Haley Britton

Haley’s Story:

I started feeling depression somewhere in late middle school/early high school. I don’t know when it started, but I remember crying for no reason, having pent up emotions, lack of interest in things, and wanting nothing but to be alone and cry in my room. I had all the classic signs but didn’t realize it. My mom was extremely emotionally abusive and meticulously damaged my self-esteem, so I always credited her with the reasons why I wasn’t happy. 

I was really active in school and church and my community, and I was really good at acting happy outside of home, so no one could really tell I wasn’t actually happy. No one knew that when I drove by myself, I would often daydream about not taking the next curve and instead just driving my car into a tree. No one knew that I felt like I was in a dark hole that I couldn’t get out of. 

When I got to college, I got a lot worse. I went to therapy, but I only opened up about a tiny bit of what I was feeling, so nothing really got fixed. I made some friends, but I couldn’t get myself to go out or do much of anything, and when I did, I still wasn’t happy. I got more involved at school as years went on, I had a great and supportive boyfriend, but nothing really made me happy. I spent most days crying in my room, just completely miserable. I wasn’t like this 24/7, but I definitely had more bad days than good. When I had bad days, it felt like I couldn’t ever get out of it, like I’d never see the light again. And still, I didn’t say I was depressed. I’d often ask myself what was wrong with me, but somehow I wouldn’t accept depression as the answer. I always felt like it was something wrong with me as a person. Some things made me happy, for sure, but only for small bits at a time. I kept thinking different things would make me happy like having a boyfriend or having a certain group of friends, but they never did. I’m lucky that I never had the desire to lean on alcohol or drugs. I’m fairly certain I’d be dead if I did. 

I specifically remember being in my first psych class my sophomore year and seeing the criteria for depression, identifying with every single thing, and still saying “no, I don’t have depression.” 

I eventually did come to terms with my self-diagnosis, and sought help through therapy mostly. My depression always stayed, but the worst of it came in waves. I started running just for about 20-30 minutes a day my junior year and that helped. But it didn’t fix anything. Finally, my senior year, my depression (and all of the emotional abuse that I had learned from my mom and was projecting onto him) caused my nearly three-year relationship to end and sent me into a down spiral like I had never experienced. I felt alone, trapped, and like I would never get better. In many ways, I had only let my boyfriend in and I would only lean on him for help. I was ashamed of myself and I didn’t want anyone else to know how crazy I actually was. So when we broke up, I was all alone, and feeling incredibly unstable. 

I went to a new therapist and made great strides with her, but I still felt low. The day after I graduated from undergrad, I decided I was going to kill myself. On such a happy occasion, I felt empty and horrible. Nothing had made me happy. I couldn’t feel happy. I wept in my bed and the image of me stabbing myself played over and over in my mind and I kept telling myself I had to do it. When I went downstairs to do it, somehow I knew better and I called my brother that was still in town instead. I asked to third wheel him and his girlfriend, and he didn’t know that by saying yes he was keeping me alive. They had no idea I was even depressed. The next couple of weeks I kept seeing myself driving into trees or stabbing myself with knives. I kept hearing my inner dialogue say “I can’t do this. I’m not going to make it.” I asked friends to spend the night so I would feel safer. I went to see my best friend from high school to get a change of scenery with a familiar face.

The next week I was headed to graduate school to pursue my dreams of being a social worker, and I still wasn’t happy. During orientation I just kept saying “I won’t make it through the year.” Not like, I won’t make it through grad school, but I was going to kill myself before the year was up. I just knew it.

Finally, I worked up the guts to tell my mom and get help. I told her I needed to be on antidepressants because I couldn’t take it anymore. She got me an appointment with our family doctor for the next day and I went in crying my eyes out. He asked if I had a plan, and he gave me the usual speech. Luckily, one of my brothers was also on antidepressants so he didn’t have to make a random guess as to which one to prescribe (siblings typically react the same to medications). 

Once I adjusted to the meds – quickly – I started to experience happiness like I never had before. On a scale of one to ten, my typical baseline mood since high school was at a 3 on a good day. Good things could happen that could make my mood spike, but it didn’t take long for it to fall back into its normal place. But with medication, my mood came up to a seven or an eight as a baseline. I didn’t worry so much. I wasn’t easily stressed. I didn’t cry randomly. I remember the incredible revelation that this must be what normal feels like.

