(I wrote this as an answer to an anonymous tumblr question which asked, “Have you ever dealt with depression?)

Yes. As a teenager, I told my mom I wanted to kill myself so often that she sent campus security to each of my classes to have me sign a paper proving that I was still alive. She did that to shame me out of saying I wanted to die, rather than getting to the heart of why I wanted to die. My household was toxic and I was extremely overprotected and my every move was controlled. The debilitating sense of self this created, along with the rhetoric of the brand of Christianity that I was raised under, “You are nothing without the Lord.” “You are unworthy of his love.” “Your desires are sinful.” “The world is evil and the devil wants you to suffer, watch out.” shaped my thought process and I felt shame, unworthiness, distrust and fear all the time. I really didn’t have much of an identity outside of church or work because all aspects of my life were monitored and restricted.

All of those debilitating feelings followed me for years even after I left home. I was freer, but I still had extreme anxiety and depression and felt unworthy in every area. Everyone else was better and worthier than I was at everything and my fear of the world was my main topic of conversation. I would sweat through all my shirts. I couldn’t understand why I needed to be alive and I would have chosen not to be, if given the choice, any day. Nobody had trained me to create my life, I felt like a perpetual victim to all of the things that were occurring around me and felt powerless to make anything better. I started taking Prozac because I had no idea what else to do, and it helped my mood, but it made me tired all the time and I began sleeping through parties and by that I mean sleeping at parties. I slept through most of every day. I went to Vegas and slept through Vegas. But I also figured that this was how most people felt and I didn’t really trust the happiness of others either, so I felt stuck.

I will say that when I started to try to feel better, it didn’t feel like standing at the base of a tall mountain, to me. I suppose that’s because I didn’t really know that feeling that much better was possible and would come as a result of making a lot of different decisions. I just started to make one different decision about the way I was acting or thinking, once in a while, because I was beginning to learn that I could make decisions that would help me feel better. I learned that I had power that I could use if I chose to, which was something I was trained to believe I did not have. I worked on one or two things I wanted to work on at a time and those changes would lead to realizations that I needed to do another thing differently, too. It didn’t feel burdensome, it was mostly exciting because thinking or acting in new and healthier ways made me feel better and I love to feel better. I slowly started to become aware of my power.

Working with children who have intricate needs has always been hugely helpful for me because being of service takes me out of my thoughts of myself and gives me purpose. I have realized over time that my own internal battle with chaos led me to wanting to help others battle theirs. Helping others develop the tools they need to better manage their own lives became my life’s purpose, because of how badly I needed tools that I wasn’t given and how unfair I felt that was. When I started teaching, I did not have as much time to spend on being obsessed with my own shortcomings and sadness, which was a huge relief. It felt good to focus on others, and not my own nonsense, for many hours a day. But it’s important to understand that having a good reason not to focus on your difficult feelings does not make them go away. You need to distract yourself sometimes, and other times, you need to follow the pain down to its roots and engage with it. Simon Rich tells a story on the most recent episode of the Invisibilia podcast (thanks, Amelia) in which a fourth sex is added to the Origin of Love story (Hedwig!), The Children of the Dirt. In summary, these people were sad and alone all the time and they hated happy people and they invented art and wine to dull their pain, after which Rich says, “…And it helped. But not really.” That is a crucial sentence. Distractions are helpful, but they are not a cure. You need a balance of focus/effort spent on the pain and distractions from it. Both are essential for actually getting better. B A L A N C E is important. I had to get a tattoo to remind me of that.

Depression can be rooted in many things and everybody is different. Beyond emotional, it can be nutrition based, environmental, chemical, circumstantial—for me it was all of those things, except chemical. I am fortunate to not have a chemical imbalance. My depression was also heavily rooted in stacks and stacks of unmet desires. So, I started to do some things that I had wanted to do and make some things I had wanted to make and go places I had wanted to go and learn things I had wanted to learn. I began to really teach myself about food and nutrition and what I was putting into my body to make it work correctly. It does so much on it’s own, so I started to pick up some slack. I’ve read a lot of books about ways to rewire my brain and sought out people who are experts in the areas I felt deficient in and learned from them and I’ve very deliberately worked through my hatred of my mother and myself and written about all of it and spoken to people about it and found the right therapist and personal mentors and asked people questions and listened to their answers and listened to psychology podcasts and paid attention to the things I like and the places that feel good to me and the things I like to do and I’ve figured out what makes me feel happiest and I routinely seek out those things. I’ve learned what I can and can’t handle and I’m careful about the situations I put myself in. I’ve changed my inner dialogue so that it’s kind now; something that helped me with that is the thought that my mind is my own space and nobody else is invited into it if they’re just there to be rude and tear it all apart, me included. I’ve become selective about the thoughts I allow to myself to entertain. These days, I truly marvel at the fact that I don’t hate myself anymore. It feels very new.

One interesting thing I learned was that even when I was by myself, I wasn’t really with myself. I was spending time thinking about everyone else and wondering what they were doing and thinking about ways I was less than them and assuming people didn’t really love me or replaying scenes of my failures. So, I had to work on what I did with my alone time and I had to work on choosing thoughts that felt better.

I don’t know what the steps to feeling better are for anyone else, but take your steps. Take a step. You don’t even have to know what the step “should” be. Whatever you do to feel better in a real way, that is one of your steps. Some may be very misguided and not actually helpful, and you’ll realize it after awhile and feel like you’re messing the whole thing up, but that was one of your steps as well. Figuring out what works by trying stuff that doesn’t will probably happen more than once. And also, ask for help. Other people have skills that you don’t and some of them want to use them to help you. Find people and ask them for help until you feel like you can start giving some to yourself, and then begin to do that, too. Ooh, and then one day you’ll have skills you can use to help other people in the area you once needed help in. That’s a really really good thing to feel.

Love love

Ani