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Finding Light in the Darkness

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My struggle with depression and anxiety started when I was a teenager. I felt sad and worried all the time, for no apparent reason. I cried myself to sleep most nights and started isolating myself from friends and family. I thought something was terribly wrong with me, but I was too afraid to ask for help.

In high school, I withdrew further into my shell. I stopped hanging out with friends or joining any clubs. I spent my lunch period hiding in the library just to avoid talking to anyone. My self-esteem plummeted even further when I was rejected from the university I had my heart set on. It confirmed the negative voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough.

My mental health issues intensified even further at university. I would go days without leaving my dorm room or talking to anyone. I stopped going to classes, and my marks plummeted. I had no energy, hope, or motivation to get out of bed. I felt worthless and like a failure. The smallest tasks, like showering or doing laundry, seemed monumental.

Finally, during my second year at university, I hit rock bottom after a bad breakup. I had suicidal thoughts and started planning ways to end my life. That was my wake-up call that I needed help. I remember thinking, “If I don’t get help now, I’m not going to make it.” I told my resident advisor, who connected me with mental health services on campus. Just reaching out took all the courage I could muster.

I started seeing a therapist weekly. She diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, which was oddly comforting just to have a name for what I’d been experiencing. My therapist helped me start on an antidepressant to alleviate some of the persistent sadness. We also worked on thought restructuring techniques to deal with my constant negative self-talk.

In therapy, we went all the way back to my childhood to try and understand the root causes of my mental health struggles. I had a tendency to blame myself for anything that went wrong. I put tremendous pressure on myself to succeed at everything. Failure was not an option in my mind. My therapist helped me see how distorted that kind of thinking was. She encouraged me to cultivate self-compassion instead of self-blame.

I also began practising daily meditation and mindfulness exercises to calm my anxious mind. Mindfulness taught me how to catch myself when I was spiralling into obsessive-negative thoughts. It allowed me to observe my thoughts without judgement and gently redirect my focus to the present moment.

Making lifestyle changes was also an important part of my recovery journey. I started eating healthy, exercising regularly, and developing better sleep habits. When depression gripped me, taking care of my body fell by the wayside. Now I am intentional about nutrition, fitness, and rest. I discovered how much they impacted my mental state.

There were still many ups and downs, of course. Healing was not linear. Depression doesn’t just instantly disappear. But over time, with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes, the dark clouds started to lift. I began re-engaging with school and friends. I even got involved with an on-campus mental health advocacy group, sharing bits of my story to help end stigma.

After graduating from university, I made sure to continue prioritising my mental health. I found a therapist and psychiatrist I trusted out in the “real world”. I surrounded myself with supportive friends and family who knew my story. I kept up daily habits like exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep – all essential parts of my mental health management.

There are still challenges today. Living with depression and anxiety means I have to be vigilant. Self-care is never just a one-time thing; it’s a lifelong commitment. I have to constantly work against my negative inner voice and cognitive distortions. There are still bad days when getting out of bed feels impossible.

But now I have tools under my belt to deal with those struggles as they come. I’ve learned how to sit with sadness when it comes without getting pulled down into hopelessness. I’ve learned how to reality-test my anxious thoughts and separate irrational worries from legitimate concerns. And I’ve learned how essential it is to speak up and ask for help when I need it. I’m not alone in this.

My journey has taught me that there is hope, even in the darkest of times. For anyone struggling with mental health issues, know that you have inner reserves of strength you can draw upon, even if you can’t feel them right now. With professional help, lifestyle changes, community support, and self-care, you can start feeling better and see the world through less clouded eyes. You are so much more than your depression, anxiety, or trauma. A brighter day is coming, even if it’s hard to picture right now. Don’t give up. Keep fighting. You are worthy of healing and happiness. The light exists if you just hold on long enough to find it.

Amelia Davidson is a mental health advocate dedicated to reducing stigma and helping others find light even in the darkest of times.

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