Overcoming depression... is that even possible?
To start this, I want to make one thing clear: everyone's experience with depression is unique. This is my story. I don't have answers nor am I in any place to tell you how to overcome this but what I can do is share my story.
For those of you who struggle, I hope it helps. I hope you feel comfortable with me or someone close to you to share about what you're going through. Trust me: they want to listen. Don't wait for someone to notice, because most likely they won't. Be bold and tell someone.
For those who have never experienced this: I hope my story opens your eyes to what it's like for people who struggle with this. Watch for the signs. Be supportive, patience and caring. You never know who might be struggling with this.
Depression has been something I've deeply struggled with since Sophomore year (seven years) but last year I realized that it's a burden of my past. Honestly though, it's not completely nor will it ever be gone but I'm sure as heck that it's not the same. That feels so good to realize! You have no idea. Even my heaviest days are nothing compared to what a heavy day would have looked like before. I'm really, really proud of that and myself for who I've become through it all. I could have really been in a different place.
If it weren't for my best friend, really, I can honestly say I'm not sure if I would have been here at all. She just wouldn't leave me alone! Haha. But really, having someone that isn't afraid to be blunt about the truth, who knows you, who you can trust... I can't emphasize enough the patient and trustworthy person she has continually demonstrated to be. She knows each and every detail from my darkest days to my happiest. I definitely consider her one of my angels that helped me through this.
I really did fight a lot for where/who I am now. When struggles aren't physically evident, it is nearly impossible for others to realize the improvements being made or how serious they can be. I think that's the most challenging part about facing emotional burdens - you can't see them or the change. Most of the time you/others don't even realize that you are changing!
I'm not really sure how else to share my views on all this other than sharing my story. To be honest - I don't like to talk about this. I've always felt it to be selfish to talk about. It's part of my past yet it will always be a part of me. I think that's important. I'm okay with my messy, dark phase. I had a loooot of shame, embarrassment came from it but I realize now that I'm so much stronger and empathetic and can really appreciate the things in my life that much more.
Here it goes! ( Sorry in advance for the lengthy read... )
Sophomore year. Only real people say that - not homeschoolers so appreciate my attempt to level with ya'll haha. My heart broke a little this year. Not only did my siblings (Christian, Rachel and Nick - basically is a Haslett) leave for college but my best friend, Sarah, also moved away to who knows where (she travels/moves a lot). These guys were my family. I get that this is totally normal but for the homeschooled and super socially needy human that I was - this hurt. Especially since the few friends I did have, randomly bailed on out the friendship - all four at once without explanation... traumatizing. I didn't make a friend during the rest of the two years I was in the D.R. Anyway, I finished my Highschool homeschooling without them, I felt so alone. I actually just full on quit doing any school work for a year and got away with it (don't ask - I have no idea how haha) until Rachel tattled to mom - hahaha I was so mad but obviously secretly grateful for it. She cared. As messed up as it was, I was testing my family to see if they would even realize that I quit school, stay locked in my room doing nothing with my life. I really fell into a dark place for some reason and even tried to think of a not too traumatizing way of ending my life. Anytime I would think of my parents finding me - it would shake me. I couldn't do that to them - despite how hurt I was by them. So, being caught quitting on school really helped me get back in shape... for a little while.
Fast forward three years - First year of college aka my only year of college, ha.
I'm living in California for my second year ever in my life - common mistake: my parents are from California - doesn't mean us Haslett children are haha. Anywho - I had lived a year with my parents, then they moved back home to the D.R. I was seventeen, just had moved in with my best friends' family, had a Spanish teaching job, about to start as a full-time student at my college and had NO time for anything. Despite the fact that I was living with my best friend and was quickly able to make friends, I felt so. dang. lonely.
