Have you struggled to understand what your child is thinking and feeling as they battle depression and how you may help?
Maybe there is a clear reason that triggered the depression – a tragic life event or the loss of a loved one. But more than likely, you are playing over and over in your own head the stable home life you’ve created, your devotion and dedication to your child, the fact that they often seem happy and successful, and you are baffled as to how this can occur within your family.
Today I will share with you an extensive interview with a young man who has battled depression for over 5 years. He shares his thoughts and feelings during depression and crisis (like a window inside his head), and the tools he used to become healthy and stable.
To protect this young man’s identity, I will call him Jack.
Here is the back story… Realizing he could not help himself, after trying for over 5 years, Jack told his mom that he was extremely depressed, with suicidal thoughts, and needed counseling. Immediately counseling was sought out and started. Initially both his parents and Jack met with the counselor, after Jack met weekly on his own.
Because taking Advil or another over the counter medicine that was readily accessible in the cabinet was how he envisioned ending the pain, all of those medications were hidden. Daily check-ins began, rating his day on a scale from 1-10. The quality counseling gave him the tools to cope, and changed the trajectory of his mental and physical behavior.
- Was there a trigger that began the depression?
For me, there was a build-up of a lot of unfortunate things, expectations and pressures in a lot of areas like earning good grades, being good in sports, and pressure to figure out what I’m supposed to do in life. It was from society as a whole, not just parents, but they enforced it too. There was a pressure overall.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was my friend group changing, and I didn’t have the maturity to handle it. I felt alone. I now see that I lacked emotional maturity. I wasn’t sure how to handle it and break it down… it all felt too overwhelming.
- What were some real feelings, thoughts, or behaviors you had during depression?
I had intrusive thoughts… I told myself: “I wasn’t enough,” “I can’t handle all of the pressure,” “I’m not good enough to handle it,” or “You should die, it’s the easiest way out,” or “I don’t want to deal with all of the pressure,” and “I don’t want to exist.”
As far as behaviors, I would not want to eat. Food that I ate often didn’t taste good to me. I felt hungry, but I didn’t want to eat. Because I could feel hungry, at least I could feel something.
I basically felt numb to all the things that gave me pleasure. I did not feel productive. It was like my body didn’t want to move. I had no energy, no positive feelings. I was stuck feeling numb and exhausted.
I wanted to feel anything: hunger, sadness, pain, which I believe is the cause of why people turn to cutting (self harming) – to consistently feel something.
There is almost a comfort in the sadness and pain that I could control. I could control hunger, I could control sadness, and I could control pain.
- What seemed to help you during this time? What would bring comfort?
Warmth. Comfort foods like biscuits and gravy, the fire place, and mostly someone to talk to that can understand. I’d hang out with another friend who is suffering and depressed. We’d joke about being depressed, that we were all going through it. I wrote dark stories, and songs that expressed my thoughts and emotions.
There was a lot of pent up pain so I’d get it out through working out. The pain from muscle fatigue seemed productive. It helped get out emotions, so I’d work out for long hours to feel something.
I stopped caring about things…. I’d say “Who cares? Go with the flow.” If nothing really matters, I can’t be sad about anything. It was Stoicism, which wasn’t healthy.
- What techniques or tools help you to keep depression at bay?
My counselor asked me to become very aware of my emotions and what triggers them. Anger for example, if I felt irritated or angry, I’d ask myself what was trigger it? A bad grade, a relationship conflict, or am I more hungry than usual, or did I just stub a toe?
I’d become aware of what made me feel sad. It could be too much pressure, a bad grade on a test, a friend loss. If too much built up, it would trigger me.
I now pay attention to the reason, and how it starts – the key is moving forward. I accepted that pains will come, but it’s not worth the pain and suffering I put myself through. I work to push away those intrusive thoughts.
A tool I use is journaling at the end of every day. I find 5 things that I like within the day (someone waved at me, homework that I completed faster than I thought I would, or a goal in soccer) Every day I can see that there was good and not just bad. It was Ying with the Yang.
At the end of my journal, I’d write about my day. It’s not judged, because I am writing to myself. It was more freeing. I also wrote down one improvement that I want to make a day. I wrote down that I wanted to learn a back flip, or I’d say something nice to someone else, give a compliment and bring joy to someone else, which made me feel better.
