most of my therapists just thought I was a spoiled brat. The first therapist I went to accused me of being goth because I just got out of a play dress rehearsal and had to wear all black as part of stage crew. I never went back to her.
I ended up healing the most when I found my reflexologist. We were able to talk and joke and cry and there was no judgement. I was just a person going through a hard time. I think most of the problems that I had in dealing with a traditional therapist was the one way communication. I felt too self conscious about my responses to their questions. With my reflexologist it was more of a conversation, a communication of thoughts. And because she took care in speaking with me as a person, I felt safe in her hands.
Depression, as I’ve learned in getting a little older, is something that lingers in life. I believe once you know you can let your mind plunge into such sadness, it becomes a lot easier to open that door again. I suffered a short bout of it again just a few years ago when my boyfriend went to London and my roommates moved out of our apartment. I was lonely, exhausted, and unhappy. I would spend hours staring out my bedroom window waiting for some kind of change in my life. I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again. But sometimes I would close my eyes and picture myself in a month, or a year, or five years and I would feel a little better.
The worst part of depression is how easily you can put up walls to mask any signs of pain in your life. It’s not too difficult (especially if you are Irish Catholic) to put on a mask and pretend everything is fine. You can carry that sadness alone and find secret hiding places to cry, or you can take the first step towards recovery. Sometimes it just takes a simple act of honesty and openness to take that first step.
One of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had in my life was when one of our close family friends opened up to me about his past battles with depression. We went out to a local pub for chicken fingers, which always help. He was honest and sincere, and didn’t try to downplay or dilute my thoughts or feelings. Instead of hiding or masking my pain, we just talked about it. It was so refreshing to be open about it, and felt really comforting to share those thoughts out loud. He didn’t speak down to me as an emotional high schooler, he treated me with respect and love. Dialogue and honesty, I believe, are the best remedies. Opening up, even for a little bit, can go a long way.
I think the number one thing I have learned from my experience with depression is that we can’t be afraid to talk about it. We can’t be afraid to engage in a dialogue about it, and allow our friends and family members the support they need to heal through communication. Nothing in our lives is perfect and that’s ok! If you need to talk about it come find me. We can go get chicken fingers.
Erin Bagwell is the Founder of Feminist Wednesday