There are over 14 million Americans that suffer from some kind of depression. I am one of them. For nearly 10 years I've struggled to find and maintain happiness and positive self worth. Though what I suffer from comes and goes, and ranges in severity depending on life events, it has never truly gone away. Some days are easier than others, but every day that I wake up, I may be faced with a battle. A battle that fails to see the world’s beauty and the beauty in myself. It's a funny thing when people say to someone with depression “Just choose to be happy”. Though I think there is some truth to that -- to make an effort to see beauty in life when times hard--it is not that simple. It is not easy to fight demons that don't go away, while trying to fight a preconceived notion on how society feels we should deal with our emotions.

Everyone experiences happiness and sadness…but that is not depression; that is life. Depression is an actual diagnosed mental illness that affects someone’s ability to perform day-to-day functions for a prolonged period of time. Depression ranges in severity and diagnoses. I have not been diagnosed, and I have not been treated. I have been one of those people that wanted to pretend I didn't have a problem; to deal with it alone, all the while struggling to not let depression overtake my life. Over the last couple of years I have taken on an effort to talk to friends, to break down my walls and begin to dissect the cause of the days where I battle to find peace so I can live life, and not let depression control me. So now I tell my story, to encourage anyone out there going through some sort of depression to be strong and do the same.

My depression started while I was in my 4th year of college.  I am not sure if there was a spark -- an event that caused this inferno of unhappiness. Around the time it all started, there was a series of events that year that involved close friends, and that's when I began to withdraw. Do I think that was the spark? Could be, I am not sure. I think it’s always been there, hiding underneath the surface, waiting to show its ugly head, and the stress may have opened a door. All I know for sure, was all of a sudden getting up in the morning and facing the day was almost impossible, for a reason I didn't understand. I didn't want to be around my roommate and close friends. I tried to hide it, but to the people around me everyday, I don't think I did a very good job. They knew something was wrong, but thought I wouldn’t want to talk since I shut myself down. I was so unbelievably unhappy, and I didn't understand what was wrong with me.

As my feelings got worse, so did my thoughts. Thoughts about ending my own life began to enter my head. I was lost. Lost in a dark forest, not knowing how I got there, or how I could get out.

Sometimes I still feel this way, like I'm in a forest, not knowing how to find my way. But the thing that always lights my path out, has and always will be horses. Horses, and particularly my own horse, saved my life. Could I have ever actually ended my own life? I don't know; I like to think not. But having a horse, something that depended on me, something that brought me great joy and reminded me how easy it was to smile again, saved me from going further into the forest.

Should I be on antidepressants? Maybe. I've never liked the thought of taking medication, even in its simplest form. I know there is no shame in taking medication when you have an illness. To right the chemical imbalance that causes your suffering. Sometimes, in order to find balance, we need help. I have never sought treatment, and have never talked openly about my experiences with anyone other than close friends, until now. I know I may find myself seeking treatment or be on antidepressants in the future, but for now, I choose to attempt my own path, to use what I know about myself and what I have personally discovered on this journey as medication.

I've found that what ultimately brings my life balance is my saddle and mountains. Riding horses keeps my day-to-day struggle in check, but mountains ultimately free me.

In college I began working at a pack station in the Sierra Nevada range and my core found its center. Surrounded by mountains, saddles, horses and mules, I’m alive. For 3-4 months, I was surrounded by trees, but not stumbling around under their cover in the dark depths of depression.

For the last 11 years, I find myself back there. Whether it's for a weekend, or an entire season, I need to be in those mountains. Not to lose myself, but to find myself again.
 

So I ride. Not only for myself, but for every single person that suffers from a mental illness. For all the people who wake up everyday struggling while hearing folks say “you can be happy if you want to be”. No, it's not that easy. Not everyone is wired the same. I hope that this story helps shed light, and inspire those that suffer with depression, to find something that brings them balance between light and dark. Something that brings them inner peace, happiness, confidence and self worth.

Depression has greatly affected my life, my choices, and my path, but it does not rule my life or who I am. I do that. I refuse to let it dominate the strength I have. The real choice of “being happy” is how we choose to cope with this illness. Whether it be through doctor prescribed medication, or self prescribed inner peace, I ask all f you who are struggling with depression to do it. Don't let yourself stumble through the forest forever. There is nothing wrong with you, and accepting that you need help doesn't make you weak. It makes you strong.

 

"There's something bout a night in the wilderness, it's a magical thing to me.  The world is just a little bit brighter, and everything is exactly the way it should be" 

-John Denver