By Sarah Wong
Around six months ago, on my 18th birthday, I uploaded a video to Facebook. I wish I could say it was a video of me being surprised by friends, or blowing out candles on a cake, or some other typical birthday thing, but no, it wasn’t anything like that at all. It was me sitting on a red couch in one of my residence’s common rooms in my pajamas, trying not to cry as I talked to my computer. Clearly, I’m a badass motherfucker and I live life on the edge.
Well, sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I feel like a ballin’, adventurous risk-taker who wants to try cool new shit, but most of the time, I don’t. Most of the time, I just feel like plugging my ears up with some This American Life and sleeping the days away.
I had the tiniest smidgen of hope that my birthday of all days would at least be a little brighter, but it really wasn’t. I didn’t celebrate, didn’t get any calls from friends or family, or get any presents except a card and a chocolate bar (from my residence floor’s birthday reps and my don, respectively). And I definitely don’t want to sound unappreciative of the minute, but nevertheless existent, efforts of those who wished me happy birthday on my Facebook wall.
At first, I was totally fine with how the day was turning out, because after all, it was just like any other, but as I sat alone YouTubing in my room that night, I realized how fundamentally sad it really was. I mean, it’s totally okay to be content with not doing anything special on your birthday and just chilling by yourself, but to me, it wasn’t okay, because I chose to close myself off from people. I wanted to ditch my reluctant, paranoid, and depressed high school self. University was supposed to be a fresh start, but I wasn’t changing for the better and I really, really wanted to. So I guess that was the impetus for a miraculous stroke of bravery that led me to decide to make a video about my experiences and how I was feeling.
I wanted to tell everyone about my depression because I know firsthand how brutal it is to let it take over your life, and I didn’t want anyone else to go through that. So I was like hey…why not film a video and post it to Facebook? Mind you, I had never even mentioned having depression to anyone at that point, let alone discussed it in detail, except with my brother and a past boyfriend. But I said fuck it, and I filmed that video anyway. Well, more like 25 takes of that video. That doesn’t mean it eventually became scripted; there were some takes that I couldn’t finish because I was crying, some where I just couldn’t verbalize my thoughts in an organized fashion, and one in which someone walked into the common room and I so cleverly pretended I was Skyping someone. Good job, Sarah, just keep embarrassing yourself.
By 5 AM that morning, I came to the final take, and I was pretty satisfied with it. Here’s a TL;DR (or TL;DW, rather) of the video: “Hey. I have depression. It’s hard and it sucks so bad on so many different levels but here are my symptoms. Hopefully this helps you recognize depression in someone else in your life, and that my video successfully opens up the conversation about mental illness. Hopefully we can all eradicate the stigma together.” And then I uploaded it, and titled it “Something more important than my birthday”. I was scared shitless. I honestly wasn’t sure if it would be well-received and I was terrified of who would see it.
But I woke up to 20 ‘likes’ on the video and felt quite a bit better. Gradually, that turned into around 100 (which is kind of a lot for me), some comments, and quite a few private messages from close friends and some acquaintances I never really talked to in high school, which was rather validating and very much appreciated. Overall, I realized that my voice could make a difference, no matter how small it may be in the grand scheme of things, and I was happy that my message seemed to resonate with people. That was my goal that day, and one of the proudest moments of my life.
Now, I wish I could say that regardless of that day not being much of a festive birthday, it was, in a sense, a rebirthday, and my following heroic journey with depression was just a roller coaster that kept going up. But I can’t say that. Because that’s not true. Despite all the nice words and well wishes from friends and acquaintances, and as much as I told myself I’d use their kind concern as inspiration to get better so I could continue trying to “change the world”, I didn’t really get better…not immediately, anyway. In some ways, I actually got worse: fatigue and lethargy still plagued my capability to function, I cried a ton, developed generalized anxiety, got dumped, and my grades plummeted.
But nevertheless, though I dug myself into a lot of deep holes, I still dug myself out again. I made some really great friends, realized my passion for psychology and that I wanted to devote my career to it, and became more involved with mental health awareness on campus. The journey wasn’t and still isn’t easy but that’s what makes it worthwhile, for I found strength in vulnerability and beauty in depression.
I just hope others find the same.
Herro! I’m a student going into my second year at the University of Toronto studying Psychology and Neuroscience, with a little bit of History and Philosophy of Science thrown in the mix. I’m an executive member of the clubs Active Minds UofT and AFTER UofT, and I contribute to other mental health advocacy efforts on campus. I’m also a bubble tea barista, an avid podcast listener, and I kinda wanna get back into graphology again. I have depression, generalized anxiety, and a slight lactose sensitivity 🙂