A woman shares her lifelong struggles with clinical depression
I’m an avid viewer and fan of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” While watching an episode of “RHOA” this season, Kenya Moore was accused of having a mental illness. The way the issue was handled reminded me of my own lifelong struggles with clinical depression and the stigma carried by having a diagnosis.
People who have never experienced clinical depression have a difficult time accepting that it is a real illness. Many delay treatment because of stigma. But clinical depression is not the result of a character flaw. One can have “character” as strong and sturdy as a mighty oak tree, but clinical depression will cut you down and make you feel weak. Clinical depression is not the same as the depression to which people refer to in everyday language to denote a state of temporary sadness. It means so much more.
My childhood was marked by turmoil. My mother struggled with addiction and my biological father with mental illness. I overcame extraordinary barriers to early achievement. I believed in myself. I achieved. I went to college and got a prestigious degree on scholarships. I felt unstoppable.
Then, I took the Law School Admissions Test and performed very well, but I wanted to pursue my dream of working in the entertainment business. I decided to delay going to law school in hopes of “making it” in New York City.
I worked intermittently as administrative assistant, but the big break I was hoping would help me to establish an entertainment career never came. Though New York City is big, the industry seemed too small to offer me the opportunity I wanted. For a while, each rejection simply felt like a new challenge to overcome. But after the rejections piled up, my hope for a career began to dwindle. I began to feel my zest and positive outlook on life fade away. The despair I felt about my failure to reach my goal began to transition into nihilistic apathy. I felt numb. I wasn’t my usual ambitious self. I had fallen into what seemed like an abyss, a bottomless pit of despair, out of which I could not climb. Willpower deserted me. It was like trying to stand up right on slippery surface.
Ruminating about past mistakes would keep me awake at night and make me listless during the day. I only had energy to watch daytime television, because it required little effort. Instead of living life, I was watching others live theirs. I had to force myself to get up get out of bed to have breakfast. I isolated myself from the few friends I had and kept encounters brief, because it took much more energy than usual to form coherent thoughts and sentences. My goal had shifted from trying to start a career to simply taking a shower and putting on clean clothes.