How I Realized I Was Depressed

Hi, it’s Alex! Today I want to talk about my own experience with depression, and I want to talk about how I realized the full extent of how depressed I was, and how empowering that was, and how that was actually a really good thing that helped me to recover. And it was probably the toughest point to
get to. I have struggled on and off with depression. I’ve probably had some of the beginnings of
it from when I was a teenager, and maybe some time in college, but it really hit me hardest during the first three years out of college, and I think it continued during my two years
in grad school. And I think, for me, the process of fully realizing that I was
depressed happened only about a year out of grad school, when I had had a really difficult breakup, and I went to a counselor to kind of help recover from that and help
process that. And when talking to that counselor, I feel like I finally kind of cracked through
the depression, and it was this really interesting, eye-opening
experience, because I went back and saw a lot of the experiences I had had earlier in life in a completely
new light. Now, when I was struggling, and sort of at my worst points, I knew that something was going on, and I
sought out help. I remember, in college, I went to the counseling
center, and I tried talking to a therapist there. I didn’t have very good results with her. I then tried going to a group therapy session which was fun, but I don’t think it really solved any of my deepest problems. And then, in those three years out of college, I also saw a counselor, and, it also wasn’t
very helpful. And, at both of my grad schools, I went to two different grad schools, I sought help through their own counseling
services and, I would say that in both cases, I actually found those counselors, those therapists, actively damaging, that they reinforced some of my negative patterns of thinking and made my depression worse. So, I was trying very hard, and I think the mental health profession was kind of failing me systematically. So, how did I realize just how bad things
were? I think first I want to talk about how bad
things were when I was at some of my lowest points. Depression can really distort your understanding of reality. So, one experience that I see and remember having in hindsight, is that I would go out and about, and I would encounter someone, and they’d be like: “Oh, HEY! Alex!!!” like “I haven’t seen you in a while!” “I really want to hang out!” like “Let’s hang out again some time soon!” like “Please get in touch with me!” “I wanna do this, I wanna do that!” and, it was really great, and then I would
go home, and like, later that night, or the next day, or the day after that, I’d be sitting around
at home, and I’d be feeling miserable, and I’d be thinking: “Wow, I have no friends. Nobody likes me.” “Everyone hates me.” and maybe I would think of one or two people I would try to text, but I wouldn’t think of that person who was
like crazily enthusiastic about wanting to hang
out with me. It was like my brain was somehow blocking
out that information. And I would sit there feeling miserable about
myself, and feeling completely hopeless. And like, on and off for a number of years, I struggled with suicidal thoughts too, associated with like, this idea, this thought
process, which was totally distorted, it didn’t reflect
reality, like I thought people hated me. I thought that I had no friends, that no one
cared about me, I thought that I had no future in my life, that just everything was going to go to shit no matter what I did. And I think, when I went to this one counselor, things finally started to change. And I think, what the real key thing was, was that she was the first counselor who really challenged my thought process. Up until that point, I would go to counselors, and it was very much like this sort-of friendly, listening and affirming thing, and I’d be
like: “Oh yeah, this is how I feel, I’m thinking
this.” and it would be like: “Oh, I feel like no
one likes me.” and the counselor would be like: “Oh, so you think that no one likes you…” like “Why do you feel that way?” and I would sort of talk about it more, and it was just useless to me. And sometimes I felt like they were even reinforcing those negative thought patterns. But, with this one counselor, she would stop
me, and she’d be like: “So,” “You said that no one has ever been attracted
to you,” “or that no one is ever attracted to you.” “Do you think that maybe” “you are overgeneralizing a little bit?” “Do you think that’s true of everyone?” “Or have there ever been some people” “who have been attracted to you?” And I’d think about it, and I’m like: “Well, my ex was definitely attracted to me.” “Oh, well,” “and this other person was definitely attracted
to me.” And she would kind of press me, and be patient
with me, and get me to think up some counterexamples. And I realized really quickly that this was an effective tool to get me out of a negative mindset. And, she started doing all sorts of other
things like that. She introduced me to the idea of cognitive
distortions, which are a series of ways in which your thought patterns get distorted during some kind of mental illness. It’s especially common in depression. And, she kind of educated me in these different cognitive distortions and helped me to learn how to identify them in my own thinking. And she taught me exercises that I could do, writing things out on paper, where I could change my thoughts. And the dramatic thing is that she helped
me in a really short period of time. So, like, for me, the process of realizing that I was depressed, it wasn’t just a thing of being like: “Oh, I’m depressed. I need to go get treatment.” cause I knew that something was wrong. I think I knew that I was depressed, back in those first few years out of college. But, I didn’t really know how much of my worldview was distorted by the depression. And just knowing that you have depression isn’t enough to treat it, in every case. I think a lot of the time, what you really
need is you need to realize how much of your life has been affected by this mental illness. And you need to learn how to distinguish depressive thoughts from reality. There are unfortunately a lot of really cynical elements to our culture, and a lot of people talk about things as if depressed thoughts are reality. I hear people express really cynical views about the political system, about human nature, about all sorts of things that are actually
important, that affect our lives. And, I think that makes it harder for people to realize that the thoughts they’re thinking about their
own life are irrational. Like, if you’re sitting around thinking that everyone hates you. Maybe, maybe there are some people out there that a lot of people actually do dislike you, but I think those thoughts are usually at least somewhat distorted. And they are often severely distorted. But, if you have this sort of immersion in this culture of like: “Oh, people
suck.” like: “People are just selfish.” whatever, and you are really immersed in that, it’s gonna be harder for you to recognize that those thoughts are really your depression, and they’re not reality. So, I think, for me, cognitive behavioral
therapy has been one of the key tools that has helped me to realize this, to help me to see: “Wow. This is not the way the world is.” “I’m just depressed, and this is my depression
speaking.” “It’s not reality, it’s not truth,” “it’s not the way things really are.” And, from the point of having that realization, it was a much easier journey to go the rest
of the way. The hardest part was definitely getting to
that step. So I hope this has been helpful to you. I want to make clear, depression is very different in different
people, so not everyone is gonna have an experience
like mine. People might have radically different experiences, and I know they do, because I’ve talked to
them about it. But I still hope that me sharing this can
help you to understand one facet of depression, and I hope that can help protect people, and help some people to more easily overcome
it. Yeah, thank you!

2 thoughts on “How I Realized I Was Depressed

  1. Alex, I’m so sorry you went through all that, I’m glad you’re better now! I don’t think I’m depressed but I do sometimes want to see a counselor because I can fall into having really negative thought patterns associated with stress from school. I’m afraid to use one of the counselors at my college though because I’m afraid they’ll do precisely what you talked about. I’m worried they’ll just reinforce my negative thought patterns by only giving me advice on how to work harder and manage my time better in school without ever challenging my thought process that “I’m a failure” in the first place.

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