What I Wish I Could Say

Preface: I’ve been trying to write these thoughts down for a while now, but often times the hardest part of being a writer is trying to figure out how to best tell the story. And I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; I don’t know that there ever is a “best way” because, in the search for perfection, we all fall short. I’m telling it anyway because I have to. It’s a compulsion of mine: I want to be heard, and maybe with being heard I can give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses in general steal so much, and sometimes they steal our voices. And I refuse to let them steal mine. What is below are bits and pieces from conversations I have had with my therapist over the last few weeks, clipped together in a way that’s orderly and coherent–unlike what’s going on in my head, unlike my conversations with her. Therapy is wonderful on so many levels: it’s made me more observant of my own behaviors, allowed space for me to be self-reflective, to ask the tough questions. But it’s also made me feel worse because now I’m talking about what I’m feeling and the thoughts in my head instead of just ignoring them. And maybe, by sharing this, it will help someone else.

I went out and looked at the stars last night: climbing out of bed at one in the morning, a blanket wrapped around me as tightly as possible, tiptoeing down the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky spots, opening and closing the kitchen door as quietly as possible to avoid detection. I do this a lot: look at the stars, especially when I’m panicky, anxious, on edge. There’s a beauty about them, illuminating the sky to make it appears as though it’s 50 different shades of grey as they dance around the wispy clouds. Unfortunately, there’s too much light pollution where I live to get the full effect of their beauty, but it’s enough.

I do a lot of the other thing too: tiptoeing around, walking as close to walls as possible to avoid detection, making myself smaller–hoping to take up less space both physically and metaphorically. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, I’ll actually become invisible; invalidating myself and my feelings to hopefully leave fewer footprints behind.

It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact on the world. I do. But there’s this constant fear in the back of my head that I won’t make it out of this cycle; I’ve been down this spiral so many times, and maybe this is the time I won’t make it back up. So, maybe, if I pull away, stop talking to people, stop letting people in, they won’t be affected by my absence as much. Erasing myself from their lives because it’s harder to miss someone if they never existed in the first place.

I feel like people have given up on me–we can’t fix what’s going on, so we might as well not bother doing anything. Even though there are so many things people can do if they just ask the right question: what do you need?

But maybe it’s not other people who have given up on me; maybe it’s me who has given up on myself.

I’ve been broken for so long, been trying to pick up the pieces, and I keep dropping them. Maybe I think there’s no hope left for me because I’ve felt hopeless for so long. Because the anxiety and the depression keep coming back, and every time they come back, they become harder and harder to beat. And I’ve written so many suicide notes over the last four months, I’ve lost track. And I’m trying my hardest to stay alive; I’m doing all I can–going to the store, having coffee with friends, writing as much as I can, leaving my house, going to the gym–but this unbridled panic won’t go away. I can’t leave my house without my anxiety shooting sky high, can’t go to the gym or the store without having a panic attack, can’t have a panic attack without it being accompanied by suicidal urges.

But the point is that you’re trying to stay alive. Your sense of self-preservation is kicking in. 

But what if my self-preservation isn’t enough to stop the thoughts in my head from taking over? Like I can eat food and not self-harm and go to the gym, but what’s the point if I can barely make it through a workout without feeling like the world’s going to collapse around me? What’s the point if I don’t feel safe anywhere, not even in my own home or my own head? If I feel this hopeless right now when I’m doing everything right, what happens when something goes wrong?

You handle that when you get to that. One step at a time. 

My favorite mixed idiom to use is: I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. My brain has always raced to the finish, trying to think up every possible “what if” that could ever happen, trying to solve problems that probably won’t ever happen. I talk myself out of doing more things than I talk myself into doing. But the point is: I don’t feel safe. And maybe I should have given up a long time ago.

But you didn’t. You reached out. You got help. You checked yourself into the ER the last time you felt suicidal.

It wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t even the worst time recently. I’ve thought about checking myself in again. There have been nights, many nights, where I’ve thought I wouldn’t make it through, where I should’ve asked for help, and I didn’t. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, be a burden to anybody, which goes back to the walking as close to the walls as possible, not making eye contact. I don’t want them to see me the way I see myself.

How do you see yourself?

I feel like the worst person in the world. Even though I know it’s not true. I’m afraid to let people in, to tell them what’s going on in my life, the thoughts in my head because I don’t want them to hate me the way I hate myself. Which is ridiculous because I know that what’s going on in my head are lies and that if I keep things to myself, they will eat me alive. But I’m afraid people will give up on me because “I’m too far gone, too broken, not worth enough.”

