Note: This post talks about depression, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide, which may be upsetting or triggering for some. If you are one of them, please go here to look at some cute pictures of zooming puppers and kitties instead.
I remember wanting to die for the first time in fourth grade.
I knew exactly what death meant. I've been able to understand death as well as any adult can since I was in preschool. I also knew that I was tired of being sad all the time and I just wanted it to end.
All through school I was bullied mercilessly, until I discovered black lipstick and stompy boots and aggressive-sounding music in junior high that I bore as a shield against the rest of the world, which always seemed to always be trying to hurt me. I won't get into too many details about my home life here, but let's just say it was not ideal. My sadness wasn't terribly surprising to anyone who knew these things -- although sometimes I also flew into an irrational, uncontrollable rage, and sometimes I just couldn't feel anything at all -- but it went beyond something situational and deeper into a constant, throbbing malaise.
It didn't matter if the sun was shining and life was going well at the time. Every smile was forced. Every social interaction, every morning that I put my feet on the floor was a measured act that should have won me an Oscar.
Sometimes the mask I wore would crack. I'd melt down. I'd cry out for help. And I was, more often than not, told to just snap out of it because it was clearly all in my head. My argument that yes, that was pretty much the definition of depression but it sure as heck didn't fix it went unappreciated and unacknowledged. "What could you possibly have to be depressed about at your age?" adults would scoff.
I started therapy when I was 12, medication roulette when I was 15. Antidepressant after antidepressant was cast aside because it either didn't work or came with horrendous side effects. Talk therapy only helped for about an hour after my session ended, and then the clouds would come rolling back in. I lost faith in anyone's ability to help me, so I started trying to help myself; by the time my 16th birthday rolled around, I was already an old hand at hangovers and mixing drinks. When I was wasted, I could feel the Terrible Things swirling around me, but they couldn't get in. It was like the alcohol put up some kind of barrier that kept them at bay, unless I'd get too drunk, which I frequently would, and then I'd be drowning in them.
Cigarettes became a friend around the same time because not only would they soothe that heavy tension in my chest, I could press the lit end against my wrists and arms and grit my teeth and finally have something to distract me from the emotional pain with which I struggled daily -- physical pain, I thought, being so much easier to deal with than its less tangible counterpart. I hid the marks under thick stacks of jelly bracelets and arm warmers, or hooded jackets when it wasn't so warm that anyone would question why I was overdressed.
At 19, a series of seriously traumatic events occurred, and these plus the Terrible Things got to be so much that I tried to overdose. I was in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital for two weeks around Christmastime. I remember the EMTs in the ambulance chastising me for making them drive out in an ice storm. When I was stabilized and lying in the ER, terrified, begging the social worker at my bedside to just let me go home, she gave me a hateful look and told me "You should've thought about that before you did what you did, then," turned on her heel, and walked out.
Nobody came to visit me. My supposed friends sent my calls straight to voicemail. They told me afterwards that they just didn't know what to say to me, and that my depression made them "uncomfortable," so they chose to abandon me instead.
I was diagnosed and misdiagnosed for years. My chart ran the gamut of borderline personality disorder from the hospital psychiatrist, who spoke to me for a total of 30 minutes during my two-week stay and made accusations rather than suggestions; bipolar II disorder from another therapist, later changed to just bipolar disorder by yet another who didn't believe that bipolar II or any sort of spectrum existed; and, of course, variants on the theme of "angry teenager" and "situational depression, it'll clear itself up if you just think happy thoughts."
I gave up on psychiatrists and psychologists and therapists and social workers for a very long time.
Then, with my self-medicating at an all-time high, unable to hold down a job, and my meager savings going to buy more alcohol and more cigarettes just to keep my brain quiet, I finally found a mental health crisis center that would help me. The diagnosis was now major depressive disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. It was explained to me that the CPTSD, when combined with the MDD, would look exactly like borderline or bipolar disorder to someone with little to no experience in helping trauma survivors, or someone who couldn't be bothered to ask the correct questions.
I tell this story because with multiple recent celebrity suicides in the media, I feel it's important to do so, but with the following coda:
I'm still depressed -- in fact, I've been dealing with a bad downswing for the past week or so -- but things are better.
I'm one of the people that medication just doesn't work for, so there was never a good resolution to that. The closest we ever got was Celexa (citalopram), which worked for about a year before I developed such a high tolerance for it that there was no longer a safe dosage for me to take. I've been clean and sober for two years as of the end of August; getting there was an uphill battle with plenty of false starts and setbacks, but I'm finally at the top of the mountain. I quit smoking a few years ago and never looked back.
I found an incredible therapist specializing in EMDR to treat my CPTSD. After a year or so of regular sessions, I could finally deal with my trauma well enough that the only remaining beast is the major depressive disorder, for which there is no cure. Cutting ties with unsupportive "friends" was a step in the right direction. By being honest with myself and with other people about my mental illness, I've managed to curate an amazing support network of friends that always have my back, no matter how low I may spiral. I've found that, at least for myself, hypnosis has helped for severe depressive swings or anxiety attacks, although I also feel the responsible thing to do here is remind people to please continue taking your doctor-prescribed medication and do not stop in favor of something with no scientific or medical evidence and may, in fact, be entirely psychosomatic just because one person on the internet said it worked for them.
It took me a long time to overcome the fear of the stigma that surrounds mental illness -- the one that often prevents people from asking for help before it's too late, or makes them feel like if they speak up, they'll be outcasts. There's a certain guilt that accompanies depression, as well, especially when you can look around and logically say "yes, everything is great, there is no reason for me to feel this way," and yet you still can't feel anything approaching joy or contentment. You wonder what's wrong with you. Are you just being spoiled or entitled? Are you subconsciously just seeking attention like so many others have accused you of doing? Is it really just that you're not thinking happy thoughts hard enough?
No. The "problem" is that you have an illness, like an additional 42.5 million people in the United States alone, and that other people have made you feel bad about something that is entirely out of your control. It's the equivalent of having a broken leg and being scolded because you can't run a marathon, or telling someone with cancer that they're only sick because they don't smile enough.
For anyone suffering, please know that there are many resources available to you. There's online therapy options if you can't get to a therapist, or are nervous about talking to someone face to face, that can help you, no problem too big or too small. If you're in a crisis right now, please look here to find the Suicide Hotline for your country, or if you're anxious about talking on the phone, the Crisis Text Line will let you text with a counselor. If you, yourself, are not suffering but know somebody who is and want to help, check out articles like this one on how you can help your loved one.
Above all else, remember that nobody in this world is entirely unloved, even if it feels that way sometimes. Reach out to trusted friends and family -- and remember that yes, internet friends count just as much as real-life friends do. Do your best to fight the little voices of the Terrible Things that tell you you're burdening them or that they don't understand what they're getting into.
Be excellent to each other, folks, and if you can manage it, be excellent to yourself, too.