Depression as an adult: when you can’t just ‘grow up’

As I’ve gotten older and more mature, there are several things I’ve noted as being integral to my idea of ‘adulthood’. Showing up to things even when I don’t want to; making an effort to be chatty and approachable in social situations; being independent and looking after myself well – these are just a few changes I’ve noticed within myself over the years that are signs that I’ve grown up. These are things which, to me, are ‘adult’ behaviours. Depression as an adult: when you can’t just ‘grow up’…

During adolescence and childhood, all these things were hard for me. Partially because I’m naturally quite a shy and quiet individual with a mother who’s always been more than happy to do my washing and book doctor’s appointments for me – but largely because from about the age of 14 onwards, I found myself suffering from sporadic bouts of depression.

During my teenage years, when things were bad, they were BAD. Teen angst is bad enough – I was already the type to write shitty poetry about my woes on Tumblr – but suffering from depression on top of that piqued every bad experience I had and turned it into a seemingly insurmountable problem. I wouldn’t go into school when things were really bad, I’d become even quieter than usual, and on one occasion I even took alcohol into school which I drank to get through the day. Grim stuff, I know. Stuff which you might expect from a slightly dramatic teenager.

But perhaps not so much from a functioning adult.

I enjoyed several months of relative stability this year, and on my 20th birthday, I was able to look forward to the future and dismiss this part of my life which I thought was over. I associate my teenage years, somewhat sadly, with extreme emotional lows. I associate being 14 with the first time I self-harmed. 15 with my first visit to a psychiatrist. 17 with the first time I seriously considered and planned to end my life. When I turned 20, I thought, “Wow, being a teenager was awful. Thank God that’s over.”

But of course, it doesn’t work quite like that. Recently, I’ve found myself back in the same bleak place that I thought I’d left behind me. And this time it’s worse – I can’t even heed the words of the adults in my life that told me all through my youth that ‘it gets better’ or ‘it’s just hormones’ or ‘it’s because when you’re a teenager everything is more intense’. Now that I’m an adult, I find myself slowly coming to terms with the fact that depression wasn’t just some teenage phase, and that clearly, it’s going to affect me for quite some time. Potentially my whole life.

And the hardest part? I don’t feel like an adult anymore. Skipping school at 15 is forgivable – but now I’m at university, I feel totally inadequate when I find myself unable to make a meeting. Usually, I pride myself on my cooking abilities and I love attempting different recipes, but recently I can’t even seem to bring myself to eat more than one meal a day – and as of late, a ‘meal’ constitutes four fish fingers. My laundry pile mounts ever higher; washing my hair is a gargantuan effort; the thought of nipping down the road to get some milk seems impossible. In short – I feel like a child again. And I think that’s why everything is so hard this time.

But it’s okay. Just because I’m an adult now that doesn’t mean I have to be magically recovered or be okay all the time. No adult, depressed or not, shows up to everything ALL the time. Everyone has blips and bad days. I shouldn’t – and neither should anyone else – associate being an ‘adult’ with anything or any set of values too closely.

Yeah, I’ve grown out of getting my mum to phone in sick for me whenever there was cross-country at school. If I’m doing okay, you’ll find me pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone, turning up to things, and generally functioning as a human being. But being physically and emotionally unable to get out of bed some days? That’s not a symptom of teen angst or immaturity – it’s a symptom of depression. No one ‘outgrows’ that. Because you can’t ‘outgrow’ a disease – which is exactly what depression is.

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