I'm 20 Years Old And Have Been Clinically Depressed For At Least 6 Years

A lot of people toss around the word "depression." It might be used to describe how a person is feeling about a week or an event, or what have you. But rarely do I see people who truly understand what it means to be depressed. I'm one of those people, and my story is rather complicated. I suppose I'll start from as far back as is relevant. It is a long read, approximately 2500 words, but perhaps it might be interesting. I spent a long time writing this, so enjoy.

As a young child, my parents describe me as a young, happy, energetic little boy. I always smiled, always laughed, and always had a good time. I enjoyed going out for vacations to the lake or to the national forests, as my father would facilitate before he was laid off from his night school teaching job - he still teaches day school. I, of course, remember those days, and quite nostalgically so. The world was just a sea of things for me to tinker with and learn. My grandmother, who has been living in my house (I still live with my parents) since I was born, raised me in part, and I remember the days when she would watch me, and play games such as hide and seek. I remember those days, and boy do I miss being that happy.

My dad, as I've said before, is an immigrant teacher from France, and if there's anything about him that I would say that has directly influenced my current condition, its that he's atheist, and a staunch advocate of the sciences. Needless to say, his command of my household has caused me to be atheist as well. I shall discuss more how this affects my life outlook later. My mother, an immigrant from Taiwan, was an accountant from an electronics store, and then later an insurance agent for Prudential and AIG. She is perhaps the sweetest woman I know. She always, and still does, gave me her best - the best portion of dinner, all the juice (even to the point where she would give up her share to me), gave me the television remote when I asked for it, took me out for dinner nearly every time I wanted. This is just a summary and does no justice to her. Anyway, with her being from a traditional Asian family, and my dad being a teacher, there was an immense pressure from them for me to perform well in school. Every day, when my mom took me to school, she would drop me off, encouraging me to be "number 1," and when she would pick me up, she would ask me, "How was your day? Were you #1?" Of course, I couldn't be number one all the time, and it pained me to tell her that I wasn't number one. This might seem fickle to many of you, but I internalized this pressure to be "number one." Not to mention, dad's drop of the hammer was terrifying to me, and I struggled in school to maintain my grades in fear of him. I lament to admit this, but my grades were never that great. Then and now, I have never gotten a GPA higher than 3.6, and just saying this makes me feel... impotent and inadequate.

This pressure caused me to become a perfectionist. I have developed very high standards for myself, and many of you would say they're ridiculous - why would I do that to myself? If I didn't get an A on a test, I would be "depressed" for the day. If I wasn't the best student in an activity, I would be "depressed" for a day. If I didn't win the art contest, you said it, I would be "depressed" for the day. These shortcomings caused me to feel unworthy, undeserving, and particularly inadequate. Feeling that way, I couldn't stand to be complimented because I would immediately think, "No, that's not true." When I drew pictures, and was complimented on how good it was, I would tell myself that it was not, because it wasn't perfect.

Back to my history.

My dad was raised in the Catholic schools, he thought that he would put me into a Catholic school. So, I went to a place called Foothill Christian for kindergarten, and another called St. Dorothy's (in Glendora CA if anyone is curious). I still have memories of being at Foothill Christian, happy ones. As for St. Dorothy's, I remember a stark break in my mood. Everything was normal from first grade to about fifth or sixth. Happy, excited, animated are words that have been used to describe me up until this point. I'm ashamed to say, but I believe this change in moods happened because of a crush on a girl. It wasn't my first, but I can't remember exactly why that one in particular affected me. Another crush possessed me over seventh and eighth grade, and I shall never forget her name: Victoria. She was the first and last puppy dog love that I ever had. I had butterflies at the thought of her, and just being in her vicinity was enough to make me ecstatic. She was the one who lead me into classic rock - Led Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath, etc., from being a poser who listened to rap. However, I was rather, to put in words, socially awkward. I didn't know how to deal with these feelings, and I they grew out of control. Things exacerbated when relations with a classmate turned awfully sour, and I became the object of dislike for a few others. Keep in mind, classes at St. Dorothy were 32 students big, so it's difficult to not notice the antagonism of others. So I wasn't liked by everybody - this killed my self esteem. The feelings I had for Victoria were too much for me to handle, and I became afraid to talk to her, terrified of saying the wrong thing. So, to cope, I simply turned that part of me off. It wasn't easy, and for some time towards the end of eighth grade, I became reclusive. I felt hurt, and alone. I had built up a monolithic guard for myself, one that would act as an emotional neutralizer, so that the emotional pain that I felt wouldn't sting so much. This caused me to be emotionally numb. As a direct effect, I began to lose interest in daily activities - things could not be as enjoyable as they once were.

To cope, I picked up the guitar. It became my drug to forget about my emotional stresses. I would play hours a day, looking for perfection. I am an expert level guitarist as a result of that habit, but in saying that, complimenting myself, I immediately tell myself that it's untrue, even if it is true.

