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Closer to the Top

I’ve recounted this story many times, but it warrants regular telling. I need the reminder and maybe others do, too.

As far back as I can remember, some combination of circumstances and genetics worked together in my mind and body to create a depressed person. I have a vague memory of a kind of dread that hung over me when I was 7—and it grew more intense and focused as time passed. It was never a suicidal sense that I carried with me, but more one of feeling stuck and hopeless. My life was not unbearable, but I felt sad and worried.

Although I can’t recall the exact events that occurred that year that I was in second or third grade, I know that I felt lonely and that our house felt dark and empty. I didn’t talk to anyone about it because my natural sounding board at that age would have been my mother, who was depressed herself. Much of my worry came from the sense that I needed to make her happy. I knew that telling her that I was struggling would only add to her own anxiety and depression. This sounds like a sad tale if you take in only this part—and the next 20 years were no picnic. I knew I was depressed, I knew certain actions that would help me feel better, and I knew that every once in awhile I would barely be able to get out of bed and do the things I needed to do. Sometimes these bouts were caused by the events in my life; other times it was an accumulation of disappointment, fatigue, and stress.

The relief I feel at knowing that I have been to the bottom

of that deep hole for the last time is indescribable.

Whatever the cause, each time it felt like I had been dropped down into a deep hole. For at least a week, I would be miserable down there—lethargic, sad, and filled with self-hate. Despite knowing that I would feel better if I could make myself do something productive, I would not be able to move. No idea that anyone suggested seemed helpful, and no solution felt workable. I tried meditation, therapy, and writing in every journal I could get my hands on. I was good at making lists of things I could do to feel better about myself, but I was too depressed to do them. Eventually, I would begin to feel a little bit better and I would use that to-do list to help build a ladder to climb out of the hole, but the process was long and exhausting.

One Sunday afternoon, when I just felt so miserable inside that I needed to do something different, I contacted my therapist, who met me at her office and agreed that it was time for me to start taking an anti-depressant. The first one I tried made me feel light-headed and uncomfortable, but a couple of weeks into the next one—10 milligrams of Prozac—I felt a change. Scientifically, it’s all about what happens with nerve cells and serotonin levels, but the feeling inside me was, and is, simpler than that.

First of all, I am still the same person. I feel what I feel and I am still occasionally depressed. But when I am, the hole is much, much shallower. I can see over the top almost immediately, and I can move more easily. That movement, of course—whether literal of figurative—is what changes everything. The weight is not nearly as heavy, and it lasts a much shorter amount of time. The relief I feel at knowing that I have been to the bottom of that deep hole for the last time is indescribable. To have lived for 20 years without that dark dread is a gift I never imagined I would have. As a result, I have been able to grow and change, take risks, be brave, and love myself, all at this far end of my life's road.

I continue to tell this story not because I think everyone should take Prozac. Really, all of this is a personal decision. But when I realized 20 years ago that I could be free of the darkness and tumult that had refused to respect my personal space, it changed everything. It gave me hope—partly just for myself, but also for power of change. My mind is still very busy, and optimistic is not the first word I would use to describe me. But there is room in me now for peace and positivity, and I cultivate both with intention.

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