So often I think about depression and how it’s guided me through most of my life, allowing me to make decisions and choices based on false beliefs that I was worthless and disposable. Depression prevented me from trying harder in school, learning piano, sports try-outs and healthy relationships. I could kick myself now for not studying harder and going for higher grades, all because a little voice in my head told me not to bother, that I would never be smart enough, and there’d be no point in making the effort. As for piano, I took lessons from a man who came to my house once a week. He was elderly and somewhat patient with my attempts at learning the keys and reading the music. During the week when I would sit on the bench and start to practice, I gave up after making the first mistake. I can’t remember if I ended our sessions or if he did after realizing that I wasn’t making any progress—either way, we gave up on each other and ourselves. I chalked it up to another failure. The piano remained untouched while collecting dust and served as a constant reminder that I was and always would be inadequate.
Night after night I sat on my bed, wrapping my arms around bent legs, wincing and sobbing while analyzing comments from teachers. To my sixth-grade brain, constructive criticism was simply criticism, which meant I was bad. It meant everything about me was bad. When I looked at myself in the mirror all I saw was an ugly face, distorted body and a bad person. By 14 years old, I considered myself damaged goods.
My sensitivity and intolerance to what peers thought of me grew to dangerous heights. If there had been social media in the 1970’s and 80’s, I would’ve had 20 panic attacks a day. One not-so-nice comment could’ve propelled me to self-harm. If only I had been diagnosed and treated before everything snowballed into chronic, untreated depression and anxiety. But, times were different then and society didn’t have the resources, the tools, the words, the red flags and the awareness campaigns like we do today. I’m grateful I can live now under the careful watch of mental health professionals. If they see me sliding in the wrong direction, we work together to make the necessary thought corrections and get me back in the driver’s seat.
It’s become clear that having depression early on made life exponentially difficult as the years passed. As a young teen, I once opted for sleep-away camp. Friends had been going for several summers and I assumed I’d be accepted and welcomed as part of the group, since I wasn’t really the new girl, or at least I didn’t think I was. For three weeks, my bunkmates dumped the contents of garbage pails on my bed right before lights-out. I had to clean off their used cotton swabs and nose-blown tissues in the dark and then use my germ-ridden blanket – it was the only one I had. They giggled in their beds as I quietly hand picked and disposed each piece of trash using a dim flashlight. Every night I silently cried myself to sleep, waking up to a wet pillow and yearning to go home. I knew that kids could be mean, but not like this. On visiting day, my mom took one look at me and saw the deep sadness and despair. She packed up my stuff and whisked me home.
If only I’d known that it wasn’t ME that was awful, that is was the small buds of depression that continued to blossom as I got older. I struggled against it, stuck in a constant state of self-loathing.
I will be forever grateful that I eventually found help and learned to expel my horrible belief system. Self-hatred and self-doubt no longer have a place in my life. Now, if they come calling, I nod my head, say hello and as I did with the camp girls’ dirty Q-tips, I put them in a trashcan where they belong.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.