Depression – I Have a Confession to Make, But I’m Not Crazy
*Just a warning, this is a very graphic depiction of depression, so if you aren’t prepared to read something like this, please don’t. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m posting this as there seems to be an epidemic lately at my former high school. Kids are committing suicide and are self-harming more than they did when I was in school, and that’s a scary thought for me. So many young lives are being lost because no one takes the time anymore to really realize that when someone isn’t acting right, there might be something more to it than ‘just a phase’. This is for those kids, any that went to my high school or that still go, and for anyone that battles depression and anxiety.
I would generally describe myself as a ‘happy’ person, but I haven’t always been. Sometimes, it’s really hard to be that way, too. There was a time in my life, several times, actually, that I remember being seriously, even dangerously depressed. Depression is not something I just ‘got over’, however; at times, it comes back with a vengeance. It is a constant fight, every time I find that something is overwhelming for me or more than I can handle on my own. And I told no one. I actively sought help from no one, namely because I was scared. I had scared myself, and I couldn’t stand the thought of the look on someone else’s face when I told them how my own thoughts had betrayed me so viciously. I am a very independent person, and it hurt my pride to think that I needed help controlling my own thoughts. I’ve always been independent, and I wasn’t willing to accept help from people who I felt had turned their backs on me; so instead I retreated further within myself, and I retreated to my books, but I also turned to God (which was probably the only good thing I did for myself at this point). I also never told anyone because at times, I didn’t think anyone would listen or would care, aside from my parents. And that’s not exactly something a parent wants to hear from their child, that they’re (undiagnosed) clinically depressed and have had suicidal thoughts, but they didn’t want to tell you because they didn’t you to think they were crazy.
I really haven’t told many people about this, but I’m thinking that I should now. It’s something I need to do, and I need to be honest. I’ve never been the type of person most people would peg as ever having been depressed, especially to the extent I have. I guess I’m just too good of an actress. I grew up in a nice, big loving home with both of my biological parents. I’ve been lovingly (and sometimes not-so-lovingly) called spoiled, though I never saw it that way. My parents took very good care of me growing up, and afforded me every opportunity possible to better myself; they wanted me to have the things they didn’t as children, and they didn’t want things to be as hard for me as it was for them. I have to admit, my parents did an admirable job, especially considering what they each had to start with. They really beat the odds (especially my dad, whose parents were illiterate, and he helped to teach me to read). I have an IQ of nearly 140, and I was in the gifted program through school. What would a kid like me, that most would consider ‘privileged’, have to be depressed about?
I’ve never been very good at making friends. It’s always given me anxiety, even when I was little. My first day of kindergarten, I remember coming home crying to my mother because the only person I knew in my class was my cousin, but the teacher wouldn’t let me play with him at recess because she wanted me to ‘make other friends’, so I ended up spending recess by myself and getting a lot of weird looks. I’m just not that good at the whole process – a new person that I know nothing about that probably doesn’t care in the slightest to know me better… It kind of distresses me, because when I meet people, I genuinely am interested in them, but I rarely earn more than a passing thought from most people. Am I just so easily forgettable? I’m just kind of awkward, and maybe that’s a side-effect of being a nerd. The friends I have managed to make, I’ve ended up losing about half of or ‘growing apart’ from, and that’s just kind of sad. But it’s the ones I’ve lost and the falling-outs that have been the worst.
I’m rambling about my own short-comings. Back to the topic. A lot of people try to diagnose themselves with depression, when in fact they’re just very upset over something. Clinical depression is much more serious and lasts for much longer than a few weeks. I’ve studied depression, its symptoms, and the psychology behind it since I was in high school; being that I’m a psychology major on my way to becoming a licensed counselor, I know how to recognize the signs of a truly depressed person (regardless of the fact that I’ve been there, too). Being depressed isn’t just being sad over a breakup or because you got a bad grade on a test – it goes deeper than that. Maybe these things are contributors, but in the long run, everything just kind of builds up and weighs you down until you just stop altogether. With depression, you just don’t see the point in the things you used to love. When I find my depression settling back in, I literally don’t want to do anything. I’ve spent days before just staring at the wall, not really thinking about anything, only going through the motions of living. There have been days when I’ve forgotten to eat, because it just didn’t seem important and no one told me to. Was I hungry? Sure. Was it a pressing matter? No. I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time because of this, combined with the fact that I had been put on migraine medications that made you lose weight. I love music, but there have been times where I’ve gone weeks without listening to a single song, because I just couldn’t stand it. When I was in high school, my dad would come to wake me up in the morning and I remember days where I woke up crying because I hadn’t died in my sleep. And I would put on my mask, and no one ever knew. But then, those were the days that I went weeks at a time without having a single person talk to me all day, and I would come home in the afternoon and think, “Is today the day? Will I finally get the courage to do it today? Will it hurt? Would anyone even miss me? No one seems to pay me any mind right now, I doubt it would make much of a difference if I was gone.” I read books on it. I researched it. I even have a book, By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters, and it gave me awful ideas and warned me about how painful each one was. (It’s a fictional book, but it talks about a girl who was depressed and had attempted suicide 3 times and was planning another attempt and was researching it, and she was determined not to fail this time.) I was constantly tired, but I would stay up all night because no matter how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep. That’s never gone away.
