There is a Beast that lives inside me. On the surface, she is beautiful with magnificent brown doe eyes, rich cocoa skin ,and an inviting smile. But beneath the veneer of strength, there lies a dark creature with cold eyes, snarling teeth and relentless claws.  With brute strength, she drags me into a world filled with blue haze, sleepless nights and racing thoughts of how to tame the Beast that lives inside.

The Beast had not always ravaged me. I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore in college when the Beast invaded my otherwise uneventful world.  I was on the verge of figuring out who I was and what made me special, and just like a thief in the night, the Beast came in and stole my innocence and my joy.  In the beginning, the Beast would visit intermittently leaving behind a little sadness here and a few tears there.  At first, I thought the pressure of academia and the loneliness of missing home had invited this undesirable creature for a visit. But each time she left she’d leave a little piece of her until finally there was nothing left to leave.   The sneaky little Beast had crept into my world and taken a seat in the front row and refused to exit. I tried to boldly stand against her and demand that she leave and never come back again; however, she snarled and scoffed at my ignorance in failing to realize just who she was and the power that she held over me.

Finally, I had grown weary of the tragedy that had become my life.  I had come face-to-face with the Beast.  I demanded her to tell me who she was and why she was there.  The Beast laughed, curled her crooked mouth and waived her sharp claws boldly proclaiming, “Don’t you know by now? I am you and you are me, you are no longer just she, but we are Depression.”

Depression! What the hell was that and how did I get it? I could now put a face with a name, but I still didn’t understand how something so vile could have invaded my life.  After all, I was Kiffany Dugger, college co-ed and radio personality with her whole life ahead of her.  When did I first encounter the Beast? What had I done to allow this awful parasite to set up camp in my mind?”

The answers to my questions were tied to an illness that I still cannot understand. In 1995, I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune system disorder that caused an overproduction of thyroid hormone.  This disease had silently burst on the scene and brought its friend depression along for the ride. Although I knew I was ill and would battle a faulty thyroid for the rest of my life, it was the stigma of depression that clung to me like plastic wrap.  From the moment I was diagnosed with depression, I felt like I wore a neon sign that read, “damaged and crazy.”

Unfortunately, it would take me two decades beyond the day of our first encounter to tame the Beast.  The embarrassment of having an emotionally crippling condition made my ignorance immensely bliss.  The crafty Beast had pulled off the greatest illusion; she had convinced me that she was in control.  She was like an abusive mate; she isolated me from friends, told me I was worthless, made me feel ugly and kept me in bed all day.  There were days when I thought I had broken free from the Beast’s grasp.  She would allow me to enjoy life, laugh, love and taste freedom.  But like clockwork, she would appear again.  As she became more comfortable, she had the audacity to bring friends along.  Pretty soon anxiety, ADHD and insomnia would sit right next to the Beast in the row and taunt me. Together they were a mighty army that could not fight alone.

Desperately wanting to free myself from the Beast, I locked myself down, strapped on my armor of prayer and began to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Beast of Depression. During my battle, I realized I had allowed the beast to take over my world. I allowed shame and embarrassment to hinder me from educating myself on how to fight the good fight. I allowed the unwanted stigma of mental illness to keep me from caring for myself and others.  Until one day, I discovered the power of a pen.  In 2003 I sat down to write my first novel. It was then I learned to battle depression with the very thing that was attacking me, my mind.  My ink pen had become my weapon in fighting depression.  Writing opened the doorway to explore a whole new world that took me far beyond the darkness of depression.  For those who suffer with depression, keep fighting the fight and never give up. Whether it’s music, painting, writing, teaching, find something you love and go to war. Let your passion for your craft be your weapon against the Beast.

Twenty-two years later, I still battle the challenges of a thyroid disease, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and a pituitary gland disorder.  These Beasts, that have somehow made a marriage, do not rule my world.  There are days when I cannot get out of bed, moments when I want to explode, times when I can’t remember and have fits of fighting a brain fog, but these occurrences do not consume me.  It has traveled a long hard road, paved with twists and turns often sending me reeling off a cliff into the unknown. I am committed to taming the Beast that lives inside me. Depression does not define me; it is not a representation of who I am at my core.  It took me half a lifetime to realize that I am me, but we are not depression.