Once Again, Start Smilin’

Author: Claire Greene, Real Life Stories

My first experience with depression happened when I was 13 years old. It was the summer before I began high school. It was very gradual. Day after day, I would wake up and find I had lost more and more happiness. My energy declined, the thought of eating made me sick, I had constant crying spells and I was unable to face day-to-day life. To be completely honest, the only thing that would have made me happy would be to curl up in a ball on my parents’ bed and stay there for the rest of my life.

The best way that I have ever been able to describe depression is that it is similar to a cloud hanging over your head. A dark gloominess takes over you that you cannot shake, while everyone around you is experiencing sunshine. And guess what? I was extremely fortunate in life. I was born into a wonderful family, with a father as a dermatologist, a nurse as a mother and a brother who would bend over backwards to protect his little sister. We were financially stable, but were not necessarily able to spend excessively.

My parents always supported us, regardless of the religion we chose to endorse, our sexual orientations or our career paths. They simply wanted us to be happy and healthy. I had a great group of friends and excelled in school. I was extremely fortunate in life and was always grateful for the cards that I was dealt.

The truth is that one can have an absolutely perfect life, and still suffer from any psychiatric illness. I was given a great life, yet I still always had a deep feeling of despair within me.  Sometimes it felt like my insides were completely frozen over.

It took me a while to realize that this state of being was not normal. A 13-year-old girl should not be questioning why she is living. That should not even be a thought that pops into a kid’s head. At that age, kids should be thinking about what they are going to do with their friends and how they are going to finish their homework.

When one says that he or she is depressed, most people think that it is simply being really sad. Severe clinical depression is a whole other thing entirely. I was not able to function every day as a normal, healthy adult. It took a great amount of energy and effort to simply get up in the morning. This aspect makes going through depression even more difficult, because many do not understand that one cannot simply “snap out of it.” It is difficult for others to relate to you — and therefore the thought of telling people about your time of crisis can seem overwhelming.

A psychologist once told me that the three ways to know if someone is clinically depressed are hopelessness, helplessness and guilt. I had all three. I felt hopeless for the future, that I would never be able to live a normal life or hold a steady job. I felt helplessness, that there was absolutely nothing that I could do to help myself get through this terrible time, or make it easier on my friends and family to deal with a constant downer. I also felt guilt for countless reasons.

I mainly felt guilt because this was a huge ordeal to put my family through. Coming home to your 13 -year-old daughter always crying under the blankets in her bed cannot be easy. I had guilt that I was blessed with such a wonderful life—and that there are so many less fortunate than I was, but I couldn’t put a smile on my face.  I also felt shame that I had a steady, well paying job that many people would do anything to get and I was completely miserable. All of these feelings are irrational and yet, I still had them. I share these thoughts to help you understand that if you are depressed, you can recognize it and seek help. Recognition is key. Please, if you recognize these symptoms in yourself, tell someone.

Being as I always had a close relationship with my parents, I brought up the strength to talk to them about what I was going through. They immediately referred me to a psychiatrist that my family had been going to for years — who also did counseling. For about a month I would simply meet with him for an hour, he would talk and I would cry. I realized that I had a serious, clinical mental illness that would take a lot of time to recover from. However, if I am to be completely honest, there was only one thing that I learned from him that I have taken with me throughout my life, which is that my trigger is uncertainty.

After a month of him talking and me crying in the leather chair, my psychiatrist put me on medication. At first I was put on Zoloft. Simply put: Zoloft did not work for me. It made me feel like I was outside of me, that I was not myself. After a couple of weeks on Zoloft and not seeing any improvement in my health and well being, my psychiatrist decided to put me on another medication called Lexapro. After about a week, my entire life changed. I was able to enjoy life again, take in my surroundings and focus on preparing for the future. In a way, it took away the clouds, so that I could actually begin to work in the issues that led me into my depression in the first place.

