Adventure Abroad Awaits

Life with Depression in South Korea

I want to warn you this post will be a little different than my other posts. It isn’t about any adventure I’ve had and won’t have many pictures attached. I want to talk with you about something a bit more serious. After my mom passed away four and a half years ago, I had to go back to life like everything was almost normal. I was in the military at the time, so I went back to work and back to my life there as though losing my mom wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me. Everybody knew my mom had died, but on the outside, most everybody thought I was dealing with it well. I did as I was told and waited until I got home to feel sorry for myself. I would stay up late into the night, sometimes all night, blaming myself or others and got very little sleep, if any at all. I wasn’t spiraling out of control, so there was nothing to worry about, right? But inside, I felt like I was falling apart bit by bit and nobody seemed to notice or care. I kept trying to brush it off as a normal part of my grief process. It wasn’t until I started seeing a grief counselor that I realized something was actually wrong. Within a week, I was diagnosed with depression and insomnia.

Most people in the United States – maybe even the world – struggle with some sort of mental illness in their lives, but when you hear the words yourself, it can be difficult to accept this new scary reality. As soon as the doctor told me, I naturally started thinking about all the real possibilities for my future. Could I beat this, or would this be something I struggle with for the rest of my life? How do I cope? Will I lose the people I care about? Will anyone understand? Do I have to be on medication the rest of my life? Is this going to be the thing that eats me alive and keeps me from achieving any real happiness from here? If you’ve struggled with depression or anxiety of any sort, I’m sure you have had similar thoughts of your own. It just seems like too much to handle at first.

I don’t like to discuss this part of my life much, but before I could get better, I did get worse. These diagnoses are the reason my NCOs and I decided the military was not a good fit for me at that time. I was still at AIT (a long one for my job) and, therefore, had not completed my job training – so getting me out was fairly simple. They decided to let me go on a General discharge, meaning that I could rejoin the military in the future if I chose to – although I didn’t see that being a possibility. However, the hard part about my story wasn’t being let go. The worst part was what happened when I got home.

I went to live with my father and brother back in our family home in California until I could figure out what to do next. I thought being home with my family would make it easier to cope with everything – my grief, my depression, my disappointment – but being home just made it worse. Without a job, I had no reason to get up. I would lay in bed until the afternoon, and then I would get up and lay on the couch. I had no energy and no drive. I was lazy all the time, and I didn’t get along well with my little brother. The only moments of joy I had were the ones I got to speak to or occasionally visit my long-distance boyfriend at the time. This went on for a few months, until my dad told me to get a job. I was still unhappy.

About four months after that, my dad sold our family home and moved himself and my brother to Idaho to live with my sister. I got a job and moved to the Monterey Bay area to live closer to my boyfriend. I thought living closer to him and seeing him more often would make me happier. While it was nice to be closer to him, the happy times and memories I shared with him did not make me happy as a whole. If anything, my illness put a big strain on him and a bigger strain on our relationship. It was unfair for me to rely on him to make me happy when he had other things in his life to worry about. Long story short, I decided I needed to see somebody about my illness and figure out what I needed to do next. So I found a counselor in the area that my insurance mostly covered, and that was the best decision I could have made for myself. My counselor and I decided that medication was not necessary for my illness, but I did start seeing her once a week to talk.

At first, I didn’t think talking would help. I had tried talking with friends and family members in the past, and it didn’t seem to help then. I think what made this different was that she was a total stranger. She wasn’t there during any of the events, so she was an entirely third party. We talked about everything – my mom, my relationship, my childhood, my life goals – and all she cared about was how I felt and what I wanted. She didn’t care about anything or anybody else involved, and she wasn’t trying to give me advice. She just listened, and I felt better every session. With her help, I finally admitted that I still wanted to be a teacher. I moved to Idaho to live with my father again not much later (when my boyfriend had to move to the other side of the country for work), and I enrolled in an online Masters program for teaching. That was two and a half years ago.

Since then, I have seen a couple of other counselors or therapists in the different places I’ve lived, and I have still had my ups and downs – but I am happy to have answers to many of those questions at the beginning of this post. Yes, my depression is still something I live with, but I would no longer say it’s a struggle. I cope with my illness in many ways. Mostly, I try to stay busy so I don’t dwell on the bad stuff too much. Seeing new things in Korea helps with that, and so do my daily workouts. Everybody has different coping practices, so each person has to find what works best for him/herself. No, I have not lost the most important people in my life. The people in my life who are still with me after all this time are the ones who truly care about me, and that means a lot. While there are some who understand what I am going through, everybody has their own journey and their own stories. So I may know others with depression, everybody’s depression is different. I am fortunate that I have never had to take medication for my depression(because I am not one to remember to take pills of any kind), but I know there are people out there who do better with it. Again, everybody is different.

The last question can be difficult to answer. I have since been diagnosed with what is referred to as “high-functioning depression.” This means that most people cannot tell from the outside that I struggle with depression. Although my illness is not literally “eating my alive,” it is something I have to deal with on a regular basis. I do still have random moments when I think about my mom or my dog (who passed away last year), and it all comes rushing back. I have noticed I feel it more when I am alone – I get lonely and lazy and just want to wallow in self-pity – but that’s why I try to keep myself busy. Even if I am not hanging out with friends, I will try to clean or go for a run just to keep my mind from going in that direction. But yes, there are still days when I wake up and just feel awful for no reason, and those are the worst days – because even though it was not triggered by anything specific, everything that happens that day is made worse by that feeling.

I am not sharing this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I am sharing this because I feel like it is a topic that is not discussed often enough, and I wanted to give you an insight into my journey. I would love to hear from you about yours.

I am still me, no matter my mental health.
Niki McBain

3 Replies to “Life with Depression in South Korea”

  1. You’re right, Sarah…this topic is NOT discussed often enough. I come from a very dysfunctional background, some of which was caused by mental illness. It’s the hidden secret of many families, but it shouldn’t be. Thanks for sharing this part of your story. <3

  2. I feel you.. my brother passed away 6 years ago. February of 2012. It was the worst feeling ever. He was my best friend. What is sad, is we had spoken with him the day before he got in the car accident. He was only 26..
    I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone, until I lost him. Now my biggest fear, is losing another loved one. So I completely understand you. That’s when I found out I have depression. And sleeping disorder..where I don’t sleep throughout the whole night, no matter if I take medication for it or not. Sometimes, it will just randomly hit me. I will be perfectly fine, going on with my day, when the next thing I know, I am feeling alone and basically like I do not belong here. It is horrible.
    I am always here if you want to talk. I understand where you are coming from.

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