This era ended when it came time to go to high school. The plan was, for everybody, that upon graduating from St. Dorothy's, the girls would go to St. Lucy's High School (or whatever it was called - but it was definitely St. Lucy's), and the boys would go to Damien High School. Almost all of the 32 students in my class went to one of those schools. I was among the two or three others who did not, a group that was void of any of my "friends." Well, while just about everyone continued on together, I was left out, eventually going to Charter Oak High, a public school. I had felt more alone than I ever felt at that point. Furthermore, I was forced into a school not knowing a single soul. My dad, being the academic that he was, put me into the honors program. I had never been in an honors program, and, reflecting on my scholastic experiences before, I was extremely hesitant to go for it. I did, nevertheless, and I am grateful for taking that initiative.

High school was the time that I believe affected me the most. It was really a transformative period for me. I found my niche, eventually, among a group of "gamers." We all got along well over the four years there. But what really affected me most was something called gynecomastia, a physical condition in males where they get excess breast tissue, creating the appearance of, well, breasts. I wasn't fat, nor was I terribly out of shape (5'10'', weight ranged from 155-180), but it was a condition that persisted until just recently this year where I had the excess tissue removed surgically. Let me tell you, that little bit of tissue was the most debilitating thing in my life. I couldn't dress normally. I couldn't behave normally. I couldn't talk to girls. I wouldn't dare take my shirt off in front of anyone, not even my own parents. I couldn't go to the beach, nor could I swim in the pool. I felt like I was chained at the neck to a wall, watching, staring at every missed opportunity pass in front of my eyes...

...Because I couldn't be normal, because I couldn't be out with friends or be around girls, because I wasn't popular, because I my GPA was a lousy 3.45... because I wasn't perfect. I felt incredibly lonely, because all that time my gynecomastia was holding me back. Why didn't I get it removed earlier? I'd been to the doctors many times about that, and every time they would say, "Oh, it's normal thing. It'll go away in six months."

I lived everyday absolutely terrified that somebody would find out. I wore heavy, thick clothing to hide it. "Hide it, don't let anyone find out at all costs." - That is what I thought about every. Single. Day.

Feelings of worthlessness really started to take over, exacerbated by my atheism. Since I wasn't going out with friends, I got into heavy gaming. I played World of Warcraft for two and a half years. I played Guild Wars also. Half-Life, Battlefield, etc. I don't know how I let myself dump four years of my life into games like that, but I suppose I had to. They, along with playing guitar, were my drugs - drugs to forget, and to take me away from the pain that I felt everyday. Four miserable years I lived like this. And remembering it still depresses me.

I developed a mind that constantly needed stimulation, and when I wasn't busy doing something, it would race thoughts. I would jump around various thoughts, often jumping so fast that they don't form completely. Other times, certain thoughts seem to dominate over others, like they fight for my conscious attention. This gave me focus and sleeping problems, both attributing to my less than perfect academic performance.

Over this time, my interest in daily activity plummeted. I couldn't drive myself to brush my teeth or shower everyday. It was a long process to get me to get out of the house. I went to the gym to work out, to improve my self image, but that only lasted me a few months. I couldn't convince myself to go anymore. Loneliness really sunk in. My birthdays meant less and less to me every year, so much so that everything culminated on the day of my eighteenth birthday. Instead of celebrating, even with a simple dinner, I couped myself up in my room, and cried. I sobbed, realizing how alone I was, convincing myself of my worthlessness.

At that point, I began thinking suicidal thoughts. I started planning out how I was going to do it. Perhaps I would hang myself - no, that would be... scary? I don't know. Maybe I'd cut myself in the wrists - no, that would be too messy. Aha! I'll overdose on... sleeping medication. My dad took xanax for as long as I can remember, and I know where he keeps it. But hey, maybe things aren't so bad, I thought. So for that time being, I was confident that I wouldn't do it. But I'd lost almost all intrinsic motivation - all but my perfectionism. It was the only thing that drove me to go keep going, to keep improving myself. Yet at the same time, it was what told me that with each of my, I'll call them, sub-standard performances, I was imperfect and therefore inferior, inadequate... worthless. Really, I felt these "performances" were failures.

College rolled around. Back to square one, like high school. Time to go out and hopefully meet new friends. But I still had my gynecomastia, still anhedonic, and still very much depressed. I spent the whole first year of college just coping with my depression, still feeling lonely and sub-standard. My second year is when I really gave my efforts at spreading out. I found a new circle of friends, and as far as I can tell, I'm well liked by all of them.
But I still have an unshakable, incorrigible, debilitating depression. For my nineteenth and twentieth birthdays, I cried just like on my eighteenth.

