Alert: This post is vulnerable, dark, but imbued with hope. You may learn things you didn’t know about me.
In the summer when I was fourteen, I started having intense nightmares. They happened every night: I was always watching someone I cared about die in front of my eyes and I was never able to do a thing about it. The deaths were graphic, and ranged from the ridiculous, like drowning in a beehive full of honey, to terrifying, like being torn apart and devoured by zombies (no, this was not the beginning of my thing with zombies, it started way before this). When I reached out to a trusted adult asking if they thought I should get professional help, I was brushed aside as being dramatic. I suppose I was unable to adequately communicate my distress. By the end of the summer, I was certain I would never be happy again.
I have no idea why these nightmares started, but they pushed me into depression. I was unable to make rational decisions or process my emotions appropriately (I sincerely pity everyone who knew me in high school, because I was genuinely psychotic). I was unable to see a point in living. I didn’t have the guts to go through with a suicide plan, but I did make a few. Once I did start to act on one, but a voice came to me in that first harmful moment – “Stop. I have a purpose for you. Just wait a little longer.”
Grudgingly I obeyed the voice in my head. I believed then, and still do, that it was the voice of God. God wanted me to live, but I didn’t. So I literally prayed every night that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, hoping that I could convince God my life was as worthless as I believed it was.
Right at the end of my senior year of high school, my cousin did commit suicide. I am devastated now that it took her death shake me out of my darkness just enough to get my eyes above the water of the Sea of Depression. Light graced my view once more, because I could not put my family through such a horrific loss again.
There were a few rays of sunlight in those seven years, mainly centered around my days playing in orchestra and a certain boy my senior year of high school, who was so patient and kind to me despite my volatile and extreme moods, as well as the girls I lived near and with my first two years of college, who figuratively saved my life daily.
It was when I was in Germany, after I’d been there several months, that I finally got my whole head above water. There was one night in the summer when despair threatened to swallow me up again, that I sat in my room and breathed in the sweet, humid German air, and I shook myself open. Here I was, living in a country that had been my dream to travel to for years. And I wasn’t just traveling there, I was living there. I was surrounded by beauty and mystery and culture and I was missing it because my mind was shrouded by depression.
(that is a view of the Rhein river that I lived by, and the date on it is extremely wrong)
No more, I decided in that moment. I could not fumble my way through life anymore. I had to learn how to live.
For the rest of my time in Germany, which was only a few months, I did as much as I could socially and culturally. Those last months or so were golden and beautiful and far more productive than the rest of the year that I was there. I am sad that I was in a haze for most of my wonderful time there, but I am grateful that Germany, in so many ways, taught me how to be alive.
When I was in high school and struggling to find a reason to get out of bed every day, I had a friend that I often chatted with over good old MSN messenger. We talked almost every day. He was bipolar.
I talked to him a lot about my depression because I thought he would understand and we could uplift each other. But what he always said to me, whenever I expressed the depths of my despondency to him, was “Nobody cares.” Nobody cares about your depression, nobody cares if you live or die. Your life doesn’t matter.
Maybe he was saying that because he was depressed himself. But he also said things like that when he was manic. It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that him saying that, in a twisted way, kept me moving.
Because I cared. I cared so deeply about his depression, and I couldn’t believe that I was that extraordinary of a person, so if I cared about somebody’s depression, there must be someone out there who cared about mine. And so I kept moving, even though I didn’t see a point, and I didn’t really know how.
You know those times when you sit in an awkward position and your leg falls asleep? And you feel like you can’t stand up or move at all? I realized one day that feeling was all in my head. My legs were still attached, and my muscles were still functional. I just couldn’t feel them. But you can tell your brain to tell them to move, and they will move. It may be slow, and sometimes painful, but they will move.
It took me years to realize that this also applied to depression. It’s all in your head. That doesn’t mean it’s not real (thanks, Dumbledore), but it does mean that you can tell your brain to get up and move, and it will.
Of course this isn’t as simple as “cheer up,” or “just smile and you’ll feel better.” This is “get out of bed and take a shower. We’ll see from there.”
The first few years after I came home from Germany, my daily mantra was “fake it ’til you make it.” And it worked. I did make it. In the year 2012, eleven years after that fateful Summer of Nightmares, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten I had had depression as a teenager. The moment I had that thought, a thrill of excitement ran through me – I was free. I had defeated my mental illness. I could rightfully be considered a happy person.
That lasted a little over two years. Then I lost Scotland.
I’ve talked about it before, but coming home from Scotland was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I haven’t recovered yet. A few other terrible things happened, within my first year home. In a few days it’ll be two years since I’ve come back to America and the thought still nauseates me. And I am depressed, again.
At first I thought it was situational – just feeling down because I lost Scotland – but now that it’s been two years, I’m pretty sure we can call this clinical. This year has been the worst my depression has been since high school.
This would be a great opportunity to feel shame – for failing at being a “happy person”, for accomplishing so much in those short golden years of happiness only to have it all “negated” by this dark monster that lives in my chest – and some days I do feel shame. But some days I manage to tell myself: “You got yourself out once, you can do it again. Just keep moving.”
Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve learned a lot, and I don’t think I should keep those lessons to myself any longer. I’ve learned far too much to discuss in just one blog post, so I will keep writing more – look for upcoming editions of “In Which I Discuss…” – because I know so many people who are struggling, both with situational and clinical depression. And because even when I want to be dead, I don’t want to die. Because it’s not okay for me to be envious of people who have the gumption to self harm and have eating disorders, and I need to stop it. Because God has a purpose for me, and I intend to fill it. Because I matter, and if I matter, you matter, too.
So if you are reading this, and you have ever laid on your bathroom floor sobbing because you can’t stand to experience one more moment (or wanted to do that), just wait a little longer. There is a purpose for you. My only hope is to help you get your eyes above the water.