I think those things about myself all the time, feeding off the lies told to me by the people who broke me. And I feel shame and guilt for thinking those things, for feeling like I deserved what happened to me, that it’s all my fault. Some of the time, I still feel shame and guilt for what happened to me.

I know it’s not my fault, and that nothing gone in my head is rational, but I don’t know how to tell people what I feel without sounding crazy. Maybe I am.

But maybe it’s the world that’s crazy, maybe it’s the world that’s broken, and maybe I just feel that chaos and brokenness more because I’m more sensitive: I feel what people around me feel. So not only do I feel what I’m feeling and my own hurt, but I feel what they’re feeling and carry their hurts with me. And that’s a lot of hurt for one person.

It is a lot of hurt for one person. So how do you deal?

 I don’t deal, not always. I used to block out what I was feeling until I became numb, and then I would self-harm to feel something, anything. Physical pain is easier to fix than emotional pain. And now I write, and sometimes I still self-harm. But I’m learning to deal.

After my dad left the ER, one of the other patients came and sat with me as I slept, not in a creepy way, but in a “We’re all in this together. Pretty girls with sad eyes shouldn’t be alone here.”

But maybe it’s more than pretty girls with sad eyes who shouldn’t be alone. Maybe none of us should be alone. We should know that we have people in our court supporting and encouraging us, praying for us and loving us.

And right now, I’m drowning. Trying to tread water as I keep my head above the waves, but I’m oh so tired. I’m oh so weak.

But you’re recognizing your weaknesses, and you’ve given a name to them.

That’s all any of us can do, really. And right now, I’m having panic attacks and suicidal urges, and I’m feeling hopeless and like I can’t find my way out, and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel these things, to admit that I’m struggling, to admit that my life isn’t perfect. And the only thing I can do is what I’m currently doing: trying to stay alive despite what the thoughts in my head are telling me, despite what I’m feeling.

Because sometimes, when my soul is heavy, when the depression and anxiety are too much, I look at the stars. The same God who painted the night sky in all of its shining glory created me, and that is enough.

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Is Happiness Inherited?: The Fault in Our Happy Gene

When was the first moment you realized you were different? Was it in 6th grade when you cried so hard about going to school, you made yourself sick, and your dad let you stay home because giving up was easier than fighting? Was it in Kindergarten when your teacher called your parents asking if you had an ‘attitude problem,’ and your parents had to respond that, no, you did not have an attitude problem, you just didn’t like to talk?

I’ve always thought I was depressed because I was sexually assaulted, but now I think that maybe I’ve always been depressed in a way. Having something to blame it on is easier than admitting we have a fault in our genes. Are we born depressed? Is there a fault in our ‘happiness Gene’ that makes us predisposed to Depression? Or, do we somehow grow to be depressed along the way?

When I was in Elementary school, my parents sent me to a counselor because I didn’t talk to people, not even my relatives. Before my 1st sister was born, while I was the only grandchild on my Mother’s side, I would point to what I wanted; if I wanted milk, I would grab someone’s hand, drag them to the kitchen, and point. I knew how to talk; I just didn’t. My parents taught me sign language so I could communicate from my High Chair: ‘more, food, drink, down, please.’

After Sister 1, and especially after Sister 2, I started talking a little, but I still didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted. I would set up a Board game on my Grandparents’ table and just sit there, waiting for someone to ask if I wanted to play a game. And then I would nod, and all would be right with the world.

So my parents and my doctor sent me to a counselor to help me out of my shell. But the thing is, I liked my shell: it kept me safe; it was my own personal sanctuary of the mind, where I could be some where else, and be someone else, and I didn’t have to deal with being me. I know other kids didn’t like me much, but did I ever like me much? Was I just super shy, or was I unsatisfied with myself? Did I not talk because I didn’t want to, or because I felt as though I wasn’t important enough, as if my thoughts weren’t valuable enough to be vocalized?

Because sometimes I feel that way now. There are so many things I want to tell people, things I’m thinking, opinions I have, but I keep them to myself. And I think, I think… I do this for two reasons: 1. I know I talk too fast and am hard to understand. It’s easier to remain silent than for me to have to repeat myself. I saw a speech therapist for a while; it didn’t really help. 2. I think I’m scared of rejection. Not the “No, I won’t go out with you” Rejection either. I’m terrified of the “Your Thoughts Aren’t Valuable” type of rejection.