What I felt would make me ‘better’ was if someone would have taken five minutes and just noticed how hard I was trying to hold it together. I needed human contact outside of my family, and I felt abandoned by most of my friends. I had stopped hanging out with them almost entirely. I just needed someone to talk to, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone. I still went to Wednesday night youth group in the hope of some interaction, but I had generally stopped ‘hanging out’ beforehand and getting food because I felt unwanted there too – and my one friend in the group was busy working for the church before youth group. My best friend had found new friends who were ‘more fun’, and I had been replaced. The time she and I had spent together on the weekends and at lunch she now spent with her new friends. I felt more alone than ever, and I felt like I was drowning in the darkness in my mind. Those little voices in my head didn’t like me, and they were starting to win. I was never good enough, I felt. If I was, why didn’t I have any friends? Why didn’t people want to spend time with me? Why couldn’t I be in on their jokes, instead of always being the butt of them? I was never smart enough, and I still feel that way a lot. Even though I have such a high IQ and my grades are up there with the best of them, I’m still bottom of the barrel. (Thought: Is it possible that madness is a side-effect of intelligence?) I get those looks from other people, as if they’re superior to me, that I’m not worthy of knowing what they know, that I’ll never be smart enough. Even though I threw myself wholly into my studies, and worked until I fell asleep, it still wasn’t good enough. I was never pretty enough. I wasn’t a size 2, and I had struggled with my weight since middle school. I had been attacked for it, and it hurt. My face wasn’t the most beautiful thing either, and I was aware of it. I didn’t know how to wear makeup properly until I was 16 or so, and I still got strange looks for it. I had always wanted jet black hair, like my daddy had, or maybe dark red hair like my cousin, but instead I got dirty blonde, nothing special. No, I’ve never been anything special.
I didn’t feel like I could go to my family with this. My cousin was already suffering from depression, along with a multitude of other things (most of which were not her fault, nor did she actually have most of the disorders she was charged with), and everyone had labeled her as ‘crazy’ and ‘attention-seeking’. The way she was talked about (and the way I was shot down as I relentlessly defended her) was just further confirmation of my decision not to tell anyone about my own depression. My cousin had self-harmed; I never did, as I can’t stand pain. I never told my family because I didn’t want them to think I was crazy, too. I’m already not that respected, but respect can be earned. It would be worse if they thought I was crazy, in my eyes. They thought my cousin was crazy because they didn’t understand what she was going through and how terrified she felt, and I knew they would call me crazy for the same reasons. I didn’t want to lose what little love I felt I had in my life and exchange it for pity, or even worse, my parents’ irrational fear that I knew would come if/when I ever told them. I didn’t want people to feel that they had to lock up everything that I could potentially harm myself with, as I wasn’t actively seeking death traps, nor have I ever been that morbid. I didn’t want those ‘you know you’re important and we love you’ talks that some of my other cousins and aunts and uncles gave to my cousin at family gatherings that I knew she hated, because they were afraid that might be the last time they saw her. I didn’t want that to be me too. So I never said anything. I just dealt with it (or in my dad’s words, I ‘sucked it up’).
