By Hope Chookazian
Part of the “Faces of Depression” series, in honor of Depression Awareness Month.
TW: Depression, Grief, Suicidal thoughts
It’s hard to find the words to accurately convey my story. There’s so much complexity to each facet of my experience that when I try, I end up on a superficial level. If you told me a year ago I would be living life and enjoying it I would probably laugh.
It would mean life could be different.
For many years I simply floated through life lost in a relationship of self-destruction. On the surface, you wouldn’t have known and for most of the time, I didn’t know either.
I lost years to profound emptiness, sadness, suicidal thoughts, and anger. Anger was how it usually showed its face. I often wondered, “Why am I even angry?” But, had no way to stop those feelings.
There were points in my life that I lost my core sense of self, passions, and beliefs. I lost my drive to keep going. I felt like I was watching those around me go on with life while I stood stuck in time.
I was at the doctor for my physical when she gave a face to what it was. She helped me realize that I wanted to seek change and start therapy.
In therapy, I realized I had a nasty habit of dismissing my trauma.
“You were in a war,” my therapist told me one day. “It was just a different kind.” This was the first time I have ever felt validated in my experiences.
Oftentimes I was shamed, blamed, or dismissed. Sometimes I was even told what I experienced didn’t happen at all. So, I started to dismiss those experiences myself. I thought if no one else thought anything of what happened to me, it must’ve not been so bad.
In therapy, I had to work on rebuilding trust in everything. I was so profoundly broken I couldn’t make friends, go for walks, or even go off routine. I made life a small bubble that kept me safe.
In the spring of 2021, after a year of therapy, I started to notice progress. I was able to go out and hike without feeling a deep, all-consuming pit in my stomach that I had to leave. I was finally able to take in the world around me. It was so beautiful.
How could I have let it pass me by?
I decided to go out of my comfort zone again and work at a sleep-away summer camp in upstate New York for children in 2nd through 10th grade. I’ve tried jobs more extreme that involved me picking up and living on-site, but I could never make it through. I decided now was the time to try it again.
I was relentless. I didn’t give up, even when it was tempting to. This willpower is what led me to have one of the best summers of my life and meet some amazing people. I spent every day laughing to the point of tears. If I gave into my lingering fear and anxieties, I would’ve never met those people who I now call my friends.
As that time ended, I embarked on a new adventure, one I’ve been dreaming about for years.
I wanted to take the train cross country and see places I probably would’ve never seen otherwise. I wanted to see the lost parts of the world that often don’t get seen.
On Aug. 7 of this year, my sister and I boarded a train from New York to Portland, Oregon, stopping only for a transfer in Chicago.
After loading onto our new train in Chicago, we started our journey west passing through Ohio, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.
From hundreds of miles of flatlands to mountain ranges like the Swiss Alps., Montana was the star of the show. The train route goes along the border of Glacier National Park which is host to hundreds of hiking trails and breathtaking views.
I eagerly awaited our entrance to the park and before I knew it we were being swallowed up by these awe-inspiring mountains that seemed to touch the sky. It completely captivated me, and that brought me peace. I'll have to make a trip back there someday.
There’s a special kind of magic this type of beauty brings to your soul, a certain remembrance of what this world really is outside the day-to-day routines and drama. You are finally able to see the bigger picture.
Overnight we passed through Idaho and as the sun came back to greet us we made our way into Oregon. Three days’ worth of baby-wipe showers passed before we made it to our destination.
But I wouldn’t change a thing.
By the afternoon we pulled into Portland Union Station and off we went to explore. From Multnomah falls about 30 minutes east of Portland, to Mount Rainier in Washington, we saw unbelievable beauty.
While vacations snap you out of routine life, they are no cure for mental health issues or illness. This is a lifelong journey. I know this would not cure me, however, that wouldn’t stop me from basking in its glory for every second I could.
It was incredibly healing and liberating to take even the smallest steps to claim back my life. Some people view labeling as defining. For me, getting help brought me hope. It was the moment I knew that one day I could join in on my life again.
And that’s what I did.