I wrote this essay when applying for college last year, but I ended up not submitting it to any of the schools I applied to. I was worried that colleges would see me as unstable or think that the essay was trying to excuse any of my shortcomings, or just that it would cast me in a negative light. However, my biggest reason for keeping it to myself was that I still have a lot of shame about my mental illness. Now, more than a year after applying to college, I really regret not using it because I think it represents me and what I have been through very accurately.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression four years ago. I’m going to tell you about how I have handled that disease, not because it defines me, but because it has challenged and shaped me in an irreversible and kind of surprising way.
I do not talk about my experiences with mental illness to many people, and you may notice that it is almost completely absent from the rest of my application. In truth, this is the only essay I have ever written for any application on the topic. I’m not exactly sure why I am deciding to open up here, but it might be because the question is so open and full of possibilities that I feel like this is the only topic big enough to fill such an expansive question. So now, to showcase my colorfulness, I will talk about sadness.
As a tween, I really mastered the whole angst thing. I was all about independence and how my parents didn’t give me enough of it and how that just made the whole world unfair. Unfortunately, as I transitioned from middle school to high school, the angst turned into despondency and self-hatred. My mom, being the most caring person I know, took me to see a therapist who suggested medication. And my brain, being the craziest organ I know, was resistant to all of them.
Despite being treatment-resistant, forcing my parents to spend crazy amounts of money on therapy, and creating a lot of pain for me and the people I love, my depression has gotten more manageable. I can’t exactly say it has gotten better as I am still weighed down by it a lot of the time, but I have prevented it from taking over my life, which I choose to see as a win.
How, you ask, have I held back the monster of despair? Well, I have found some wacky but useful strategies:
- Find a podcast about comedians with mental illnesses and steal all their strategies. Some of them are bound to work. If you are in need of such a podcast, look in the direction of The Hilarious World of Depression.
- Isolate your depression from yourself. It is important to remember that depression doesn’t define you. Remember that depression is a sneaky little bitch who will say anything to break you down. See your depression as an annoying colleague or better yet, a loony conspiracy theorist. Once you accept how stupid and weak of an enemy depression is, you will be able to beat back all of its terrible ideas and rhetoric.
- Get an alarm clock that will literally shake you out of bed. If your depression tricks you into thinking sleeping is the only activity you enjoy, set that alarm clock—after a few minutes, you will be up and swinging.
- Distract yourself. Usually, a good podcast on the history of Hollywood or a smart horror movie will redirect attention effectively, but this one is easier said than done. The true evil of depression is in the cyclical thinking it inspires. A really ruthless depressive episode can leave you in a terrible spiral of negative thinking with no clear way out. It is in these times that you have to pull out the big guns, by which I mean media that will pull you in, in spite of yourself; think a nail-biting mystery or lurid reality TV show.
- Find people, places (that are not your bed), or things that bring you comfort. If you can achieve this in settings such as school, work, and home you are basically going to slaughter this depression. If not, do not fear, because as we have all learned from playing 20 questions, there are a lot of people, places, and things in the world.
I will say though, on a more serious note, that a lot of my success has been luck. I have the two most supportive parents, and on top of that, a brilliant and caring aunt who has been through this swamp before and now acts as my guiding light. They have all supported me so completely and without them, I probably wouldn’t have made it through high school. I have also been fortunate to have health insurance, which everyone should have access to, but the disturbing fact remains that not everyone does. However, that is a diatribe for another day.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned from my time with depression is that it is not just a battle. It is more like a ridiculously long war. I know that I will be fighting this war for the rest of my life. However, learning how to fight and live a productive and satisfying life through that fight has made me a stronger and more capable person. One who I am incredibly proud of.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please visit our Resources section for links to organizations that can help.
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