Several times, my mother said, “I can’t understand why someone would ever want to kill themselves…” I knew then that, as much as I love my mother, she would never be able to understand. She looked at it from an entirely Christian perspective, and couldn’t possibly see it another way. Her reasoning was that, if you commit suicide, you’ll go to Hell as it’s the last sin you’ll ever commit and there won’t be time or a way to ask for forgiveness, so why would you ever want to do that if you’re knowingly condemning yourself? She had always heard, “Suicide is the coward’s way out,” and she believes it to be true. I don’t think the same way. If suicide was the coward’s way out, I would have been dead a long time ago. I think it takes a great deal of courage to attempt to take your own life (not saying it’s a courageous act, nor am I supporting it), not knowing what will be waiting for you when you die, and that’s courage I never had. Because what if you survive the attempt? Will you be messed up? I never tried because I was scared of the possibilities if I didn’t succeed. And Hell. I certainly thought about it, many times over, and I came very close several of those times. But, for those who see it from my mother’s POV, why would a person entertain these thoughts? For many reasons. One could be that they just feel so utterly alone, and they feel that their death really would not be that great of a loss. That’s exactly how I felt. I felt that no one would miss me, and the event would go relatively unnoticed, and after a couple of weeks everyone could continue on with their lives. I even planned it. I started trying to give my things away. I took down all the decorations in my room, as I figured there was no need for them to be up anymore if no one would be occupying it. I almost wrote a will. I wondered where I would do it, and who would find me. Would they be sad, or just, oh… Another reason could be that they just really see no point in living if life is so awful. Some people are just tired of feeling so sad or so inadequate and feel that it isn’t worth it anymore. Some people do it because they feel like (and this sounds crazy, but I’ve heard it before, and I hate to admit it, thought it before) they’re in the way, and they would be doing others a favor if they just simply weren’t anymore. Maybe that’s harsh, but it’s true. It sounds crazy for someone to think their existence is a bother, but when people constantly, blatantly ignore you or go literally out of their way (like in the other direction just to avoid talking to you – someone you considered to be a very close friend), you kind of start thinking, “Would you prefer it if I just didn’t exist? Would that make things easier for you?” They also say that suicide is a selfish act. I’m not so sure about that, either. Because the entire time you’re doing all these things, you’re watching other people; either hoping and praying that they’ll notice how reclusive you’ve become and how unhealthy it is, and they’ll reach out to you and stop you in time, or you’re hoping that no one will and you can put an end to all your pain. And you’re constantly thinking about how it will affect others, mostly wondering about who would care. You can kind of pick out who would and wouldn’t, even if they don’t know you very well. And sometimes, you’re trying to give others things (this is the giving stuff away thing I talked about) because you want to help them and be nice and leave them with something while you can.
So if I was so depressed, why didn’t I ever attempt it, you ask?
I certainly thought about it. I thought about every option in the book. Those that weren’t painful that is. Then, one Wednesday night before church, when I was 17 or 18, I’m sitting on my bathroom floor after a particularly lonely day at school, just thinking. I was debating, really. I was thinking about the pills on my counter, or the electric heater I could plug up and put in the bathtub and fill it with water, or the various cleaners I could ingest. I was seriously considering it that day, and I was leaning towards the heater option, because you can’t pump electricity out of someone’s body. And I was just sitting there on my bathroom floor, sobbing my eyes out, when a voice in my head said, “What are you doing? This isn’t what you really want. You don’t want to die. You just want to be happy and have friends. You want to laugh again. It’s been a long time since you’ve laughed. You want to live and do something good. Go back to your room until church starts.” It was like something clicked in my head. I listened to that little voice, and I went back to my room, and later I had a good night at church. Eventually, things started getting better. Not great, but better. Life was good. But then, it’s a few years later, and I’m nearly 21 years old, and I find myself sitting on the bathroom floor of my apartment again and I’m crying, with the cupboard under the bathroom sink wide open and I’m reaching for the bleach. Then I hear that voice again, “What’s the matter with you?! What are you doing? Stop! You don’t want this. You want life. You want to write books. You want to help people. Go watch some TV or a Disney movie. Paint something. Remember what it’s like to be happy. You haven’t been there in a while.” And so I did. Every now and then though, I’ll have these thoughts, when I’m particularly upset, something like, “I’m so sick of this. Why can’t I just die already? Then no one could hate me, no one could be mean anymore.”
But what stopped me each time?
