Life With Depression After Hospitalization
This is part two of Karis’ story about life with depression. Read part one here.
We went around the circle, sharing something we were struggling with in the moment. When it was my turn, I couldn’t even speak — I just started crying. Snot and tears mingled freely as I gasped out the words — I had been feeling heavily depressed for at least the past week, had broken my New Year’s Resolution not to cut and had even contemplated suicide recently.
The hardest thing about this moment wasn’t how I felt like I was cracked open and spilling onto the floor, or how I felt hopeless — it was that it came after the hospital.
Three weeks into February, a group of girls from my church and I rented an Airbnb in Brooklyn and spent the night eating pizza while sharing everything from the boys we liked to our hardest struggles. It had been only recently that I had begun to feel the sting of depression again.
Right after leaving the hospital, I felt like I was floating on a cloud — not cloud nine, but maybe like cloud three or four, at least. I was excited to be back in the world, I was back on my medication and talking freely about my struggles, and I was getting plugged back into the church I chose for myself, Hillsong NYC. Things were good.
And then I came back from Christmas break, and the cloud dissipated beneath me, sending me crashing toward earth in a flurry of despair and sorrow.
Suddenly nothing was going right. Or rather, suddenly I perceived that nothing was going right. It’s not that I descended back into the violent depression I’d felt previously. It just felt like the walls were closing in on me, slowly crushing me and leeching me of happiness.
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I couldn’t find a reason to smile. Every time I tried, I instead found reasons to be unhappy. And I was terrified, because here I was right back in the hole I had tried so hard to climb out of, and I didn’t know how to free myself again.
I knew the hospital wasn’t an option again. I’ve known that since I walked through the doors on October 12th, and that’s why I was happy to stay for a full week, as long as necessary to get back on my feet. It was my last hospitalization, I decided.
Apart from the fact that hospitals charge literally thousands of dollars for the pleasure of sleeping on a thin mattress for seven nights, I couldn’t afford the disruption to my life.
More importantly, I couldn’t afford the precedent that would set.
I’ve always been warned against using my depression as a crutch, something that is so easy to do. I’m constantly aware of myself, trying to figure whether my desire to skip school or avoid that social event is because I’m actually depressed or because I’m using my depression as an excuse.
That is, there are moments when I legitimately can’t function because of my depression; there are other moments when I simply don’t want to do something and so I pin my lack of desire on depression. And it takes an astronomical amount of focus and attention to myself to make sure I don’t use depression as an excuse to not do the things I need to do.
So the hospital was out of the question. I had already been twice, and it would have been so easy to just go back a third time, maybe a fourth or fifth. I could just live in the hospital, let life pass me by while I slowly aged behind the white walls of HCC-10.
I won’t go back. I’m motivated now, motivated to stay “clean,” to avoid the hospital. In late January, I had a relapse. I pulled out my razor for the first time since my release and marked off two double-edged lines on my wrist.
After I was done, I stared at my arm, at the blood bubbling up from underneath my skin, and felt — regret.
I’d never felt regret before about cutting. Not once. It was an activity that I was addicted to, that I borderline enjoyed, and suddenly I was wishing I hadn’t done it.
To me, that’s the difference between my life before the hospital and my life after. Now when depression comes, when I engage in the activities I used to, I feel sad about it, I feel annoyed, I wish it wasn’t happening.
About a week after my Airbnb breakdown, I was sitting in church during the worship service when I just started crying — again. I cried and prayed, begging God for healing. It was the first time in a long time that I had found myself actually longing to be free of depression.
For quite a while, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be un-depressed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to recover. I had grown comfortable and complacent in my depression, and was worried that I would no longer know myself if that wasn’t a part of my identity anymore. It’s something that’s caused a lot of strife in my life, because while I was actively seeking recovery (taking my medication, going to counseling, trying to change things so I get better), I didn’t actually want to be better.
But I suddenly did. After a few weeks of unrelenting depression that followed a few months of relative normality, I was finally ready to face the world as a healthy, happy person.
But I couldn’t. You can’t just turn off depression, any more than you can turn off pneumonia or cancer or a broken leg. As ready as I was (as I am), I can’t magically cure myself. And that means I have to resign myself to living behind bars, yet with a desire to be free. Before I was content to have the bars, I was comforted by them. And now? Now I wish they were gone.
The hardest part of the recovery journey is realizing that maybe you’ll never reach the end. Maybe the journey is the destination. Maybe the rest of my life is just a long series of struggles to get better without ever getting better.
That alone is enough to send me back into a spiral of depression. So the recovery journey is also learning how to cope with the potential impossibility of healing.
I’m not there yet. My depressive periods are made worse by how crappy I feel about that fact that I’m depressed at all. I still have panic attacks on the train and I still miss work some days because there is literally nothing I can say to convince myself that getting out of bed is a good idea. I’m torn up on the inside by the fact that my love life is squalid, I break over the simple fact that I haven’t gotten an internship for the summer yet and if a friend doesn’t text me back I assume she’s sick of the friendship.
I’m a mess, in short. My mind is a whirlpool of negative thoughts that keep seeming to suck me back down, down, down.
But I’m also recovering. I’m faithfully taking my medication, going to counseling, learning coping skills to deal with life. I’m building myself up in the good moments so I have something to lean on in the bad ones. I’m talking to friends about it so they can support me through encouragement and prayer. I’m trying to lean on God to remind me that even if I’m never cured, it’s okay.
In the end, all I want is to be okay. I want to be a happy girl, who smiles easily, laughs loudly and spreads joy. And sometimes, I am that girl.
All too often I’m not, and I’m learning to deal with that. I’m learning to be okay with who I am, while hoping that someday I’ll be better.
That’s all you can do, I guess. Learn to be okay with who you are and work to someday be better.