“What are you going to do after you graduate? Are you going to go back to school?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably get a Masters, and then maybe even a Doctorate.”
I’ve never seen my grandfather laugh so hard; but, I wasn’t joking.
I was as serious as depression, which, coincidentally, was the reason I was going to get a doctorate in sleeping.
Depression is fickle, oxymoronic, persistent, and sneaky, boy, is it sneaky. It’s the best Con Artist, the Great Persuader, the Silent Terror. It cuddles up next to you in the middle of the night, convincing you that it’s your best friend, that it has your best interests at heart. It would never hurt you. It feeds you lies when you’re too weak from starving yourself to refuse, and as you’re wasting away, it feeds on your weakness. It convinces you that it can teach you to fly, and after you’ve already jumped off the cliff, you realize the wings it gave you aren’t really wings at all. It doesn’t bother to help pick you up off the rocky ground at the bottom.
All you want to do is sleep; it won’t let you do that either, but it will make it impossible to get out of bed. It’s silent in the way that it sneaks up on you when you least expect it: you’re happy and giggly one moment and silent and moody in the next. But it’s oh so loud in the way that it rings in your ears over and over not-good-enough, not-good-enough, not-enough, and in the way it causes your heart to feel like it’s going to beat out of your chest in thesuddenly-called-on-in-class-but-weren’t-paying-attention anxious sort of way.
It’s a deep ache, a heaviness that starts in the deep recesses of your soul and then settles somewhere around your heart (sort of like a sore muscle that you wake up with). You can go about your daily life, but you muddle through it, compensating for the hurt.
We all compensate in different ways: some turn to drugs, some, like me, turn to self-harm and starvation, some turn to writing (I got there eventually). But most all of us stay quiet, trying not to draw attention to ourselves or our situation.
I’ve always been quiet. Being the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side and the oldest granddaughter on my father’s, I never really had to say much to get what I wanted. As I got older and younger sisters, and then younger cousins, came along, I never really grew out of my shell. I was content to stay on the sidelines, to wait to be asked if I wanted something (to set up a game on my grandparent’s table and wait and wait and wait until someone asked me if I wanted to play).
A few years ago, my mother told a family member that on the first day of kindergarden, my teacher called home to ask if I “had an attitude problem” because I wouldn’t say hello.
No, she’s just quiet. They said. She doesn’t talk. (Eventually, after the first week, I said hello back and got to join my peers in Center Play).
As I went on in my schooling, speech therapy and, eventually,counseling became weekly occurrences. Speech therapy, because despite knowing how to read before entering kindergarden, my tongue refused to pronounce certain letters and words correctly — namely, r and any word with an r and l in quick succession, like world or shoulder or soldier. Counseling because, despite what I thought, talking to people is necessary for friendships.
The counseling helped with the making of friends. But my report cards still said Pleasure to have in class, but needs to participate in class discussions.
If my post-schooling life had report cards, they’d say the same thing: Pleasure to do life with, but needs to participate in discussions more.
I’m working on it. But the years of speech therapy did not help with my mumbling, which I am acutely aware of because everytime I talk, my father asks if I’m speaking Russian. I mumble because I get nervous — social anxiety, I think (self-diagnosed) — and not just nervous but like, heart-pounding-acutely aware of everyone looking at me nervous.
Which is why I choose to stay quiet, only choosing to speak if I have something pressingly important to add.
I didn’t think my depression was important enough to mention. My depression told me that, and it told me a lot of other not-so-nice things about myself.
Those closest to me knew I had it, but they didn’t know the severity of it, and I guess neither did I.
Until the night I attempted suicide.
It took swallowing pills to realize that depression is more than sadness. It’s more than self-harm and starvation. It’s life-threatening. And it needs to be talked about, without the taboo and stigma. Because it’s not an attitude problem. Those of us who are struggling can be as smiley and optimistic as those who aren’t suffering, but we can still feel like we just got punched in the gut. We can still want to die.
But with the right resources, we can stave off death for a little while longer.
I didn’t attempt suicide today. Or yesterday, or any day in the past 2,398 days.
2,399 days ago, I did.
But 6 years, 6 months, and 26 days ago, I was a different person. I’m stronger now. I have the right resources and support systems in place to live with depression.
I can talk about my past and what I’ve been through — my rape, my eating disorder, my suicide attempt. I’m not scared to look my past in the face and to show the beauty that has come from it. I’m not afraid to use my story to help others.
I have attempted a lot of things in the past 2,398 days:
I graduated from High school.
I started college.
I went to Guatemala on a Missions Trip.
I have started writing a book (many, many times).
I graduated college.
But perhaps most importantly, I’ve begun to find the pieces of me that I lost. I’m becoming reacquanted with the parts of me that were strangers for far too long: my laughter, my confidence, my body.
I’ve given a voice to the darkest part of myself, knowing it’s ok to talk about hard things. I’ve given names to my depression and intrusive thoughts: André is my depression; Fred is the out-going one who likes to be the center of attention, and Gertrude is the quiet one, who comes out when I’m home alone.
Intrusive thoughts are a lot less scary when you can have conversations with them: No, Fred. I will NOT drive headfirst into this tree. No, the fireworks would not be cool because it’s a burning car on fire, not the fourth of July. And, Shut up, Gertrude. I know there are about 20 Advil in my hand right now, but I only need two. I have a bad shoulder today, not a bad life.
And when the depression gets too bad, and I’m tempted to start to pursue my doctorate in sleeping right then and there, I can say to myself: I know André is bad today, but you’ve beat him before, and you can beat him again. You’ve seen the darkness, and you came out on the otherside.
And the world today is so beautiful.
(originally posted on Medium)