Culture shock is REAL. I didn't fit in - still don't! I didn't know the lingo (Americans abbreviate everything haha), the newest (or any) songs, style, or SpongeBob quotes (real thing). I had a hard time with English, too, honestly. My English wasn't at the level I thought it was and would constantly be secretly asking Caroline what words meant. Or she would basically translate my words into actual English to people who didn't understand me hahah. Gosh. I was constantly introduced as "the girl from the Dominican Republic!" which actually made me uncomfortable because automatically people would treat me differently and ask really ridiculous questions. I know they weren't laughing at me but they definitely made me feel insecure and uneducated by asking things like "Did you even go to a real school?", "Do you guys have TV?", "How do you know English?" "What do you even do there - Bang sticks against trees and sing around a campfire?"... Like really, people?! Looking back, I just shake my head at those questions but in the moment it was humiliating. My friends would all start laughing and I soon began to realize I didn't fit in. At all. There were only a few people who were interested in welcoming me in as an actual friend.
By now, I've started college full-time, working part-time, volunteering at my church as a Highschool leader (RHHS) and dove all in into my studies. My RHHS girls were the reason I stayed in California for so long. They gave me purpose. I didn't pursue making real friendships because I was just bitter and felt that it was impossible. Instead, I would search for acceptance through dating poor choices of guys. I was determined to get straight A's in every class to prove everyone that I was indeed smart despite all jokes and comments. I was dedicated to my position as a RHHS leader because I needed to pour into these girls the way I wish someone did for me at that age. I barely slept at all this year. Four hours was a lot of sleep for me. I didn't care for myself AT ALL. Barely ate, barely slept, didn't tell a soul about what I was going through and the depression overtook me completely. I was so angry and hurt for no one genuinely caring for me, noticing ME and built bitterness against my parents for not paying attention/loving me (which now I realize it was my dark mind making these assumptions). I was hurting SO much. I can't explain it. My chests would literally hurt from all the pain my heart was holding.
I had heard of people cutting. That was something I had never heard of until moving to California. I eventually learned why people do that. People cut because they are so full of hurt, pain and hatred towards themselves that they don't know what else to do other then to try and take all the bad out of them. It was a type of pain that is distracting from all the other pain they are feeling. Even the challenge of hiding the cuts and scars is a type of distraction. At least, that's what it was like for me.
Rock Harbor: *this may be a bit "Christian-ese" for most of you (it sure does to me!) but it's important to me and how my life started shifting around.
For those who don't know, Rock Harbor was my church in California. I left my other church because the more I learned about the people and the teachings - I just didn't agree with a lot going on there. Rock Harbor was my church through and through. It was were I felt valued as me. I agreed with a lot of what they said and their lifestyle matched their beliefs. I felt things I can't begin to explain other than that God was really caring for me. During this, I kept journals and journals of all my thoughts during this battle that I was letting overtake me. I was so desperate for anyone seeing me and my hurt. I was so desperate to care for other people. I don't feel whole without pouring out into other lives as much as I can - even at my low level of faith in myself and in others. That's when I was asked to join the Prayer Training and it couldn't have been a better choice.
Prayer Training: * THIS, I know, is very foreign concept for most of everyone I know. Prayer Training is a way of learning how to even talk to God. It's super intimidating thinking about this all mighty, powerful, judge-y God and then praying to him. What does prayer even mean? All of this is what Prayer Training explains. Not formally praying to God but talking to him - like a loving, close friend. Someone that doesn't care about all your messes and mistakes - but YOU. All of who you are - good and bad - and is waiting for you to trust Him enough to let him help you become the person/version of yourself He created you to be.
Okay! So now that we got the shortest explanation ever of Prayer Training, here's my experience...
At this point, I've switched jobs and was a receptionist at a dental office (which I really liked, surprisingly) and had to wear scrubs every single day. You can imagine how awkward I felt rushing from work, showing up late (in my suuper cute scrubs) to Prayer Training and sneaking over to what just had to be the farthest table from the door - haha classic.
You may not know this, but I'm a super skeptical person - especially when it comes to what I was about to learn all about - the spirit of God. Like what! I wasn't comfortable with this - especially since I had no idea of what that even meant. Speaking to God, listening to that still small voice, hearing God? All of these things I've heard a million times growing up but what did it mean?
