Depression is an incredibly complicated topic for me to write about. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. While people are beginning to address the subject more openly, many still find it difficult to explain, as so many people experience it differently.
But it’s important to share our stories and to help give a voice to everyone living with depression. Even though it’s difficult, putting my own journey with depression into words helps me to better understand how it affects me, and what I can do to manage it.
This is what depression feels like for me.
The trickiest thing is to pinpoint exactly when my feelings of depression started. For some people, it might begin with a sadness that won’t go away. For others, it might begin with intense fatigue or a slow, steady feeling of numbness that sets in over time.
For me, it started silently and subtly two years ago, creeping into my mind in the form of intrusive thoughts that wouldn’t go away.
You’re not good enough.
You’ll never be successful.
You’re incapable of empathy.
At first, I dismissed and almost defended them.
Everyone struggles with self-doubt.
I’m an artist, of course I’m going to have negative thoughts!
This is totally normal.
No matter how hard I tried to dismiss them, the thoughts got louder and louder.
You’re incapable of anything.
Your friends and family hate you.
You don’t belong.
You should just disappear.
I lived with these thoughts for months. They went on and on throughout the day and night, but I dismissed them as much as possible and went about my life.
On the outside, I fulfilled my usual roles: I remained the happy one in my group of friends, the ambitious one in my work circle, the energetic one with my creative groups.
But here’s the thing about intrusive thoughts: They’re really convincing. I feel like people with depression are often told, “If you just think positive thoughts, the bad thoughts will go away!”
It’s not that I’m incapable of thinking positive thoughts, it’s that for every positive thought, ten negative thoughts overtake it.
As a photographer, color theory is a huge part of my life. The intensity of an image’s color is called saturation. If an image is extremely vibrant and colorful, it has high saturation; if its colors are faded and bleak, it has low saturation. If an image is entirely void of color, it’s desaturated — black and white.
During the darker periods of my depression, my photography grew more and more desaturated. I explored black and white photography as a means of expressing how the colors of my world were fading.
I no longer found joy in so many of the things that used to bring me joy. I would go about my daily life, still living it exactly how I always had, but I was simply void of joy.
It was the strangest thing — I could laugh, but not feel joy. I could watch fun videos, but not feel joy. I could even register logically that I was happy, but not actually feel the joy of that happiness. It was as if someone turned off the “joy” button of my brain.
The strange this is, everything else in my life was going really well — amazingly well. I had just met the love of my life, I was traveling a lot, I was directing short films that were getting millions of views online, I’d just landed a commercial agent, I was leading successful fundraisers for women’s education, and I became eligible to join SAG/AFTRA.
Ironically, what should’ve been the happiest period of my life was the darkest. I wanted to disappear. I couldn’t process or feel even an ounce of pride in any of my accomplishments.
It was like I became a productivity robot, simply keeping busy and going from one project to the next.
Feeling like an outcast
While depression ate up my happiness and self-worth, I still held on to the one thing I still liked about myself: my mixed-race identity. I was born into a family of immigrants from Mexico and the Middle East, and have been passionate about immigration rights since I was in grade school.
During the darker periods of my depression, the U.S. experienced an increase in hate crimes and violence against both Latinos and Arabs. It seemed like every week someone from one of my cultures was being yelled at on a bus, being told to go back to their country or to learn to speak English.
My culture is the biggest part of my identity. It was impossible not to take these hate crimes personally. The culture and heritage I take so much pride in started to make me feel like an outcast everywhere I went.
This sense of non-belonging only fueled my depression — not only was I unable to feel joy, now I felt uncomfortable and constantly frustrated.
Love and work
Shortly before my depression began, I started working as a creative producer for a popular digital health company. During that time, I became immersed in the world of mental health, making film and video content about depression and anxiety. I would go through articles from first hand experiences about people with mental illnesses.
For months, I would read so many of these articles and think, “I absolutely feel this way, too. It must be a coincidence.” And then I’d move on.
But then, certain quotes from other people started to really resonate with me.
“Depression takes away the joy in the things that used to give me joy.”
“Depression numbs me to the point of not feeling anything at all.”
And the one that really hit home:
“Depression tells me that I’m not worthy of being with my spouse.”
During this time period of creeping depression, I had the pleasure of meeting the love of my life. While externally, we had a wonderful first few months of dating, internally I was overwhelmed with another round of intrusive thoughts.
You don’t deserve her.
She doesn’t love you.
Break up with her so she can be with someone better.
You’ll never be good enough for her.
It was an impossible spiral of thoughts to break out of. She could look at me straight in the eyes and tell me she loved me, but something inside of me wouldn’t let me believe it. It was almost like the depression grabbed her words and re-arranged them so my brain couldn’t process them properly.
It’s a lie. She feels sorry for you. No one that amazing could possibly love you.
These thoughts grew louder and louder. It was at this point that I finally realized there was something wrong. I was about to break up with the woman of my dreams because of these irrational feelings.
I finally decided to seek help.
The path to healing
I started seeing a therapist and he confirmed that I had depression and anxiety. I was strangely relieved: Now I had an answer. There was a reason I couldn’t shake those terrible thoughts and doubts, why I couldn’t seem to find my joy. It meant that there was hope.
I started working with my therapist regularly and began the long journey of managing my condition. I still struggle with depression, but the colors are starting to return, I’m getting better at shutting the thoughts up, and I’m still with my love two years later.
While I’ve received a plethora of unsolicited advice about how to cure depression, from “Just smile!” to “Pray it away!”, I’ve found a few things that have actually worked for me.
It can’t be stressed enough that these are simply things that worked for me. They might not all work for you, and you should absolutely consult your doctor before trying any of these.
Learning new things
At one point I realized that I needed to change the way I consume the news to help minimize its impact on my mental health. So, I changed up my routine to incorporating something more stimulating than listening to news each morning on my way to work.
Every day I listen to a new podcast about a topic I’m curious about. Learning new things helps to stimulate my brain and keep it engaged. I feel a sense of growth having learned something new, which helps offset the feelings of stagnation.
I’m a big fan of sarcastic humor, so when my brain makes me think a thousand and one negative things about myself, I try to counter those thoughts with a little sarcasm.
So, if I think, “You’ve accomplished nothing,” I tackle it with, “Yeah, all you’ve done is sleep your whole life. Literally nothing more.”
It helps to keep the negative thoughts in check, and also lets me reflect on what’s really happening — not some skewed perception of things.
When my depression symptoms flare up, the last thing I want to do is exercise. For me the hardest part of exercise is getting the motivation to get started. But once I’m able to start, it’s easy to just keep going. I personally prefer high intensity interval training, but do whatever works best for you.
Psychotherapy, often simply referred to as “therapy,” is an important step toward managing depression. There are many different forms of therapy, and often a therapist will determine which type is best for you based on your unique circumstances. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that addresses a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health conditions, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Talk to your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional about ways to manage your depression.
While I’m not close to being out of the deep, dark woods of depression, I’m working as hard as possible to move past it with the help of my doctor and the tools I mentioned above.
I’m starting to take pride in the work that I do. I’m feeling less and less like an outcast. I’m finding ways to combat my intrusive thoughts. And I’m starting to feel joy again. It’s a long journey, and no two journeys are the same. But even in my darkest moments, I found ways to pull through.
If you’re reading this and also finding yourself lost in the deep, dark woods, this is me telling you what I needed someone to tell me in my darkest times: You’re worthy of love. You’re worthy of being here. I promise it’s possible to get through this.
DEPR-US-NP-00038 October 2018