Mostly, that little voice. Call it what you will, my conscience, the voice of God, or a guardian angel, but it definitely made me stop mid-action and realize that I was acting out of desperation. It was a cry for help. They say those who commit suicide really never wanted to commit it, they just wanted someone to listen and understand, or someone to stop them and tell them they weren’t crazy. And as someone who has been on the brink of that, I can say that’s 100% true. What else stopped me? Guilt. I thought about how much it would hurt my mother, since I’m her only child, and I knew I could never go through with it. I couldn’t put her through that, especially after we lost my dad. And she’s always said losing a child has to be the worst kind of pain, and I don’t want her to have to know it. She already lost children through miscarriages and tubal pregnancies, it wouldn’t be right for her to have to bear the loss of a child she actually had as well. That doesn’t mean those thoughts don’t still creep into my brain. They do, but at least now they’re more easily fought. Another reason I never went through with it: the fear of Hell. I hope that someone isn’t reading this thinking, “You considered suicide because you didn’t have much faith in God.” Quite the opposite, really. I prayed daily (sometimes I forget to, though) that God would change my situation – but sometimes I was praying that He would change it to my vision of a specific thing, and that’s where I was wrong, because I didn’t understand to simply ask Him to change the situation how He saw fit. I knew that God loved me, and that seeing me hurt hurt Him. I had constant faith that God would do something, if I just put my trust in Him. I don’t know if that’s true about it being the last sin you’ll ever commit, and therefore there’s no forgiveness for it. I would never tell someone who lost a loved one to suicide that, because I don’t know that for certain. I don’t know how God judges someone who committed suicide but still believed in Him and loved Him. Surely He wouldn’t turn them away because they felt so desperately alone on this earth and they felt not that dying was a way out, but that they were finally going to somewhere they belonged and would be loved? I don’t know how God works. And I know the Bible says that you will never be alone, because God is with you, and that sometimes you might get more than you can handle, but with God, you’ll be able to handle it. But I know even God has to have special cases, and I’m not here to figure out what that is. The Bible says God is a just, good, and merciful God, so I’ll have faith that He will judge each situation according to the person’s heart, because God is perfect, and when it’s all over, God still loves us no matter what we do. I guess I’m still trying to console myself. I never went through with anything because I never knew for sure what would happen, and Hell scares me. I want to avoid it at all costs, and after I had calmed down enough to reason with myself and talk myself out of things, I really thought it through. Plus, if what my mom had said was true, and I had ever gone through with my plans, I would have been separated from my dad and my family for eternity. And I couldn’t bear that. It’s been nearly 3 years since my dad died, and that’s been bad enough – eternity I can’t even begin to fathom.
So there it is. One of my deep, dark, dirty secrets. I guess it’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had many secrets that needed keeping, especially nothing ‘deep and dark’. I never rebelled against my parents as a teen, or at any point, really, and aside from the odd disagreement we got along pretty well. I saw my parents’ rules as extremely fair, lenient even, and I guess they thought I was a pretty decent kid (as far as kids go nowadays), so I generally got to do as I pleased as long as I cleared it with them first – not that I ever wanted to do much of anything that didn’t involve band, books, or church. I never did drugs, nor did I try alcohol in my high school years. Everyone knew I was forever the ‘good girl’, and I would have no part in it if it pertained to illicit activities. I guess you could say I was quite innocent. But I was lonely and sad, and I felt rejected. I felt unwanted, and no matter what I tried to fill it with, no matter how many books I read, no matter how much school work I did, I couldn’t seem to fill that void. I’m getting better now, and it’s not so bad. I might still have a day every now and then where I just feel like there’s no point in doing anything, but that comes and goes. My insomnia is still pretty bad (I’ve gone 48 hrs without sleep before), so I might have to look into a light sleeping medication for it. I (mostly) know who my real friends are, and I try to keep in touch with them regularly. It’s amazing what leaving high school will do for some people. There’s still a few other parts of my life I’m trying to sort out, but I’m taking it a little bit at a time, and I’m learning how to handle it better. I’ve learned that other people don’t determine my self-worth, and that’s for me to decide for myself. I’m slowly learning how to love myself (and like myself), but I think I might have to make some changes in order to fully do that. I’ve learned that not getting an A in a class or on a test doesn’t mean you aren’t smart or worth it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hardest. I’m learning to appreciate the way I look more, and to take care of myself better – for my own health. If I want to be able to help other people, I need to figure out how to help myself first. I’m learning that it’s not so much about ‘fixing’ me as it is changing the way I think and being nicer to myself. It’s hard to go through life when you have a live-in critic who’s mean to you all the time. I’m also learning that I don’t have to do it all by myself. For a long time, I was so afraid to ask for help or to relinquish even a bit of control over some part of my life, but it really helped when I accepted the fact that I don’t have control at all – God does, and I just need to take things as they come, and ask Him to help me through them. And He gave me friends (and family) for that, too. It’s like what my pastor said at church last week: we have people here on earth to talk to, and we have God to help us get through everything; we never walk alone. Once I realized that, life became a lot easier. I’ve slowly started confiding a lot more in my friends, and though they don’t realize it, it’s really taken a lot for me to open up to them, even though I think of them as brothers and sisters. So overall, I’m doing better.
That’s my story. Or that part of it, anyway. I hope it helped bring understanding to someone, or maybe it helped give someone the courage to talk to someone – either to reach out to a friend that’s hurting, or to ask someone to listen because they’re the one that’s hurting. If anyone has their own story to tell about something like this, I’m always willing to listen. If anyone is depressed and just needs someone to talk to, I’m always here, and I can guarantee I’ll understand.