A few classes in, we were asked to write whatever came to mind on a piece of paper. Once all of the papers were piled up, they read through them one by one out loud. After each paper, they would ask if it designated with anyone in the room? This is where my skepticism jumps in. It's probably coincidence or just someone trying to connect with whatever the paper said. They read a paper: a broken, crying girl sitting alone in her dark bedroom - ready to give up. Then comes light. Breaking through that ugly darkness. A light representing comfort, forgiveness and just deep unconditional love. There was another paper: pain and hurt shown on a left wrist. Both of these papers were read out loud and no one raised their hand to say it designated with them. It definitely did with me. Very much so - but of course I did not raise my hand, no way. But what?! Something so private, so personal that not a soul knew about... that couldn't be coincidence. I don't believe in coincidences.
Throughout this training and despite my feelings of not being able to connect with people, I did... I helped encourage people through the words fleeting my lips. Through the light touches of my hand on their shoulder just demonstrating that someone cares enough to sit, listen and let them cry. There was no need for them to explain anything - I would just sit and be there with them. It was such an unexplainable encouragement. Not just for them but for me, too. Though I had lacked the confidence in these situations, God used me to support and comfort others. I would be there with them. Maybe that's all they needed but it was definitely what I needed. I wasn't completely invaluable. Even at the lowest point of my life, I could still help others. I could still comfort them. I could still encourage them. How poetic is that?
I'm not going to say that from then on my life was turned around and I was fixed. I don't want to be fixed. All of that hurt and pain I had experienced up until this point had shaped me to be who I was. You can't "fix" someone that struggles with deep sadness over one or two impactful experiences. On top of it all - I had no idea how much I had hurt, worried and impacted my family. I didn't even realize they were paying attention, to be honest. Some moments, but not all together. I broke down crying at Prayer Training realizing what I had put my family through. I'm so sorry for that. I'm really sorry.
My story didn't end here. Still struggling with loneliness and pain from the past, I was offered an internship in Peru. Six months working with a non-profit empowering women above poverty. I had two days to decide whether I was leaving the life I finally built for myself in California. One month later, I was off to Peru!
So! Peru was quite the experience. I went to Peru for a few reasons:
- Experience a new country for myself.
- Really connect and develop friendships with the ladies I would be working with and my housemates.
- Start fresh. Maybe this is what I needed. Temporarily leave Orange County for something new and adventurous - more of what I was used to!
Let's just say - it wasn't at all what I was expecting (not that I was expecting much) but definitely not that. For starters, an island girl living in a gloomy desert for six months was tough. My housemates went to Machu Picchu for their vacation, I went straight to Mancora, to the sun. Our apartment, located in the second poorest barrio in Lima, was a dark box - there was only one window. Some taxis wouldn't take us home because the neighborhood was a little too sketchy for their comfort. We were strongly advised by our boss to not be outside after dark and going on runs/to the beach was risky.
We spent eight hours every day sorting quality control, cutting spare threads and organizing closets. Most of the ladies I came to connect with barely looked at me, much less tried a friendship. Rosa was an angel and we really connected. And Vilma's joy and smile kept me going. I miss them!
My roommates were differently than what I expected, too. I connected most with two while the other two, not so much. My housemate struggled with drug abuse. I had taken the role of giving her her medication, watching out for unhealthy behaviors, checking her purse for hidden drugs, catching her stealing her pills from my things, giving her shots twice a day for two weeks - thanks for FaceTiming me on how to give a shot, Aimee haha. I slept with anxiety every night hiding her medication in my pillow case. I wanted to help. I wanted to support her because she told me she needed and wanted this change. I wanted her to see the person I saw she could be. Wo she really was without all of these burdens. I believed her. I found out the day she left, that she had lied to be the entire time about how long she had been clean. I was hurt by that. As long as she was genuinely trying, I didn't care for how long she had been clean - as long as she was trying. My other roommate was and alcoholic and honestly didn't get along. We had quite difference in opinions about a lot of topics and I am not a very passive person - especially in an unhealthy place. The interesting part of all this was that I had no idea how much it was killing my joy inside. This anxiety I had never felt before. It was like an unemotional depression. I didn't feel. Nothing gave me comfort or joy. I had no one to talk to.