Now I want to make it clear: Just because this medication worked for me does not mean it will work for you. It all depends on your own brain chemistry and genetics. You may have to try a couple of different medications before you find the one that works right for you. With certain medications, your body gets used to them and they have less of an effect over time—which is part of why I had my relapses later in my journey. I am no longer on Lexapro. It worked for me at the time, but after being on it for about ten years, the effects started wearing off. Once again, I had to try several medications before finding another one that worked for me: Effexor.

There is absolutely a stigma related to taking medication for depression and anxiety disorders. Even though a big part of depression is a chemical imbalance that is genetic—and cannot be fixed without medication, many people think that medication is the easy way out. What would I like to say to those people? Deal with Major Depressive Disorder—and then get back to me. When I was going through my lowest point, I was completely unstable. The medication made me stable enough to help myself.

I do not view my decision to go on medication as weakness; but rather, that I was strong enough to get the help I needed to be able to live my life. I took these steps in a secure setting under the advice of professionals who had been trained in brain chemistry. There is absolutely no shame in taking medication if is will help your mental health, which is just as important as physical health. That being said, I want to make it clear that medications are not a cure-all. Had I realized that the first time, I may not have had my relapses. Even if it is only once a month, seeing a therapist continuously is a necessity.

Since the start of my depression, I have relapsed three times. It completely took me by surprise. I thought I was fixed, but I again was sucked back down into the rabbit hole. Two of those relapses were while I was still in college. I’m sure I was a pleasure to deal with for my roommates. I found myself having to make constant trips home and my school work plummeted. During my first relapse, I got the lowest GPA I ever had in my life. My psychiatrist kept upping the dosage on my medication, which would lead to improvement. However, the third relapse, which led to the lowest point of my life, I was already at the highest dosage of Lexapro that I could take. At this point, I decided to stop seeing my current psychiatrist.

I went to a new psychiatrist, and since she did not do any counseling, I also found a therapist. Together, they worked to help bring me back up again—and I have not relapsed since. I also learned tools to deal with my depression. Taking recovery in small steps makes it seem a lot less daunting. Don’t start by trying to run a marathon. The little steps you take are a leap of faith. Step One: getting out of bed. Step Two: getting in the shower. Step Three: going outside for five minutes—this was the biggest tool I learned.

Music is something that has always helped me throughout my experiences. Being able to connect to it and feel it in your soul is the best possible feeling. When I was at my lowest points, I would listen to Avril Lavigne. Her music made me feel like there was someone else out there going through the same thing I was.  I will always hold her music close to my heart. I remember the first time I heard her song “Take Me Away:”

I cannot find a way to describe it,
Its there, inside, all I do is hide.
I wish that it would just away
What would you do, you do if you knew.

This verse summed up everything that I was feeling. I never thought anyone would understand me, but these lyrics made me realize that I was not alone. Another song, “Darlin,” spoke to me as well:

You’re hiding in the closet once again
Start smiln’
I know you’re trying real hard not to turn your head away
Pretty darlin’, face tomorrow, tomorrow’s not yesterday.

“Once again, start smilin’” had become my mantra. Also, what I said about a small step becoming a leap of faith? I got that wording from Avril Lavigne, too. I have “A single step becomes a leap of faith” tattooed on my arm.

Depression is never your fault. The psychiatrist that I saw at first consistently made me feel that way.  My current therapist has helped me realized that whenever I am down and need strength, I already have it inside of me. I have to rely on myself to be happy, and I’m a pretty good shoulder to lean on. Instead of making me feel guilty, she has made me realize how strong I am and that I can overcome this mental illness. While I was extremely fortunate to have amazing friends and family, I realize many others do not have that support. If you are one of those people, I want my story to be your strength and emotional support. You can overcome this; I am proof. You have that power, you are resilient and you will once again, start smilin’. Oh, as you can see, dreams really do come true.


For more information on depression, seek help at depression.org.

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