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My Recovery From Depression is a Work in Progress
Caitlin Ward

Some names have been changed.

Growing up, I was a bubbly, outgoing girl, but in 7th grade I became severely depressed. The illness runs in my family. I was bullied at school, and after the birth of my little sister, my parents weren’t paying as much attention to me. Both of these things happening together, along with my slipping grades, made me depressed, and I tried to kill myself. I was predisposed to this illness and I succumbed to it. But fortunately I was hospitalized in time.

After my suicide attempt, I was sent to Montefiore Hospital, where I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

I didn’t want to be there. The smell of rubber gloves and hand sanitizer assaulted my nose, and the brightly lit rooms hurt my eyes. I slept a lot. One of the symptoms of severe depression can be that you feel so tired you want to sleep all the time. I wanted to go home, and being at the hospital made me even more depressed.

I was there for a week, with family from all over coming to visit. Then I was moved to NewYork-Presbyterian’s psychiatric hospital.

When I found out they were placing me in a psychiatric hospital, I was terrified. I thought there would be crazy people there who fight over things like their juice being stolen, like in the movies. I thought there would be plain white walls, robes, slippers, and everyone would be too drugged up on their medicine to even notice me.

But when I arrived, I found it was nothing like that. It was quiet and calm, and nobody fought. The children’s psych ward was colorful, and they let us wear our own clothes. It felt warm and cozy.

After being in NewYork-Presbyterian for a few days, I felt like I could be more myself. One day I noticed a dark-skinned Hispanic girl drawing. She was taller than me. I sat down next to her, rubbing my hands on my white jeans. She smiled at me.

“Hi, I’m Hannah,” she said.

I nodded and then smiled. “I’m Caitlin. It’s nice to meet you.”

Feeling More Like Myself

We became friends with a boy who was even taller than Hannah. He had pretty green eyes that looked like freshly grown leaves in spring. He was cute, but he didn’t seem to know it. We loved teasing him about that. For the rest of the time I was in the hospital, except when I was in group therapy, I was with them.

In the hospital, I was put on Zoloft. I didn’t feel different, but after about a week on the medicine my doctors noted that I was acting less anxious. The doctor said I probably wouldn’t feel better until I had taken it for about a month.

I had group therapy sessions where we learned coping strategies such as taking deep breaths and counting to 10, punching pillows, and squeezing stress balls. We were given little wooden boxes that we were asked to fill with papers listing things we liked and aspects of ourselves people liked about us. When we felt depressed we were told to open our box and be reminded of these things. But none of these strategies made me feel better.

By day four, I realized that if I didn’t start to get better I would end up staying there a lot longer. I missed my family, my dogs, my friends, and my home. Somehow I was able to put myself in a mindset where thinking more positively was the only option, and slowly I began to believe it. I tried hard to drive the depressive thoughts out of my mind, but I’m sure the Zoloft was also helping me feel better.

image by YC-Art Dept

After about a month, my doctors let me go home. Even though I was still suffering from anxiety and depression, I had stopped wanting to hurt myself.

Working Hard to Get Better

When I came home, I was still a little depressed. I had extreme anxiety and was afraid I’d relapse and become suicidal again. By this time, I had been on the Zoloft for a month, and I was reminded that the doctor said it would take that long to feel an improvement. I knew there was no way that one pill was going to make me see rainbows and sunshine.

I was thankful for the medicine keeping some of the anxious and depressed thoughts away, or just making them feel less intense. It was still hard for me, but at least I didn’t want to hurt myself anymore.

One of the conditions for me getting out of the hospital was that I had to see a therapist, but I had a hard time finding one I connected with and liked. I must have tried at least five. Eventually I found one who I connected with last year.

She was nice and funny, and seemed to understand what I was going through at school and with my parents. She didn’t treat me like a charity case or a naïve little girl. When looking for a therapist this is important, because if it feels like they don’t care about your problems, this might make you feel worse. You want someone who supports you and helps boost your confidence.

Going back to school was the hardest part of recovery. Everyone knew what had happened to me. I was now seen as “the girl who tried to kill herself.” People tried to sympathize with me and baby me, as if the littlest thing would make me want to commit suicide. This didn’t only happen at school. It was at home, too. My whole family was stepping on eggshells with me. It was irritating.

Turning My Feelings Into Poems and Songs

I’d like to say that I got out of the hospital and was better, but severe depression doesn’t always work that way. There were a lot of ups and downs and at first I felt depressed most of the time.

I am usually a good student but I was failing my classes. But at the end of my 7th grade year, all my teachers ended up passing me. They told my parents they were being easier on me because they didn’t want me to hurt myself. It made me upset, but I let it go since I was glad to be passing.

That summer I slowly began to feel better. I’m not sure how, but I think part of it is I became ready to stop pitying myself. I was resolved to feel happy again. It also helped that my parents and therapist kept reassuring me that I wouldn’t be depressed forever.

I channeled all my emotions into music and writing. Writing my feelings into stories about princesses and monsters helped me see my emotions and problems in ways that made more sense to me. I also turned my feelings into poems and songs.

Music is a good way for me to channel my depression and anxiety into something positive. I love music. I play violin, guitar, and piano, and I’ve had voice training. Now I am the songwriter and bass guitarist for a rock band called KRB.

It’s been three years since I was hospitalized, and I am doing well. I get evaluated by a psychiatrist every year. I take medication for panic anxiety and my doctor says that helps keep the depression at bay. My family and friends support me. I have learned that although I suffer from an illness, I can overcome it. If I ever relapse, I know that I can get the help I need from my parents, my guidance counselor, and my friends.

If you are suicidal, you should not hide it. Tell a caring adult so you can get help. Your family and friends do care about you, even if you think they don’t.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time at 800-273-TALK.

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