I didn't once think about quitting - I don't quit on this I commit to. Then, one day I was listening to a podcast, trimming the spare threads and suddenly tears started falling from my face. I wasn't even feeling or thinking anything sad. It was just happening. I didn't think much of it until the next morning. Writing in my journal, I had realized that I was literally (emotionally and physically) at my limit. I couldn't handle it anymore. I couldn't do this anymore. I was frustrated at myself because I kept telling myself I was stronger than this. There's nothing you can't handle in life. But not this. I was crippled by everything combined. The pressure to keep my friend and housemate from overdosing - finding her would have broken me. Watching her every move to make sure she stayed strong in her path to becoming the amazing women she was striving for. Living with an alcoholic guy who made me feel uncomfortable was too much for me. The depressing apartment we lived in with cucarachas constantly in the kitchen, the silence between all of us housemates, the lack of community with my coworkers... After having affirmation that I was not okay, and it was okay and healthy for me to leave - I did. Fighting that voice telling me I was weak to quite two weeks earlier than my contract - I left. I was home.
Ask anyone - never thought I would move home but it was the best decision I have made for myself in years. Well maybe besides working at Sidecar and eating all the Gluten Free doughnuts and drinking all the best coffee. Just kidding, Jason! Definitely never ever had free coffee or given away any doughnuts... ! I was home! There was sunshine, the beach, trees, family, comfort in the familiarity! With some time, I decided to cut myself a break. I was done with all the expectations and perfectionism. I'm freeing myself of who I thought everyone wanted me to be and live up to. I'm done feeling shame for all the things I have struggled with and the mistakes I made. I'm new!
Taking care of myself, physically getting into the best shape I've ever been in, eating the fruits I love so much and making coffee again. Letting go of the need for people who treat me terribly and being genuinely okay with being alone. Alone isn't bad, you guys. I have my family and I don't need much else. Working with the boys and staff and sharing my love for beauty in each person through my photography - I honestly can say I'm in the best place I've ever been in. I'm thriving.
So there it is. My story. I apologize for the length - it just sums up eight years of my life!
Depression is different for each and every person. This is my story. I don't have all the answers. I don't want to say I know what you're going through - because maybe I don't. But I can relate. I can empathize. I can tell you that it's okay to feel what you're feeling. Forgive yourself over and over again for expecting anything more of yourself than being who you are. Change starts when you change one tiny little thing at a time. For me it started with my physical, self care which evolved into my mental health. I cannot emphasize more the power of self care and mental health. I know there are so many people that roll their eyes that the sounds of "mental health" but I'm telling you - it's so freaking important. My God is forgiving, caring and loving. He sees you RIGHT where you are - where I was, wanting to end my life, struggling with expectations society and the acceptance of really crappy guys I dated. People can change. People can forgive. People can start over. It all starts with discipline. Start with stopping that one thought that constantly pops up. Fight it with the truth.
Since coming home, I had finally regained the courage for new friendships and they were great while they lasted. Unfortunately, they hurt me. They tried to tell me and others of what type of person who I was. Key word: tried. I am strong. I am not effected by that. Not anymore. Of course, it hurt. People who I thought were my friends turned me around and stabbed me in the back. But you know what? I'm stoked about it. Because despite the feeling of hurt and betrayal - I didn't go back to my dark place! I was and am okay! I am strong enough to overcome that. I am strong enough and secure enough to be okay with people not understanding and caring for me and my well being. Friends misunderstanding me was such a struggle for me to overcome but I'm proud to say that I have.
I am proud of who I am. I am proud to say - I'm not that girl anymore.
My friends, don't give up on yourself. Stay strong because despite what you or others may think of yourself - you are stronger than that. You don't have to feel strong. Just keep your chin up. I know it's not as comforting as you may hope it to be but hear this: You are not alone in this. I know. I know what it feels like - how deep and painful life can be. Believe me - you will come out stronger than ever, better than ever - ready to help change lives through all of this.
You're not alone. I care. I am here in this with you.
Overcoming depression... is that even possible?