During a recent conversation with a boy I’m seeing, we were discussing hair colors we previously rocked in our younger years. I made a passing comment that my jet black hair was during my “dark and twisty” phase. Taken right out of the playbook of Meredith Grey, those words resonated with me more than anything during that period.
My dark and twisty period did not occur during my teenage years, when most people go through their “punk rock” or “goth” phase. To me, those phases aren’t really dark and twisty. The only true dark thing about that is the black nail polish and wardrobe bought at Hot Topic. My self-proclaimed “dark and twisty” years took place during college. Except for the period of jet black hair, from the outside I looked the complete opposite of dark or twisted. I held a full roster on the dean’s list, interned at major companies and wrote for my school paper. By surrounding myself with a stellar exterior, it deflected any attention of how rapidly my interior was deteriorating.
It was easy to blame the symptoms of depression on normal college student life. The excessive sleepiness was due to the long hours I was pulling studying and working on the school paper. My mood swings were stress-related — who wouldn’t get short with deadlines looming each week? And the lack of social activity and the slow withdrawal from friends — well, it was rationalized that people change and move on from each other. As long as my grades didn’t drop and law enforcement wasn’t involved, things were normal. Being away at school during that time, I craved peace and quiet. Even when I would have the apartment to myself on a Friday night, the calmness wouldn’t come except for the brief relief of not having to be in a social setting. The more I sat in the silence, the more it began to consume my life. Ironically, the peace and quiet I craved served as my own personal prison.
During the height of my dark and twisty phase, I was already in therapy. I was receiving treatment for anxiety due to a close college friend becoming suicidal and suffering a breakdown. For months in therapy, I’d state that everything was fine except for my panic attacks. I’m here, I’m not threatening to kill myself, so I’m perfectly sane. My therapist would say the same thing each time: “No one ever questioned your sanity. What we’re talking about it your happiness.”
Finally, during year two of therapy, the light bulb went off in my head. The acknowledgment factor that I suffer from depression was finally there. No longer was I blaming it on friends, family or circumstances. Despite whatever triggered it or built it up in my being, I was the one that had to live with it. If I wanted to ever be truly happy, I would have to learn to manage it. Once I admitted that I was suffering, it made everything easier, oddly enough. A self-awareness began to blossom, and I morphed into my own teacher of how to live a peaceful life. I learned to identify people and patterns that had brought me down previously, but more importantly, I also learned how to avoid them in my life. The circle of people I surrounded myself with may have become much smaller, but it is a solid group of people who wouldn’t run if I needed to vent, freak out or just be alone to sort out my thoughts. I finally became at peace with myself and my depression. Being honest with myself was the great gift I could give my future.
It’s been over a year since I’ve been in therapy, after a total of three years of treatment. Out of all of the individuals I met in college, the person I miss most is my therapist. Now that I’m aware of my predisposition to depression, I know warning signs and symptoms of it creeping up. I have the tools I learned and the experiences I went through previously to make sure that I don’t lose the happiness I’ve worked so hard to achieve. At the age of 23, I have the life experience of someone twice my age, but wouldn’t ask for it any other way. My depression gave me an entirety different perspective not only on those with mental health issues, but for the human race in general. Each day, someone is waking up trying to battle their own demons. Who are were to judge what is severe enough to make them depressed or upset? Out of the entire experience, the most bittersweet lesson learned was the appreciation of happiness. Never take for granted the feeling of happiness — because pure happiness is something that can only be created within.