A Mile is Forever

A little over 4.5 years ago, I attempted suicide. I was young, broken, hopeless. There was a stigma attached to Mental Illness and Suicide. We, as a society, have gotten better at talking about it, on addressing it, on treating it. But this stigma is still prevalent, still attached to depression and suicide the way conjoined twins are joined at the hip. 

This has been a hard week. Robin Williams’ suicide has drawn a lot of attention, spurring media coverage and blog posts fueled with speculation and judgement, fact and fiction, horror and sadness. And for people like me, people who are battling depression and suicidal thoughts, this has been an emotional and triggering time. 

We try so hard to fill our lives with happy things, things that will (hopefully) try to help us forget all the pain, sadness, and despair we are feeling. We have to consciously focus our thoughts and energies on keeping us alive: life is no longer about thriving; it’s about surviving. It becomes a race against time, because we’re all going to die someday. But for some of us, the road to death is filled with shortcuts. Life is no longer “How many more years do I have before I reach the average life expectancy?” LIfe is now “How many more times can I pull myself back from the brink before I’m out of strength?”

And we don’t want life to be this way. I firmly believe that life is a gift, and as such, it’s to be enjoyed. For some of us, that’s harder than for others. I would like nothing more than to believe that all people are good, life is always beautiful, nothing will ever hurt, and love will always win. But, I can’t. I’m not that naive. I’ve seen enough news, been through enough pain, experienced enough of life to know that people aren’t always good, life isn’t always beautiful, things will hurt, and love isn’t always enough.

But I still try to enjoy life. Some people are good, and some people are bad. Life is beautiful, and life is ugly. Things will hurt, but some things can heal. Love is powerful and beautiful, and it can win some battles, but it’s not always enough to win the war. Yet, I still want to fall in love, with life, with a person. I want to enjoy life and put 110% into everything I do with what time I have left. I have hopes and dreams. I have great friends, a great family, and a strong relationship with God.

I had all these things 4.5 years ago, too, and it wasn’t enough to stop me from swallowing pills. The love pulling me to earth wasn’t enough to counter-act the need I felt to be free. Love isn’t a fix-all solution. Boy, do I wish it was. It would solve so many problems, and it would have caused my life to play out so much differently. 

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest point. I would have never had to force myself to consciously think about what I was doing: using scissors was dangerous, taking medicine was dangerous, walking to the store was dangerous, going up high was dangerous. I discovered it’s all to easy to not think and put yourself in harm’s way. Which is how I ended up taking pills and slicing my wrist. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing; it wasn’t a choice I made. I stopped thinking for a moment, I momentarily stopped plugging the holes in the dam, the guards stopped forcing the drawbridge close, and the darkness attacked. The flood-gates opened, and every thought of inadequacy, hopelessness, and fear–the very thoughts I had been trying to surpress–came back all at once. 

I was drowning even though I was standing on solid ground, and all I wanted was to breathe again. So I took the pills, and I sliced my wrist. Time seemed to slow down; it was a race agaisnt the clock, and I was running out of time. You’ll be ok. I got up. Threw up the pills. Bandaged my wrist. And continued on with life as if nothing happened.  But it did happen. And I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t. 

It didn’t kill me. And I was angry. I was angry because fighting every thought that comes into your head is exhausting, and no amount of sleep will help fight the tiredness I feel. I was angry because I felt too weak to fight, and I’ve never liked the idea of being tortured. I was angry, but I was also scared.

I was scared that I’d let my guard down again and be back to that place of inescapable hopelessness and darkness. Fear is a powerful motivator, just like love.

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest points. But then I would have never gotten to my heights, either. I would have never felt the joy of leading a child in Guatemala to Christ. I would have never felt the relief of breaking the surface of the waves and coming up for air; I’ve learned that no matter how hopeless I feel now, I won’t feel this way forever. I would have never be able to find happiness in the little things; sometimes the little things are the big things.

 

Next week, I start my Senior year of College. I never thought I would make it this far, and I’m terrified. But that’s ok. Because 4.5 years ago, I had one dream. Today, I have another. I’m still young, still healing, and sometimes I still feel hopeless. But I took that step forward, and now I’m looking behind me at all the shattered dreams, shattered hopes, shattered innocence left scattered in my past’s path, and I feel a sense of hope. 

Because, yes, life is still rough. My soul is still fractured to its deepest corners; depression is still my constant companion. And right now, it hurts more than ever because healing means getting up and moving, and sometimes moving hurts more than just lying there. Life is pain, and I’d rather take it standing up than sitting down, moving forward than lying down. 

