I survived a teen depression. When I was a teen, I hid my depression from everyone. I was that girl who concealed her sad feelings. Sad feelings that I only realized were due to an actual depression when I went to college and studied teen depression. I’m sharing my story: Confessions of a Depressed Teen, I Survived Teen Depression in the hopes that my experiences with depression will help depressed teens and parents of depressed teens.
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My Road to Teen Depression
When I was a teenager, my mother passed away. This major loss affected my whole world and the impact on me was global across my life. The event of her death led me down a road to depression. I stayed in that depression for four years struggling along with undiagnosed depression. I didn’t realize when I was a teen that I had depression. I thought I had normal grief. Of course, I should be sad, that was expected, my mom just died.
I didn’t realize the level of my sadness was actually depression until several years later when I was in college and I studied teen depression. I was shocked to see I had experienced almost every symptom on the list for years but never understood that what I had been experiencing had a label.
I hid most of my symptoms from all of those around me. I was good at it and I was also good at isolating myself which led to more torment. Honestly, I’m not sure what I would have done had I realized I had undiagnosed depression. Would I have lived differently? Would I have sought out help? I don’t know. But I do know I’m lucky to be alive.
But, I do wish I had been diagnosed because it would have saved me a lot of pain and agony. I sincerely hope this post helps a depressed teen seek help. I wish I had tried harder to talk to others about what I was feeling.
What are the Symptoms of Teen Depression?
According to the NIMH: National Institute of Mental Health (major depressive disorder) is characterized by the following symptoms:
- constantly feeling sad, anxious, empty
- feelings of hopelessness “or like everything is going wrong”
- feeling worthless or helpless, feeling guilty
- feeling irritable most of the time
- spending more time alone and withdrawing from others
- dropping grades
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities and hobbies that were once enjoyable
- changes in eating and/or sleeping habits (more OR less)
- feelings of being tired all the time and having less or no energy
- feeling restless
- “trouble concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions”
- physical symptoms with reasons not due to another illness such as headaches, cramps, stomach problems
- thinking about death, suicide, harming self
My Symptoms of Teen Depression
There weren’t any big red flags for the adults in my life that something was wrong with me. I managed to appear somewhat normal because I hid my symptoms. Everyone knew I had lost my mom, so any quirks they noticed about me got tossed off and excused as normal grief and normal teenage behavior. Plus, I was a good liar.
My Feelings were Not Normal Grief.
I can tell you I did not care about much of anything at all.
I was hopeless with extreme feelings of being worthless with low self-esteem.
There was a nagging fear in me that every time my dad left the house that he would die too.
The things I had loved doing with my mom, those activities just died along with her. I no longer even wanted to do them without her. I had done dance since kindergarten, but when she died and wasn’t around to do it with me anymore, I no longer wanted to do it, so I quit at age sixteen. Without her championing my efforts, participating in dance lost its appeal and luster.
My grades began to slip because I didn’t care about school work or grades. School had always been easy for me, but I stopped making any effort. My grades began to be lower than A’s, but school was so easy for me that I graduated with the lowest of honors without even trying. No red flag for adults here.
I thought about dying all the time and worthlessness plagued me. I even went as low as to think I was such scum that I didn’t deserve to sit next to my mom in heaven when I did die because of all the guilt I carried for all my bad decisions. There was never an intentional suicide attempt for me, but I was very careless with my own life, so in some ways, my actions mirrored passive aggressive attempts of harming myself. I get tired of people thinking there must be a dramatic suicide attempt for it to be concerning, sometimes the threat is quiet. ***At the core of this, I believe thoughts of dying and death in any person warrant attention no matter the severity.
I did what I wanted and I was impulsive. I took giant risks. Regrettably, I did many things I shouldn’t have done, but I just didn’t care. I couldn’t care.
My mood swings were giant. I would cry at the drop of anything that even slightly bothered me.
Eating was hard for me because when I was upset, I had no appetite. (I also had a history of anorexia in middle school.)
I felt alone.
How I Hid My Symptoms of Teen Depression
I didn’t tell people what was wrong. Though I did tell my friends a little bit, however, they didn’t get it. How could they? Their moms were still alive, so they didn’t really understand me. That made me feel alone and isolated too. No one understood what I was going through in my life because none of them had gone through it. A teen with a dead mom is not the norm so I wasn’t like my friends, and I just knew they wouldn’t get it.
