Trying On Dresses Convinced Me I Needed Medication For My Depression

by Stephanie Hanrahan
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan

There’s not a day that goes by that I am not depressed. It’s built into my DNA, like blue eyes or high blood pressure would be. And even if I try to numb it—with shopping, or food, or aimless scrolling through the internet—it still finds me anyway because it is me.

It took me far too long to realize you can’t outrun yourself.

Because the truth is, even though depression (and its sneaky little sidekick anxiety) have been built into my bones, there was an ebb and flow to my days. Some were good and conquerable. Some, I suffered through. But there was just enough balance to convince me I was fine. The world had fed me the idea that depression looked like staying in bed every day, and because I was still rising, and sometimes thriving, I thought I could get by. I just surrendered to the fact that this was my lot in life. I’d always be the girl with a little extra dark and a little less light.

But then I went to try on dresses.

It was just a seemingly average day in the life of a functioning depressive. I dressed myself and my kids. I sent them to school. I worked out, ate a protein bar, sat in my car, and felt nothing. Not happy, not sad, just numb. You see, that’s the sharpest tool in my mind’s box—it wants me not to feel. If I’m indifferent about life, then I’m not living it and the dark side wins.

I tried one of my go-to fixes: buying things I don’t need, as if “stuff” is a cure-all for suffering. But when I entered the dressing room, the pain slipped in so fast I had no choice but to sit. Unbuttoning one more button seemed like too big of an ask.

This is how depression works. You’re just floating along and it pops in unannounced, setting up shop, refusing to leave until it’s good and ready.

So I decided not to fight, and found a seat.

I looked at myself for a long while, at first judgingly (because that’s what a warped mindset will do to you). I hated the dark circles under my eyes. I hated my messy bun and how I was still losing hair three years after having children. I hated that the dress I tried on was in the double digits. Why couldn’t I be meek, and small, and blend in beautifully with everyone else?

And most of all, I hated my life. I hated that I had a history of abuse and never wanted to be intimate with my husband. I hated that that very husband had a failing heart and my only two children were both on the spectrum. Most days this diagnosis blends into our every day lives, but not today—today it felt heavy. Today I wished I didn’t have to put back the clothes I tried on because of therapy costs.

Today, I hated that everything was harder for me, even trying on an ill-fitting dress.

I sat there for an unreasonably long time. So long that I finally started to see something new.

Courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan

I’d never be able to control my circumstances, but I could control how I felt about them.

I picked up my phone, took this selfie, and did the only thing I could think of that would steady the sea: I called my doctor.

Seven years ago my therapist recommended I take medication, and seven years ago I fought her to the bone about it because I was convinced I could fix myself. And I did (well enough) for a while. But just as that person with hypertension can’t bring down their blood pressure with only deep breaths, my coping strategies always fell short. Shopping, numbing, wouldn’t cut it anymore. This wasn’t circumstantial, it was a chemical imbalance. It would be foolish to deny a diabetic their insulin, so why deny myself help with my depression?

My stigma against mental health took an unbelievably long time to break. Even being a nurse wasn’t enough to shake me into getting help sooner. I guess brains are battlegrounds, and sometimes they tell you silly things like you can do everything yourself.

But when you reach the point of exhaustion, you may also reach the point of surrender, and that’s where I arrived at in that dressing room. So now I pop a tiny blue pill into my mouth every night and the result has been this:

I am not cured, or giddy and carefree, but my load is lessened. I just feel lighter. I was worried medication would make me feel unlike myself—that I’d be emotionless or zombie-like—but it didn’t alter my personality at all, it just leveled me. I don’t tense up anymore when my husband touches me. I don’t want to eat every meal in bed. Sometimes I still think of worst case scenarios, but I don’t follow them down the path of obsession. It’s just…easier. I can let things go—mostly the thoughts that don’t serve me.

If you have a chemical imbalance, consider your mind as important to you as your physical health. Depression and anxiety are sometimes situational, but for many, like me, they are a way of life. They are an illness, not an option. I don’t have a background in pharmacology or psychology—and I’m certainly not a pill pusher—but I know that right now I feel a little more capable.

So if you’re suffering, start by sitting. Be still. Take your time. Feel it all, and give yourself some much deserved grace.

Do whatever you need to do to make it through difficulties. For me, it was copping a squat in a dressing room stall until I was ready to put my big girl pants back on.

Just sit.

Your rise will come when you’re ready.

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