Ten years ago today, I awoke on my 22nd birthday with a fog behind my eyes. Not for the normal reasons a 22 year old wakes up foggy headed, but because I was smack dab in the middle of falling into a depression. A depression that started a few years prior to that as moodiness, lethargy, and anti-socialness. Then by the time of my 22nd birthday I was full-on in it. Sinking, but not quite drowning, yet. I was still functioning, mostly... making it to most of my classes. But, after another 3 weeks or so I was barely able to pull myself out of bed a lot of days.
I went to a school counselor shortly after my 22nd birthday. She had shiny, short hair, glasses, and a warm voice. Her walls were mauve (I had imagined mint green), but she didn't have a couch. I guess that would have just been overkill. After some brief small talk, she asked me how I felt.
"I feel nothing."
And we sat there for a second. She looked at me like I had just told her the most normal thing in the world.
"...and feeling nothing makes me feel weird. And guilty. And scared."
She took the reins from there and told me that with no prior history of depression, that I was just essentially suffering from a case of "senioritis" which tauts "the blues" as a symptom. The "fear of the unknown," she had said.
She gave me a card with a 24 hour hotline on it. "Just in case." And I left her office and went home and went to bed.
After that... I graduated, I moved, I looked for work, I took the GRE and some classes. Another couple of birthdays would eventually pass, each one worse than the previous. It's a hard thing to describe... depression, and I'm sure it's different for everyone, but for me it was like an enormous vaccuum that hovered over me constantly. I felt like I had this tremendous pressure sucking at me, chasing me, pulling at me, literally sucking the joy and the life out of me.
Here's the thing. I had spent the first 18 years of my life carefully planning the rest of my life. And then I spent 4 years in college honing those plans and guess what. NOTHING came out the way I had planned. I mean, not even remotely. So, when the depression started, it was so easy to just throw some more baggage on there... disappointment? Sure! Self-Loathing? Why not?!
Finally, after a few years of this, I kinda started to get sick of feeling like shit. And you know what... somedays, I just had no choice. But other days, I did. Occasionally, I'd wake up and the fog would be lighter and it was on one of those days that I did the one thing that ended up saving my life...
Running saved my life. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. I started running one day on a whim. I could only make it a few yards, so I would walk/run but, I kept it up. At first, it was more of a distraction than anything else. But it became a source of pride... something that I was doing for myself. A week after my 26th birthday I ran my first 5k. I finished in 41:24 and ran the entire way. I'll never forget that day or that race. I went to the race alone, I ran it alone, and I finished it alone. It was my proudest moment. From then on, the fog lessened more and more everyday. I started to see the other side through the fog and I started living my life.
I'll say it again, running saved my life. It made me "feel" again.
If I could go back in time today and talk to my 22 year old self, I'd probably say...
Listen, it gets harder before it gets easier. There are a lot of bad days. But on one of those not so awful days, you tell yourself that happiness doesnt fall off trees and rain down over you. It's something that you have to wake up every single day of your life and decide that you want it. You have decide that you're going to work for it, because it's worth it. And you know what, it might not work. I don't know how clinical, medical, or fucked up you really are right now. Telling yourself to be happy isn't going to work everyday... but it might work one of those days. And all it takes is one day... one day to start the cycle back to living.
P.S. Your 30s kick ass.
So, on this... my 32nd birthday, I am grateful to be where I am today. I don't think about that 22 year old girl very often, but lately, I have been. And to be honest, I don't feel sorry for her or wish things were any easier for her. I am where I am today because of everything in my past. Were there easier paths to here? I'm sure. But, now, I know that I can handle the hard way.
"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Happy Birthday to Me!