Sometimes, I don’t think my thoughts are valuable, which is why I write. There’s no awkward silences, no unnecessary “ummmms…” while I try to figure out the exact right words for what I’m trying to say. When I write my thoughts, I don’t have to share until they’re perfect. When I speak, I’m not assertive; I don’t know how to make people listen. I’ve never been good at standing up for myself (but I’m getting better). When I write, it doesn’t matter because the people who are reading are the ones who want to.

So back to the question, “Are we born depressed and somehow grow into it along the way, or do we wake up one day and realize we can’t get out of bed?” Was born depressed? Did wake up one morning and decide I wasn’t beautiful? Or have I never felt comfortable in my own skin? I’ve always enjoyed playing dress-up. Did become depressed all at once, or have I become depressed slowly over my life? Because if I was born with a fault in my happy gene, that would explain a lot.

Like why I read so much as a child, choosing to read rather than engaging with the world around me. I’d get five books out of the library and have them all read by the next night. Reading is an escape for so many, and I was no exception. I would be the characters in those books. I’d be going on their adventures, and for a little while, I wouldn’t be me.

It would also explain why I didn’t talk, why I didn’t let people get to know me, why sometimes I still don’t–there wasn’t/isn’t anything worth getting to know.

It would explain the way I’ve always dealt with anxiety: picking at scabs until they bleed, turning a bug bite into a scab–self-harm before I knew what self-harm is. I remember one time when I was little, and my anxiety had gotten a little out of hand. My mom walked into my room at midnight because my light was on, and I was crying. I had 7 bleeding scabs that night, and all I could do was mumble, “I need help.” I need help. Three words I never uttered before, because I was too ashamed to admit I needed help. I used to always try so hard to be perfect.

(Those 7 bleeding scabs and the 3 words that followed are why I think I live my life at a 7.) Eventually, I started cutting and then stopped. Eventually, I stopped eating and then started again. But I haven’t quite learned how to stop picking, picking my scabs as the nagging voices of my anxiety are picking away at my self-esteem. It’s like an old, itchy sweater of bad habits that was once too big and is now too small to take off.

One day I’ll figure out how to stop this, too, but it’s like a security blanket for my anxiety; it’s how my Dad knows I’m in over my head and can’t handle Finals Week. I’ve been finding I do it less, which must mean I’m learning how to deal with my feelings.

I wish I could blame my Depression on my past situations, because placing blame is always easier than accepting the fact that we have a character flaw because of a fault in our genes. But I don’t think there’s blame to be placed. I thought about disappearing many times when I was little, years before I attempted suicide. I’ve never felt ‘normal.’ I don’t even think I’d recognize Normal if he ran into me at Starbucks, causing me to spill my coffee all over his jeans and t-shirt. I don’t think I’d recognize Normal if he was the hottest guy on my college campus.

So was I born depressed and felt it slowly and then all at once? Or did it happen all of a sudden? I don’t know. But I do know that normal is overrated. Normal makes life boring. And I’m beginning to accept and love myself: Depression, Flaws, and all.

Because When You Smile, The Earth Stands Still

Dear Stranger,

I saw you walking in the mall the other day, eyes staring intently at the ground as you walked, feet shuffling as though you wanted to avoid the noise of stepping—as if you wanted to remain invisible. For a moment as we were in the same space, next to each other, breathing the same air, you lifted up your head; your eyes met mine, and you smiled. For that one millisecond, you left the comfort zone of being invisible, and piqued my interest.

As you were walking away, a billion thoughts ran through my head. What causes you to walk that way, as if you are carrying a heavy burden? What causes you to keep your eyes fixed on the ground, as if you are harboring a wounded pride? Did something terrible happen to you to make you feel inferior, less important? Or, perhaps, are you just naturally introverted, and cautious of people? Do people make you uncomfortable?

And,

I wonder if I’ve ever caught someone’s attention, like you caught mine. Even if I was just walking among a crowd I wonder if that somebody wanted to get to know me, like I wanted to get to know you.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter. The possibility of us meeting again is slim to say the least, just like the chances of us being in the same place at the same time.

But, despite the slim chance, if I ever see you again, I will tell you:

“You might not believe me now, but one day you will; so, trust me when I say ‘You’re Beautiful.’ Because when you smile, the earth stands still, and the sparkle in your eyes puts the stars to shame.”

 

And you may think I’m strange, but I know that the kindness of strangers is capable of brightening a day. So, if the stars ever align again, and we happen to pass each other again, I hope you will allow me the opportunity to brighten your day. Allow me the opportunity to make you smile.

Because when you smile, the earth stands still, and the sparkle in your eyes puts the stars to shame.