Everyone has their own stories and series of events that lead them all to where they are right now, and ours led us all here, to Southern California for the start of this drive for happiness.
The three of us have each suffered from depression in our own ways over the last few years, and each us has found a way to work ourselves out of this dark state of mind, to find a stable existence, a place where we could truthfully call ourselves happy.
In sharing our own stories, we found that we were far from alone. We are embarking on this journey for happiness to help change the stigma surrounding mental illness and depression and to bring happiness to those struggling to find hope.
We are all capable of finding happiness, and we should all have the opportunity to find it.
It was a slow process of devolution, one that I was largely unaware of while it was happening, like a frog sitting in cool water as it turns to boil. I had issues with substance abuse, that progressed from occasional usage to no longer having sober moments. As dependencies and tolerances grew, I no longer got high or low. I was in a constant state of physical, mental, and emotional numbness. I didn’t feel anything anymore. I became a shell of a person, merely going through the motions. I was a robot.
One day, I realized what I had become, and I realized I wanted to change, but I didn’t know where to start. I started to trace it back, in an attempt to figure out what had become of me. And then it hit me. The drugs. The constant numbing of my body, mind and emotions no longer just affected me while they were in my system, but had become me. Why did I do this to myself?
I think it started with a need for validation. A lack of internal peace. The fleeting moments that provided me with such pleasure I mistook to be happiness. I was constantly comparing and measuring myself against others, and I couldn’t just accept and be happy with who I was. I saw people around me seeming to have the time of their lives while smoking bowls and doing lines, and I wanted to feel that way. I wanted to feel confident and happy.
I was lost. Much of my life had become about finding identifiers. I wanted to find a group or a way to label myself, whether it be positive or negative. College student. Lacrosse player. Pothead. Fraternity brother. That concern wasn’t about finding who I was, but rather about finding a way for others to see me. I had become more worried about my peer’s perceptions of me than how I perceived myself.
I had no sense of inner peace, because my peace revolved around external perception, which can never be totally satisfied, because you can’t make everyone happy. So I stopped worrying about how other people saw me, and that was the moment I became me. I put my happiness first. I cut out the boozing, the drug abuse, and the focus on the ego. I started meditating and working towards inner peace. I became happy.
I started to feel again, and I feel everything. I feel so much now sometimes I can barely stand it. I feel the highs and the lows and every inch of the spectrum in between. But I fucking love it. I wouldn’t change it for a second.
As a happy and loving person, I can spread happiness and love. I couldn’t do that out of numbness. All I could spread was more numbness. So now that I have nothing in my heart but happiness and love, I do my best every single day to instill happiness and love in the hearts of those who are open to a little more.
My first encounter with depression was during my freshman year of college. Leaving the world that I had known for 18 years of my life and starting anew on an unknown campus was exciting, yet daunting, to say the least. Where in high school, I had grown up with the same friends since elementary school; I had no problem with having real, meaningful connections. However, in college, it was a different story. Social life seemed to revolve around two interests: drinking and smoking. Not the best atmosphere to make deep connections. Ironically, with so many people around me all the time, I had never felt lonelier.
As the months passed by, my condition continued to worsen. It felt as though I was free falling into an endless abyss of nothingness. I no longer wanted to go to class (I attended film school, so classes were relatively fun). I no longer wanted to socialize. I no longer wanted to surf. The things that I found most interesting, no longer interested me anymore. I isolated myself from my friends, family, and the world. I stayed in my room. At the time, I wasn't aware that I was depressed. I didn't even know what depression was.
The next two years would be the darkest times of my life, at one point attempting to cut it short. It was at this moment, that first gasp of air, when I was reborn. I was given a second chance, a new chance at life. I knew right then and there that I had much growing up to do, and that I would need help. Asking for help was, by far, the hardest thing for me to do since it meant that I had to confront my dark secret, the entity that had troubled me for what seemed like an eternity. I gathered what little renewed hope that I had and finally sought help from a therapist. Since then, I have found the strength and courage to come to terms with my depression and to help those who are suffering from this mental anguish. I am proud to say that, at this point in my life, I am the happiest that I have ever been.
My depression was not evident to me until I was sitting in a therapist's office my sophomore year of college doing a depression screening that was entirely new to me. My therapist was asking me questions about my eating habits, my energy levels, my concentration and about whether or not I was thinking about hurting myself. I spent the entirety of my sophomore year going to therapy once a week. If you'd asked me at the time, therapy meant I had a meeting with my track coach, a doctors appointment, a study session or relatively anything other than admitting to people I was depressed and going to therapy for it.
College became one of the most difficult transitions for me. I searched in a lot of the wrong places for happiness; I chased the temporary highs. I wanted to feel, and I felt everything and nothing at all. Depression had a way of making me feel everything at times and absolutely nothing at others. College became a place where I had some of the lowest lows and scariest thoughts I've ever had. More than once I had a plan to take my own life.
Recovery isn't a short process. It isn't easy. But when people tell you that you CAN overcome and work through your depression and that it does get better, I can promise you that it does.
There were a handful of people that knew what I was going through at the time of my first depressive episode. Because of the people that supported me, I am still here today and able to share my story in the hopes that those struggling with depression will know that their lives are so important and valuable. That asking for help and reaching out for support is not selfish. That there is hope.
Depression doesn't define you. That took me a long time to realize. I had good days, I had bad days and I had worse than bad days. I made a lot of mistakes that came with the alcohol abuse, and I had a lot of baggage that came with that. There were times of feeling anxious, sad, lonely, hopeless, helpless, angry, frustrated and like I was never going to feel okay again. I learned it's okay not to be okay, but I had to be open to letting others help me feel okay again. It took therapy, it took building a support system and relying on them, it took taking care of myself and making myself and my happiness a priority. It took change, it took my friends and family helping me change. Depression changed my life, and it gave me an opportunity to help change other's lives. For that, I am humbled and so grateful.