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Depression doesn’t have to be about struggle and despair – it’s about survival and strength

My depression started when I was 14 years old. I didn’t immediately recognise it as depression but as an incomprehensible sadness. I didn't understand the heaviness that began to chip away at my energy and motivation for life. I had nothing to be sad about, and yet here I was, with a sadness that I just couldn't shake off. 

Depression at such a young age is complicated. With limited life experiences, it is difficult to fathom the concept of depression. I began to question whether or not this sadness was my fault, if I had caused it, or if I had somehow wanted to feel this way. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t find anyone else to point a finger at but myself. I was responsible for my sadness. 

This feeling of responsibility is something I have failed to shake, even after discovering a family history of depression and suicide. After years of blaming myself, even the thought that I might be genetically dispositioned towards depression wasn’t enough to remove the feeling that I was somehow responsible.

I held in a lot of anger for a long time. Anger towards the world and myself. My depression hit me hardest during my late teens, a time which should have been about self-discovery and enjoying my freedom. Depression stole that from me. I remember high school as a constant struggle to make it through the day. I remember packing all my clothes into boxes my junior year and wearing only sweatpants to school because ‘I didn't deserve to dress nice’. I remember avoiding mirrors for days because I didn't want to look into the face of the monster I created. I remember the absolute hate and shame I had towards myself for bringing myself to this point of self-destruction.

My turning point happened at the end of my first year of college. My depression had become so severe that I spent my days in bed, missing a lot of classes. My grades suffered extensively and it jeopardized my university scholarship. As a first-generation college student, my education was important and I was unwilling to let my depression take that from me. I made the decision to fight.

It was a two-year struggle to manage my depression. I sought the help and support offered at my university, and from family and friends. Despite the commitment to get better, progress was bumpy and I relapsed on numerous counts. I didn’t know what I was working towards and I didn’t know who I was without my depression. However, with time, I turned my worst enemy into my greatest strength.

Now, three years on, I speak about my depression in an attempt to inspire others to not lose hope. I think it’s important to understand mental illness as a condition that, like any other injury or illness, requires attentiveness and care. As part of my growing passion for mental health advocacy, I started a lifestyle blog two years ago. I focus on fashion and travel with an overarching theme of mental health and living with depression.

As much as I hope to help others through my own experiences, creating a blog was an important step in my own recovery. Sharing my experiences publicly has forced me to own my depression instead of being ashamed of it. And while at times I still struggle, my depression no longer dictates the terms of my life.

The story of depression doesn’t have to be one of struggle and despair, but one of survival and strength. Depression shouldn’t be associated with guilt, but in order for this to happen, we must invest in mental health. We need more research to fully understand all types of depression, whether influenced by a person’s environment or genetics. Beyond research, depression and its causes must be discussed openly and freely, especially in schools. Children should be taught about depression from an early age. My hope is that in future, no child will feel responsible for their depression.

Natalie Swatowski is the creator of Natalie started her blog two years ago, inspired after a tumultuous journey of learning how to deal with her depression. Currently, she shares her experiences with depression, and with the help of travel and fashion, tries to live life to the fullest.

Last updated: 15 June 2018

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