**Trigger warning: the following article may not be appropriate for those dealing with depression and other mental illnesses.
You probably guessed from the title that, today, we will be discussing depression. I know that this is another one of those terms that gets thrown around all the time, as in, “ugh, I’m so depressed that Starbucks was out of my favorite coffee flavoring today.” And that’s a real shame, because, for those of us who actually have to live with the day to day debilitating realities of depression, we wish that being temporarily disappointed and frustrated was all it entailed.
I’m not 100% sure of when my depression began, but I can tell you that it had very little to do with my childhood (which many psychologists like to blame these days). My childhood was pretty fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m pretty sure that my depression came from A) the scientific imbalance of chemicals in my brain and B) certain habits and behaviors that nurtured my depressed state.
I know I might be making a lot of people mad right now, but here is what I have personally found. There’s one group of people who believe depression to be an excuse, and that it doesn’t actually exist. “Oh I can’t do anything with my life, cuz, well, I’m depressed.” There are others who believe it’s purely a physical condition, where there is an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain, with no known direct cause, that only medication can fix. There are others still, who believe depression can be a symptom of one or more negative life circumstances taking its toll on one’s psyche. And then there’s me. I believe it’s a mixture of everything. Leave it to me to find a “happy” medium. (And just as a disclaimer, I’m sure there are even more theories out there, but these are the ones that I am aware of.)
In my life, depression was usually caused by something negative happening to me, mixed with the lack of skills and knowledge to be able to deal with these situations in a healthy and mature way. The first time I experienced depression, was when I went off to my first year of seminary. I was sick for the first week or so, and didn’t get a chance to meet the 180+ girls who were there. And if you read my post about friends, you’d know that this wasn’t a very good start to the year for me. Also, I hadn’t been away from home for such an extended period of time before; so the homesick struggle was real. And, on top of it all, I got into a pretty dysfunctional relationship for a bit there. All of these factors, together, caused a good chunk of my first 6 months of seminary, to be spent in the campus garden, feeling like a complete failure, sobbing my eyes out, and waiting for the sprinklers to come on, just so I could get completely soaked, and tell my roommates that I “accidentally” got drenched in the sprinklers again (thereby covering up my tears). After those first 6 months, my parents came to visit, and things started to turn around for me. I started making a few friends and enjoying my time there more. All in all, I think this was just an extreme case of growing pains. It was really hard, and I don’t wish it on anyone. But at the same time, I wouldn’t redo it. Because it made me who I am today, and allowed me to see how independent I could really be, and how, if I put forth the effort (and maybe get a bit less in my head about things), I could make friends.
The next episode after that, was when I spent a summer in Israel with my parents. It was actually the summer I “met” Dovid. I had all these grand plans for what I would do that summer. But for some reason, I was too scared, and, maybe, too lazy to make them happen. I’d spend all day in my room, on my computer and phone, and not care to be a person (eat normally, go outside, accomplish things.) I remember sitting in my room, midsummer, with a pile of dirty laundry up to the sky, and my parents coming in, and telling me how much they loved me, and how they knew I was better than this. I don’t think they or I realized what was happening at the time. The only thing that felt safe was technology (my previous blog, g-chatting with Dovid, and just the internet in general.) I think I was always addicted to tech, but that summer, I reached a pretty new low, because my addiction was finally having a profoundly negative impact on my life. It’s bittersweet, because I met Dovid through tech, but I do wish I could have met him the way I did, and still have led a normal life outside the internet as well. It’s a constant struggle. One I work on every day. At least at this point, I am able to function. And G-d do I love my tech-free Shabbatot.
The next time I knew something was up, was when Dovid and I broke shomer when we started dating in real life. It was something I had never expected from myself. It was one of those things that I equated with who I was (my determination to keep shomer negiah), and if this part of me wasn’t there anymore, well then, who was I? (And for those of you thinking it, no, we did not have premarital sex. But I do know frum Jews who have, and I can understand how easy it would be to go there, even if it’s not what you had in mind for yourself.) It was such a confusing time, where I was so blissfully happy to have found someone who loved and understood me, yet at the same time, my identity, and everything I thought I was, was shattering to pieces. I remember walking through New York City, holding hands, and then having a full blown panic attack moments later where I couldn’t breathe because I wasn’t sure what the heck I was doing.
And the final depression I know of, is one that I am currently still in. When Dovid and I got married, I had to shed the skin of my former identity and start to grow some new (thicker) skin. That has been a really long process for me, and, though, I’m sure everyone experiences it on some level, here I am, 6.5 years later, and I’m still not totally there. The beginning was the hardest. I remember hearing that your first year of marriage is either incredible or miserable, and there was no in between. But there I was, years down the line, and still feeling the same way I had at the beginning. We had moved to Israel for a year, I think, partially, because I knew things weren’t right, and I was, unrealistically, hoping for better luck in a different location. At first, the excitement of moving definitely gave us a high and we were all superficially “happy”. But very soon afterwards, it all came crashing down, harder than it had before. I remember being in our apartment, all alone. Sitting on our bright red leather couch (which had come with the apartment), and looking at our knife rack in the kitchen. I was listening to some really dark music (that I now try to stay far away from). And I remember thinking, that if I can’t keep a marriage together, if I couldn’t be a good mother, if I couldn’t find a meaningful job…well then, what was the point? I could end it. Right here. Right now. I could be done. Done with feelings. Done with all the pain. Done.
Dovid found me on the couch sobbing, listening to that dark music, and immediately knew something was wrong. His empathy, compassion, and insistence on getting the proper help are why I’m in the much better place I am today. Dovid was and still is dealing with a lot of his own stuff, but I have to say, he was, and is, a real support for me when I needed and need him the most.
I’m so grateful for all the quality help my excellent therapists and psychiatrists provided me then and now. I recall pushing off taking the medication my psychiatrist prescribed for weeks, and hyperventilating the first time I actually took the medicine, because it was a physical symbol of my admission that I had a problem, and (probably the more embarrassing of the two) because at the time, I didn’t know how to swallow pills. I’m happy to report that now, I am a proud pro at pill swallowing. The pills weren’t supposed to kick in for quite a while, but I was extremely lucky because when they kicked in, they did wonders for me. Don’t get me wrong, in my experience, medication is not a cure. But boy, does it take the edge off. Finding the right medication on your first go is not typical, so I’m really grateful I won the “medication lottery”, so to speak. Medication has allowed me to utilize every ounce of energy I possess, and function as a productive human being in this world. Things definitely get better and worse at times, and though we went through one of our “worsts” recently, Dovid and I are still standing, probably stronger than ever.
I think going through all this stuff made me realize just how much one person can be going through, and has strengthened me in my commitment to be kind to others. A simple “hello” or kind word can make or break a person’s day; and why wouldn’t I want to be the one that made it? Sending you all lots of love and luck throughout the battles and journeys you experience in this life. Looking forward to continuing this adventure together with you, by having each other’s back and feeling all the feels. Because at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.