I couldn’t talk with my younger sister; I was looking out for her. I couldn’t burden her, plus she was younger than me so talking to someone younger didn’t make any sense to me.
I talked to my journal a lot. I wrote constantly. It was my only solace and my only counselor. My journal helped me a tremendous amount because I could get those feelings out of me. But, I didn’t share my journal with anyone (though I do think writing in a journal is a helpful idea).
No one saw a depression in me because no one saw the full me because I hid parts of myself from everyone, so the full me was not visible. To anyone. No one knew I needed help because my symptoms were invisible to those around me. I was a good liar, but in my defense, perhaps that was somewhat out of denial too. I mostly hid my sadness.
My acting out was never caught, plus, I was good at fabricating stories even if I almost got caught I was rather convincing in my cover-up.
I was emotional, but what teenager isn’t?
I isolated myself and hung out in my room a lot. But, what teenager doesn’t?
I kept my feelings to myself so how was anyone to know I had symptoms of depression?
The Adults in My Life
My dad loved me; I always knew he loved me. He took care of my basic needs. We had a home and food. But, he wasn’t aware of anything I really needed, plus he was dealing with his own sadness and issues as a man who lost his wife. He had his own things he wanted to focus on which became looking for another spouse. He had a hard time being alone, so his focus began to shift to that.
Need advice for being a single widowed parent? Please see this post: How to Help Your Children if Your Spouse Dies on Her View From Home.
When I was nineteen, prior to going to college, I finally opened up to a family member. I told this person I believed I had been suffering from depression for several years, but the response I got was my sadness couldn’t have been that great because “kids don’t get that sad” and “it couldn’t have been that bad”. It really confused me, but I assumed the person must be right, so I continued on as I was not seeking any sort of medical help.
This was a mistake. I should have gotten help on some level even as I was coming out of the depression. But, I figured this trusted adult knew more than I did, so I assumed I must be the one who was wrong. So, I never sought out any counseling or therapy.
I was Blind to My Own Depression
My own depression was not my first life experience with mental illness. My mother had also suffered from depression before her death. After her death, my grandma suffered from depression. So, clearly, depression ran in my family.
I should have seen it in myself too, but I couldn’t see the truth because I had so many complex feelings and rationalizations. I always had reasons for what I thought, said, and did. Plus, I thought I had darn good reasons so I never questioned the root of my decisions.
My perceptions masked my impression of myself, plus adding in my teenage hormones made it impossible for me to decipher what was normal teen acting out from hormones (or other circumstances) and what was really an illness. That line was blurry, but as I grew older and when I looked back at myself, it became clearer that I had depression. I believe this is where a counselor could have helped me heal quicker.
Just a few months after I had been told by that family member that I couldn’t have been experiencing depression is when I learned in a college class that I had been experiencing a depression. That education helped me down the road to more serious healing.
In my case, hindsight and education helped me see that I had been suffering from depression.
As a mental illness survivor, I would tell teens not to do this depression thing on their own. Doing it on your own takes way longer to a state of being healthy, and it’s much riskier and unnecessarily life-threatening. Just don’t do it; get help. People can heal from depression, especially when they seek help.
My Advice to Depressed Teens:
Teens, seek help if you feel things have changed for you, if you begin to act differently or feel different, if you just don’t care anymore about the things you used to care about. Don’t ignore it and think it will go away.
If you feel like something is wrong, and you talk with an adult, but they disagree with you, find another adult to express your concerns to.
Seek out your parent for a conversation. Talk to a teacher or school counselor, someone at your church, or a friend’s mom or dad you feel comfortable with. Talk with an aunt or uncle or grandparent if you can’t talk to your parents, but, be sure try your parents first (this coming from me as a parent today). Ask your friends to talk; tell them how you feel. Be honest. Talk to your doctor or call a helpline.
There is help out there, you don’t need to do this alone. Don’t sit in your room and suffer all alone. Don’t hide out and pretend everything is okay. Get help and get it now, even if it doesn’t seem severe enough to you, talk to someone because it can’t hurt. I wish I had.
Visit the NIMH: National Institute of Mental Health website to learn about teen depression and ways to help a depressed teen.
Dealing with parent loss? I’m so sorry for your loss. Read my posts about 21 Ways to Honor Your Mom on Mother’s Day After She Has Passed Away and A Letter to my Mother in Heaven.
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