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Published November 18, 2012, 11:30 PM

Johnson: Finding happiness after mental illness

For a long time, I believed I had lost any hope of happiness when I was 13.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

For a long time, I believed I had lost any hope of happiness when I was 13.

That’s when my family moved to a new town, and even after making new friends, something was wrong. What started as feeling down became severe depression, and it only got worse as I finished high school and started college.

I couldn’t fall asleep at night. It took all my willpower to get out of bed in the mornings and go to school, work or even to spend time with friends.

I blamed my parents for making me move. I wondered if it was my fault, if I was somehow flawed or deserved to suffer. I felt guilty for being depressed because I had a relatively easy life, and it seemed like I would never be happy again.

Luckily, I was wrong.

My parents kept me going, pushing me to look for treatment options even if I didn’t believe I could get better. I tried several antidepressants and visited a few therapists over the years before I found the right counselor.

I learned that it wasn’t my fault. For reasons I still don’t understand, I was predisposed to suffer from depression, and the trigger for me was moving to a new town.

My thought processes had become skewed from the illness, and I was unable to enjoy the good things in life because all I could think about was the suffering and isolation that I felt.

It wasn’t easy, but I learned new ways of thinking that didn’t feed into this cycle. I was able to shed my guilt for having this illness.

I finished college, started my career and can honestly say I never would have imagined at the time just how great my life would be. I no longer see a counselor and haven’t been on antidepressants for years.

Things aren’t perfect, and I still struggle to shed the pessimism that gripped me during the darkest days of my depression.

I also know there’s a risk I could relapse. If it happens again, I won’t wait so long to get help.

Everyone faces hardships, but for those of us with a mental illness, life can be even harder.

For many years, I thought I needed to hide my problems. The fear of being judged; the fear of being labeled as insane; the fear of losing the people in my life if I told them what was going on – all of those things were worse in some ways than the actual depression.

But I needed help, and the other people in our community suffering from mental illness need your help, too.

So, what can you do about it?

If you’re struggling with mental illness, don’t be afraid to ask for help. No matter how bad things seem, I know it can get better, and most people will respond to treatment.

If you don’t suffer from mental illness, you can still help by being there for your friends and family. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen and offer encouragement.

Make a commitment to your loved one that you will be there for them until they’re healthy, even if they don’t want you there. During the tough times, it can be impossible to be optimistic or truly believe it can get better – you can keep them going with your sense of hope.

Finally, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Mental illness is just as real as diabetes or cancer, and like many medical conditions, it can be fatal if left untreated. Treating it like a made-up affliction or something that shouldn’t be discussed only makes things worse.

Depression robbed me of so much joy during my life as I tried to hide my problems, ignore them or just get over it. It was only when I really made an effort to get better, and stuck it out during the tough times of trying to find treatment, that I got back to being the person I thought I had lost when I was 13.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587