Since then, I’ve had highs and lows. Every low feels worse than the last, but I still know that I’m going to make it through. And luckily, when I’m happy I stay happy. My emotions feel normal and regulated. 

I also thought that everyone around me could see it. I thought that everyone really knew that I was depressed. Why wasn’t anyone helping me? Why wasn’t anyone checking in on me? Does anyone actually care? Did they actually just say that to me when they know there’s something wrong with me? But no one really knew. No one really had any idea. I didn’t really tell anyone. And when I did, none of the people I told had ever experienced any mental illness and I didn’t have the words to explain to them what it’s like. And when I tried to say how I felt, I always alluded to the fact I was suicidal, but without direct and explicit expression of my feelings, no one got the message. 
Now I know how important it is to talk to family and friends and to ask for support. I know how important it is to educate them on how I feel and to tell them how to speak to you and how to support you. 

People didn’t understand that my depression was more than feeling sad. It was feeling unstable. Like my emotions were tearing me apart. I had irrational thoughts that turned into irrational words and actions. I couldn’t calm down when I was worked up or crying. People didn’t know that some days my body felt too heavy to lift out of bed. They didn’t know that everything was foggy and nothing in my brain felt clear. They didn’t know that depression made me paranoid and made me believe that they didn’t actually care. I couldn’t really feel love and no positive thing that anyone did really stuck. They tried to pick me up, but I was just too heavy. 

The best thing I did was making small goals for myself and asking for support. Instead of “I’m going to run a mile today” it was “I’m going to go outside for five minutes.” Instead of “I’m going to clean the house” it was “I’m going to vacuum my room.” I had to learn how to be okay with the small victories and know that doing something was a thousand times better than doing nothing. It turned the days that felt like failures into a day I could be okay with.

Having a mental illness as a social worker is strange. I sat in class for years learning about people like me and how to help and talk to them, as well as all the tools people use to cope, and somehow, I still felt like shit. Being educated about something and experiencing it are two totally different things, and it felt so complicated. 

My depression brought me through hell, and somehow, I made it out. My experience made me a better, stronger person. It’s given me the ability to connect and relate with others who are going through mental illness. It’s made me warmer and more loving toward others. 

I got a tattoo on my leg of an illustration from one of my favorite poets, Rupi Kaur. The poem reads “The world gives you so much pain and here you are making gold out of it -there is nothing purer than that” A constant reminder that our pain isn’t forever, and we can use our experiences to support and love others.

What Does Depression Mean To You?

It’s like drowning in a muddy river. People keep telling you how good you’ve got it, but all you can see is the mud in your eyes. You can’t breathe. You can’t see. You’re scared.

How Did You Overcome Depression And/or Self Harm? 

Exercise really helped a lot. That sounds like bland advice, but it works. I’m not always good at getting myself to do it, and I’m good at talking myself out of it, but it does help. What ultimately helped me was medication. I was extremely lucky that the first medication I tried worked perfectly for me. A lot of people don’t have that luxury.

What Advice Would You Give Someone That Is Battling With Depression And/or Self-Harm? 

Find help. Your brain will tell you to isolate yourself; be with others even when you don’t feel like it. Your brain will tell you no one loves or cares about you; it’s lying. It might not feel like it, but you are loved and cared about. If you have the means, go to therapy. And when you’re there, make sure you’re totally, completely honest. They won’t think you’re silly and you won’t be able to make any changes until you’re able to face absolutely everything. Let other people know what’s going on and give them information about what it’s like for you and what would be helpful. Advocate for your needs, because you deserve to be supported and loved.

What Do You Believe Are Some Problems That The Media Brings To Females That Battle With Depression And/or Self Harm? 

Media romanticizes depression and self-harm. Many times, they make it look appealing and like it’s an okay way to get help and attention. It’s not. It’s miserable. If you can, get help at the very beginning of feeling bad. Don’t wait until it’s too bad to handle. Depression and self-harm aren’t cool. Getting help, advocating for yourself, and aiming for happiness is cool.

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