Did I ever get help for my depression? No, not until recently this year, and in fact, I was not officially diagnosed with severe depression until April. So all that time, from eighth grade until now, I managed my depression without help. To some extent I'm proud of that - maybe it's some kind of achievement. Yet at the same time, it's years of my life lost that I can't make up.

So this brings me to my current status. If you've read up until now, I thank you. This is a summary of my current condition:

My anhedonia (loss of interest and motivation) is the worst it's ever been. I've lost almost all intrinsic motivation, perfectionism being all that is left. It's difficult for me to get out of the house. The only things that get me out are to eating and school, and these hypomanic episodes that I've developed. They're these brief periods, from about 10 minutes to two hours, where I have abnormally elevated mood, confidence, and motivation. Sometimes I switch between low and elevated moods several times a day. I've spoken to my psychiatrist, and he does not think that I'm bipolar, but definitely something more than depression. He has put me on Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate) and BuPROPion. I still wear heavy/thick clothing despite having had my gynecomastia removed, with good cosmetic results. I'm still very emotionally numb. I occasionally relapse into being suicidal. I still have problems sleeping.

Considering that my depression has been such an integral part of me for so long, I'm having a lot of trouble thinking about what it would be like to live without it, or if I could even achieve that, since I don't know what it's like to be truly happy anymore.
ahmidabuddha ahmidabuddha
3 Responses May 6, 2012

I struggle with depression, and have as long as I can remember. I'd like to recommend a book called Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It has really helped me stay out of the depression trap and move on with my life.

I just read your post and I have felt similiar experiences. It is a very difficult thing to go through. I am currently depressed right now because I rely so much of my happiness on girls. I am a very sweet and loving guy but I always seem to get very angry and say mean and hurtful words to a girl who hurts me. Sometimes I am verbally abusive and I can't take it anymore. I don't want to be this way anymore. I want to let go of the past and all the pain that I have caused people and to just let go. My faith has kept me going and has kept me from ending it. I am sorry that you are going through those things. I am a perfectionist when it comes to relationships. Always feeling like I have to do something nice to gain approval or love. I have yet to seek help, but I most recently took advantage of a service that offers help at my work. I called and now I have to wait to see someone. But I just want you to know that I will be praying for you. O and I am 25 years old.

I read most and have a few comments you should consider. You say it first started at high school, or words similar.<br />
<br />
I would suggest very strongly to you it was taught to you by your parents, with good intentions. They always want us to be better than is possible and that hurts so we can become depressed just on that point alone.<br />
<br />
There is a serious conflict between your father being an atheist and insisting you go to Catholic School. Excuse me but WTF is that about? He needs to see a shrink for that attitude.<br />
<br />
I too am atheist but I found my answer by looking, in hope for this God. In short there is no God so that part of your upbringing is spot on. But putting you into Catholic School? The worst decision possible. That would have confused the hell out of you as a young boy.<br />
<br />
You say you have just been diagnosed with severe depression. What that means is it's a long way back and it's up to you to work damned hard with a good shrink, good meds and later good therapy to recover. Sorry to burst your achievement bubble but I have been depressed since age 10 and did not know unti age 35, due to a marriage break up when my world imploded. I've had it on and off for 50 years. OK, so you ain't setting any records.<br />
<br />
To be blunt, to myself and you it is plain ignorant to have an illness and ignore it. I didn't know and my family insisted there was no problem but I felt it.<br />
<br />
You must stay with the shrink if you get on and find a good med to raise your mood so you are ready for therapy, particularly CBT. That'sthe best thing we have. but with severe depression it will fail. I failed twice. And 2 years later suddenly found I was doing it. It's like having a remote control to change your thoughts, truly. As soon as you are aware you are running your usual self punishment thought pattern you can stop it and decide to think something else. It IS that easy but it's very hard making it work. As I said, I wasn't aware but the training had lodged somewhere ans started working.<br />
<br />
Those episodes you say are hypomanic. Please describe them fully and give as much detail as you can. How often, how long, all effects and when it started etc. As much detail as you can. Do remember though your doc said it's not. Start from there.<br />
<br />
I'm BP2 so I can tell it it is or isn't if you are honest.<br />
<br />
Loss of interest and motivation is NOT a separate problem when you have severe depression. It is all part of one illness and is treated in that manner. All of it, not one part at a time. Get rid of those thoughts of splitting it up. Read up on symptoms and you will see they are but parts of the larger problem.<br />
<br />
The perfectionism is something that allows someone to predict you will have depression as no one, including you, can meet the standards you set. I had that problem too but I still refuse to lower my standards to what others do. I'd lose myself If I did things the way the rest do. Penalty is depression I'm OK with that as I have reached a place where I am content.<br />
<br />
None of your life has been waste so don't regret a thing. Instead, learn from it as you cannot change it. But you can change your future. If you really want to. It starts with a shrink and ends up with YOU solving the problems and finding the answers you need.