NUMB AT NINETEEN
Seven years ago, if someone had asked me how my life was going, at the time I would’ve said pretty well. It wasn’t until later that I found out I was depressed but didn’t know it.
My descent into depression was an insidious one. At first, the signs were subtle: I was sleeping more than usual, I would skip a class here or there, I didn’t feel particularly motivated to study, etc. All of that seemed pretty normal to me, so I didn’t think much of it.
But then came the red flag. In May of my sophomore year of college, I learned that one of my friends from school had committed suicide at only 20 years old. I expected the funeral to be a particularly sorrowful experience; my friend was so young, and he was someone I had known since age 10. But for some reason I didn’t feel sad. I actually didn’t feel anything. I’ve never been a very emotional person, but I am human and I did care about my friend and I should’ve felt something. And that’s how I knew something was really wrong.
That was when I realized that I had been feeling nothing for some amount of time. My friend’s funeral made me starkly aware of the fact that I truly didn’t experience emotions anymore. I was numb. I was disconnected from the aspect of my personality that allowed me to feel, removed from this humanizing experience. I didn’t know what to do, so I called one of my friends and told her about my situation, and she very gently asked me if I would consider seeing someone.
Therapy turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but it turned out to be a judgment free space where I was welcome to talk about whatever I wanted, as well as some things that I didn’t want to talk about but needed to in order to heal. I went to therapy for several months, and I learned a lot about myself in the process.
Looking back, that was a surreal time in my life. One day shortly after starting therapy I was walking home from school and I was gently hit by a car whose driver was going the wrong way down a one way street. Even after they hit me, they didn’t seem to notice I was there. Luckily I wasn’t hurt. Although I still wasn’t experiencing normal emotional responses, I was hyper aware of the physiological changes in my body. I had a powerful sense of my heart rate increasing and rapid breathing. I knew I was stressed because I noticed these physical reactions, not because of emotional cues. Once I arrived home, I tried to process what had just happened and I felt something wet on my face. I realized it was a tear. I was crying. This was a surprise, because I hadn’t felt any of the emotions associated with crying. I’ll never forget how bizarre that was.
I had been going to therapy for a while before my therapist mentioned the word “depression”. It took me some time to process that information - at that point, I had associated the word depression with feeling perpetually sad, maybe frequent crying, perhaps trouble getting out of bed, etc. But none of that described my experience. So it was eye opening to learn firsthand that being depressed doesn’t necessarily manifest solely in omnipresent despair - it can also present itself as the complete loss of interest I was experiencing.
It took a few years before I was comfortable discussing my depression, and by that time it had been so long that it hardly if ever came up in conversation. I don’t know if people around me noticed anything was wrong. I had barely noticed myself until things had gotten pretty grave. But there wasn’t anything anyone could’ve said to make things better. Fortunately, I was able to re-attain a healthy mental state with the help of my therapist and my amazing support network. Now I just view the experience as part of who I am, and it’s forced me to not only take avid care of my mental health but to also be more understanding and nonjudgmental of others.
The worst part about depression is that it’s never really “done.” It’s not something that you just put behind you and magically ride a unicorn over a rainbow into the sunset for the rest of your life. This experience gave me what I needed to live my life without depression getting in the way, and for that I am grateful (and I’m grateful to be able to feel grateful, too)!.