Praying helped…. God knew everything so I could talk to him as a friend.
Going to church where I could really connect…. Good worship and teaching has also helped.
Reading is helpful now and I can disconnect from life for a while. Video games became boring and no longer fun. I zone out with games sometimes, but found it wasn’t fulfilling… I didn’t feel.
- What advice would you give to another young adult dealing with anxiety or depression?
Get back to a person you recognize. I asked myself… “What did 10 year old you want for yourself?” (To be creative, write books, and become super strong) … When I found that at ages 16 or 17 I was sad all the time, I wondered, why have I not reached a point where a 10 year old me could be proud of? I actually framed it as a conversation that I had with myself, and I typed out the dialogue in my phone.
Thinking about my future and past… helped me. Who I was and who I wanted to be… I lost who I was when I was depressed. Returning to who I was (playing with Legos, drawing, writing stories…) could get me to where I wanted to be.
As I became healthier, I began doing things that made me back to “myself.” I wrote more, created tangible workout goals, and began doing little things that were more positive. The key is small steps that are tangible. If goals are too big, your brain will say no, it’s too much.
The key is tangible small steps: start with 5 push-ups and 5 pull-ups… then feel productive hitting those goals. Some small steps could be, today I will get up out of bed, I will write anything (a dialogue to myself or a dream), go outside for 10 minutes, sit in the grass, and observe nature, enjoy the sunshine, see the world.
Make bullet list of goals to see accomplishments, then when those intrusive thoughts tell you that you haven’t done anything with your life, you answer back, “Oh, yeah! Look what I’ve done.”
It is like an entity against you… that voice making you feel bad. Twisting my words against me… and I could look at my goals or list and say NOPE. At my lowest place, I felt like friends with this demon…. It acted like a friend at one point. Depression was warm, because pain was warm. So I got comfortable.
Comfort is NOT your friend… I was constantly feeling comfortable with sadness and pain… talking to friends who felt depressed and sad. I was asking them how to get out of depression. It was like asking a squirrel how not to be a squirrel. This kept it going. Goodness didn’t feel comfortable so why leave? You at least know what to expect.
It was difficult to be happy. I didn’t know how to foster or begin this, but I did know how to make myself comfortable in depression by listening to sad music, talking to sad people, and doing sad things.
My advice to someone depressed is to try to listen to tranquil music or happy music, it won’t feel comfortable, but it will be the road to getting to a happy place… and slowly begin feeling more happy.
I remember feeling so weak and vulnerable, that I was easily able to be attacked. Feeling alone, even with people… especially with people was my norm.
Now I’m around happier people, Christian people, and I feel more comfortable in a happy place.
- You were brave to admit that you needed help to not feel sad, lonely, and depressed. Have you found others who were scared to get help?
Yes. A lot of people don’t want help because they still feel super comfortable in their depression.
Some people also fear sharing the truth with a counselor, who is bound by law to report if someone intends harm to themselves or others. They want help, but there are negative repercussions for saying I want to end my life or give up. They fear being sent to a mental hospital, which has been a thing shared on Tik Tok.
I know people lie for protection and they don’t get all the help they need. They will tell their therapist that they have no plan for harm, or say I don’t want to die, but really they do.
Some don’t want to talk to a therapist, because they feel they can’t trust the person. I watched a Tik Tok, where a girl was talking about her therapist like she was a trusted friend. It gave me courage to decide to talk to someone.
I’ve talked to depressed friends who say a counselor is just someone getting paid to do their job. But I found that if you see them as a trusted friend, who is really good at what they do, they will be your “best friend.”
My logic has become, if you don’t care about life, let’s continue along that thread… then who cares then if you get help to feel again, or talk to ONE person, or maybe take medicine for a while? What do you have to lose? If you “don’t care” anyway, then take the risk and get help.
This young adult is now in college, has made new quality friends, spends time in God’s Word and prayer, meets with a boys small group, attends church, and continues to find new habits and experiences that bring positivity and joy into his life. It is not always easy, and some days are difficult. The coping skills, the mindset shift, and the positive self-talk continue to keep depression at bay.
I hope this interview created some clarity and understanding into the life of a struggling young person, how they process and think about life.
I pray that this information can be used to empower you to have compassion and the tools to help those you may know who are struggling. (If you missed the previous blog with warning signs, stats, helpful resources & hotlines go to:
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