My 24th birthday is coming up. I’m not big on birthdays. In the past I’ve brushed the day off as unimportant and continued on with life as normal; nothing about life really seemed worth celebrating. Yet this month, I’ve thought a lot about my birthday. Turning 24 marks seven years since my journey with depression began. I have mixed emotions about my birthday (joy and fear and a lot of anxiety about the next year), but I realized for the first time in years, there are some things I think are worth celebrating. They aren’t conventional, and they may seem trivial to those who have never battled depression, but for me, they are pillars of hope. As someone with depression, this is what I’m celebrating this birthday:
I’m still here.
Over the past seven years, I’ve flirted with the idea of death more times than I can count. As I struggled with depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts became my “safety net” when I felt scared or anxious. They were “a way out,” an emergency exit. With time those thought patterns ingrained themselves into my brain and turned into a well-traveled neuron pathway that works like a machine. Feelings of fear or anxiety still immediately catapult me into suicidal thoughts, regardless of whether I’m actually feeling suicidal. This is something I deal with on a daily basis.
Because of this — because of all the times I’ve considered suicide and the ongoing suicidal thoughts I face — I’m so proud that I’m still here. Some days I’m happy I’m still here, and some days I’m not, but regardless, this birthday marks one more year I’ve made it. I’ve persevered, and I’ve done the very best I could with this life I have. To me, that’s worth celebrating.
I’m still fighting.
I used to think fighting depression was a high-stakes treasure hunt, with the treasure chest containing a universal cure. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about mental illness over the years, it’s that there isn’t a quick fix. There is no magical therapy that will erase the pain, no medication that will heal everything in a heartbeat, and no doctor, counselor, mentor, friend or self-help guru who has a secret cure-all.
Yet even though there isn’t a clearcut answer or treatment, there are still ways to fight for mental health. Fighting may look like showing up at my therapist’s office for the 102nd session, or calling for an appointment with a psychiatrist, or choosing healthy foods at the grocery store, or going out for a jog when I haven’t left the couch all day. Fighting depression is less like the glamorous, action-packed combat I thought it would be and a lot more like trying to fill a well by throwing in one pebble at a time. But one pebble at a time, I can keep fighting, and I will keep fighting.
I’m not who I was before depression.
Depression has been a constant companion everywhere I’ve gone the past several years. It’s been with me as I’ve worked various jobs, traveled the world, graduated from college, and lived abroad. I wish I could have done all these things without depression, but in some ways, I’m thankful for it. Because depression has, perhaps, taught me more about who I am than all my travels and all my education. It’s taught me that I’m not defined by my health (mental, emotional, or physical). It’s taught me I’m weaker than I ever imagined and stronger than I ever imagined. It’s taught me to lay down my pride, recognize my judgment of self and others, and learn to walk in true humility. It’s taught me that it’s OK to ask for help and that we weren’t meant to do life alone. It’s taught me what it is to be human — to struggle, to love and to receive love in the midst of the struggle.
I’m not celebrating depression. But I’m still here, I’m still fighting, and I’m not who I was when I started the journey with depression. That, to me, is worth celebrating this birthday.
Happy birthday to me. And to you. These things are worth celebrating every day of our lives.