“Mom, I never smile.”
A nine-year-old me had already recognised one of the key differences between myself and my peers. It would, however, be another twelve years before my depression was diagnosed. We didn’t talk about mental health issues at home.
Not, I think, because it was seen as something to be ashamed of, but because it did not even occur to anyone. In hindsight, I’m wondering why the therapist I saw (after being molested by a hitchhiker at nine) never realised it. Maybe it just wasn’t as bad then. Or maybe a child that uses the term “sexual attraction” (as in, being worried that what he did to me would stop me from having normal ones) couldn’t have that kind of issues.
I was over twenty when I for the first time woke up without feeling as if a huge weight lay on my chest. If you’ve never been in that darkness, it’s hard to explain what light feels like. It’s many little things, at least for me. Being able to clean pots directly after making dinner without it feeling as hard as climbing Mount Everest. Feeling happy, and being able to look forward to things.
Recognising that depression lies when it claims that you’ll never be better. That you’ve always been down here, and you always will. Depression swaddles you in darkness, and you’re left feeling that the glimpses of light are the real lies.
But let’s back up. I didn’t come back for air until after I left university, after I and my boyfriend had broken up. I don’t think that the end of the relationship caused my issues (I was already on medication for my depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mood swings) but it certainly didn’t help. Neither did the loop of worrying leading to bad grades, and bad grades leading to loss of money, and the lack of money leading to worry.
I don’t know how long that period lasted. I remember only shattered bits and pieces of a darkness that almost consumed me. I lay awake, wanting to be purified. For the darkness inside to be drained. I imagined the knife slicing into my stomach, washing away all the hurt. Once or twice I even slammed a fist into my stomach, almost as from reflex.
And now? I’m better. Depression doesn’t take me in the way it used to, because I’m wise to its tricks. At least, that’s what I tell myself. After I originally wrote this, I had another episode. Wise to its tricks? Hah. I insisted to the doctor that I wasn’t depressed. Filled with anxiety, sure, but I wasn’t depressed, not at all. A month and a half after I went back on medication, I woke up without the depression again, and then I could look back on it. I’m better.
Looking for a cure
I first sought out a doctor during my second year of university. She had this laundry list of questions, and I joked with her occasionally as I answered them.
“Do you feel anxious?”
“No, not more than reasonable.”
What did I feel anxious about? Well, normal stuff. School. Grades. My relationship. Friends. What my parents would think. Disappointing my family … As the list became longer and longer, her eyes widened, and it slowly dawned on me that no, this wasn’t reasonable.
This I also cope with now. When I get worrried, I mentally check myself to ensure that I’m not having a disproportionate response. Most of the time, I really have nothing to be worried about, so I ignore the feelings of dread. I know not everyone can, so it’s important to know that every person is individual. What might be easy for me might break someone else, and vice versa.
Breathe out. Breathe in. I always speak fast, but when the panic strikes (at least the “up” kind) I speak faster. I think faster. I can’t focus on a single thing, while having a burst of energy that could last me throughout the year. If I could just harness that … but of course I can’t. What triggered it? Stress, maybe. Or something else. My panic attacks aren’t necessarily brought on by any particular trigger (at least not ones I’ve been able to map), but they’re there.
When it’s “down” I just want to sleep. Hurt myself. Bleed myself on the wickedness inside.
Thankfully all of my attacks the last five or so years have been the “up” kind.
Shaped by the past
“Boys will be boys.”
“He just likes you.”
“You need to be the more mature person.”
“If you just stop letting them get to you, they’ll stop.”
Before you say that to a child, before you lay the burden of them being bullied on their shoulders, think. Yes, I cry at the drop of a hat. But just because I easily have the waterworks turned on doesn’t mean that I deserve it. Why don’t you just stop breathing, or walking, or that habit you have of tapping the desk when you’re thinking? Exactly. You can’t, because it’s second nature to you.
Consider, next time, that being sensitive and empathic is a good thing. You’re fostering narcissists and me-first-ists by telling children that caring is a bad thing.
I always cared. I still do. I’m the shoulder to cry on, without (for most of my life) a shoulder I can cry on.
Healer, heal thyself.