And I hope you do the same, whatever’s happened in your life. I hope you take comfort in the fact that even on the darkest night, your eyes can still see the flame of a single candle a mile away. Right now, a mile may seem like forever, but I’ve learned that even the smallest steps are progress. 

 

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Aladdin’s Genie is Free

Robin Williams died today*.

*August 11, 2014.

He was an actor, a comedian, a father.

This is sort of, kind of, but not really, about that.

Preliminary reports indicate that he killed himself; he had been battling major depression (and Bipolar disorder) as of late.

This is about that: Mental illness.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental illness. I, like Williams, suffer from Depression. This blog has told the story of my life as I deal with the everyday happenings brought on by my illness: the triumphs, the failings, the high-points, the low-points. I’m trying to raise awareness for the demons from which I suffer, because I can’t fight on my own.

We cannot fight on our own.

People like me need a support system: a group of people who can see past our happy face, people who hear past our jokes, people who find the hidden nuances in our “I’m fines.” People like me don’t want to be seen as weak.

We’re not weak; we’re strong.

Mental illness is hard to understand if you don’t know what it’s like to have one. I’m going to put it as simply as I can:

Our minds are fighting a civil war for control of our bodies: death versus life. And it’s not that we want to die, because we don’t, at least not most of us, not really. We just don’t know if we want to live. At least not like this. It’s like we’re living in this purgatory between living and dying, waiting to decide if we’ll be sentenced to life or death. We feel like we’re stumbling through life–a tumbleweed being blown by the wind–a witness to life, not an active participant.

A few weeks ago, my sister switched the placement of a few apps on my iPhone. I freaked the heck out. I had a mini Mental breakdown.

To her, it wasn’t a big deal.

To me, it was.

Depression and other Mental Illnesses cause you to feel as if your world is spinning out of control, a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop. And when we can’t control the big things, we try to control the little things. For me, that means my apps have to be in a certain order; my socks have to match my outfit. For others, it means they count each calorie that goes into their body. For still others, they turn to drugs or self-harm to try and control and numb the pain they feel.

We’re not crazy. We just feel like the world is too heavy for us. It’s a roller coaster that only goes down. It’s a never-ending tunnel filled with darkness and a thousand tons of dynamite. We’re wandering around in this big world, and we feel so small. We don’t know if we’re ever going to be ‘ok’ again.

And we probably won’t. Because even when we’re happy, we’re always cautious. We know the darkness is just around the corner. It comes in waves, and right now, we might be swimming, but soon we’ll be drowning. And with each wave, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, to breathe, to think, to have any energy whatsoever.

I’m exhausted. I could stay in bed for 100 years and still be exhausted. The floor is lava, and I can’t get out of bed. But, I’m not crazy.

I have an illness. And there are millions of people just like me.

Just like Robin.

We’re your neighbors, your relatives, your friends, your classmates, your worst enemies. (But even I wouldn’t wish this feeling on my worst enemy.)

Everybody in this world is hiding something. Even the funniest people can be suffering from Depression.

Mental illness is not a joke.

Mental illness is a battle. It’s a fight every single day. Some of us survive; some of us do not.

I almost didn’t.

I don’t think suicide is selfish, because I’ve been to that point where it feels like the only option. Suicide isn’t selfish because we think about everyone and everything.

Committing suicide isn’t a sign of weakness, because the strongest people in the world can only be strong for so long.

I don’t care if you think suicide is a sin or not. This isn’t the time or the place to discuss it.

Suicide is what happens when the pain you’re enduring is exponentially greater than the strength you have left; some of us run out of strength sooner than others.

Our sicknesses are as big a part of us as our blood and our bones. It’s not all we are, but it’s an inexorable part. Some of us accept that, and some of us can’t. By which I mean, some of us learn to live with our illness, and some of us only learn how to die with it. But either way, we hold on for as long as we can.

So, yes. Robin Williams was a fantastic actor and stand-up comic. But he was also a man who had an illness and just needed room to breathe. And I understand that, because I’ve been there before, and maybe someday I’ll be there again.

And even though I don’t know exactly what Robin Williams was going through, I can understand. I hope wherever he is that he is happy; he’s pain free; he can breathe again. He suffered long enough.

He was fighting demons and just wanted to be free.

Aladdin used his last wish to set the genie free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

One day, we’ll all be free: free from the stigma, free from the pain, free from this world.

Here’s to the ones who survive, and here’s to the ones who didn’t.

And here’s to Robin:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”- Dead Poets Society

Thank you for contributing your verse.

Thank you for the laughs. Thank you for your movies that have changed so many people’s lives. Thank you for the tears, for reminding everybody that we’re still alive.  Thank you for showing everybody that words and ideas change the world. Thank you for everything.

(If you are someone you know is suffering from depression/is at a risk for suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255)