There is a lot I can't recall about the onset of my depression.  I've done a good job of somehow blocking out those times when I was at my lowest. However; I do remember the turning point, when I started on my road to managing my depression, rather than letting it drag me around.

It was sophomore year of high school. I had a good life. Sure, I had plenty to complain about — I was a teenager after all. I fought tirelessly with my parents, lied to them about where I was going, had the occasional "falling out" with a friend, was heartbroken by feelings not reciprocated by a boy. Normal high school stuff. But I had great friends and a very strong family. I was managing to keep my grades at an acceptable level and even enjoyed school, for the most part. But when I closed myself into my bedroom, none of that mattered. Behind that door, I cried — a lot. I was alone.

It's a feeling I have felt again, even as an adult; one I'm able to better identify now at 36, twenty years later. Depression. Growing up, I associated ‘depression' with my cousin who had suffered from depression and had eventually taken her own life. I was young and the concept of taking your own life, killing yourself, was too abstract for me to understand. I felt that way for a long time, until my experience with depression extended to myself. While I never acted on my suicidal thoughts, I often thought, "would anyone even notice if I was gone?" One of those days that I was doused in tears from crying so hard, my Mom came in.  Our relationship was very rough at that time; we fought far more than we got along. But, still, she asked what was wrong.  And when I couldn't tell her; when she could see I really didn't know what was wrong, she asked me: Is there anyone you can talk to about this? Amidst all of the unknowns, my answer was clear: there wasn't. As a mom to two kids of my own now, I can only imagine how much strength it took for her to hear this. I know how badly she wanted to help me, even fix me, if she could. But my Mom knew that she probably was the last person I would have opened up to at that point in my life. She knew this problem was bigger than us and it was more important that I have someone, as hard as it was not to be her.

Following that conversation, my mom helped me get set up with a counselor, who I would see weekly. I had a teacher at school also step in, to help me see that depression was not only common, but some of my closest classmates were suffering from it as well. At that age, hearing that I was not alone was so important to me. That while the counselor maintained everyone's anonymity, some of my friends were right there with me. It was then, that I realized it wasn't "just me." Not long after, I started taking an antidepressant. This made my mom very nervous, as her previous experience with depression was also with my cousin, who took herself off her medication, likely leading to her suicide. I was closely monitored, and six months later, had tapered back off of the medication. I don't think one single friend of mine knew. I didn't want to talk about it, as so many people with mental illness feel.

It wasn't until I was on the same medication, several years later, and for the third time, that I noticed how much better I felt on medication than off.  Looking back, there is a pattern of big life changes spiraling me back down to a point where I need medication to get me out. I now know to pay attention to that.

Now that I have been on medication three different times in my life, statistics show, it's unlikely I'll ever stop taking it.  In fact, there have been a handful of times when I've run out and let a day or two go by before picking up my refill, and I can already feel the anxiety, the anger, the overwhelming feelings grabbing hold. My mom passed away just over a year ago, and, while I had been on the same dose of medication for years, I could tell I needed a little more help through my grief, and was able to increase the dose. I'm confident that I need to be on medication to manage this illness. It's a tool to help me get through the inevitable ups and downs in life: without it, I can't manage ups and downs the way I want to.

When I was first dealing with my depression, no one was talking about it and I felt very alone. I am so grateful to my Mom for stepping in to help me see a way out, but I know not everyone gets that opportunity, or has that support. For many, their cries for help, go ignored. I've become very open with my experience, though it wasn't until recently that I felt comfortable sharing. Mental illness is still a taboo subject, and most of those who actually suffer from it themselves don't want to talk about it. I feel differently. I think it's important to talk about it, and was helped by someone willing to share their story, at a time when I thought I was completely alone. As scary as mental.

illness can be, it is manageable with the right help. We are too ashamed to identify with it because of how it's portrayed in tragedies plastered on our evening news. While it's critical to see that side of the story, to understand what it means to go without treatment, there is a world of people who have learned to manage their illnesses. If as many examples of treated mental illness, success stories, were in the news, we could change the face of mental illness and encourage more to seek help.

by Lindsey Clibborn, NAMI Seattle Supporter