When I was fourteen a good friend was murdered by another peer of ours. There were other things going on but this was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. It spun me into a deep and dark depression. I alternately pursued dangerous things daring to feel anything at all and trying to take my own life. No matter what I tried, I failed to feel anything but sadness and fatigue. I cried myself to sleep almost every night for over a year and prayed to God, asking him to just take me. My sister found one of my suicide notes. (I always chided myself as being too much of a coward to actually follow through with ending things myself.) My parents had a counselor, one I had been seeing for months, complete an assessment of me. I honestly can’t remember what it was but do remember her saying a score of 20 was clinically depressed and I had scored a 40. The doctor wanted to admit me into a psychiatric hospital I had seen advertised on tv. My parents opted to admit me to one closer to home even though my doctor did not have privileges there. Of course, they lied to me to get me to go. They told me it was just for an overnight stay but once I arrived, it was in for the duration. Our neighbor was a doctor there so they felt more comfortable putting me with someone they knew well. My parents pulled me out of school under the pretense of an illness and admitted me to the looney bin. My deep, dark secret: I am crazy and I have the papers to prove it. My joke: I also have the papers to prove I am sane. How about you?
I remember it being set-up an awful lot like a dorm. I also remember thinking these people have real problems. I’m just a spoiled brat who can’t cope. It wasn’t at all like you might see in the movies. -Think more of an indoor camp where you aren’t allowed to have shoe laces. Or leave. Or call home. There was group therapy, individual therapy, art therapy, music therapy, family therapy. Work with a social worker. School and activities. If you made progress and were good you could earn calls home, trips home or outings on and off campus. I also made some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had (until recently). I remember there being a poster hung up on the wall proclaiming something about assertiveness being healthy. Then there was the day I saw someone else from my high school there and panicking because everyone would find out I was crazy.
I am usually pretty good with words but I cannot describe to you the immense weight of depression. It is all consuming. It’s like a black hole, sucking everything into it. Your energy. Your hope. Your happiness. Like a blender on puree, it brutally cuts everything into nothing or, sometimes, sorrow. Never mind lifting yourself up out of depression. A friend once said, every part of your being is struggling to simply not sink any lower. It is as if you are standing at the bottom of that chasm pictured above with no equipment, energy or will to get yourself out. I did not even want to be saved. I simply held on because I did not want to be the cause of anyone else’s pain. All I wanted was for everyone to stop loving me so I could go without hurting anyone. Yet, a hand reached down. And another. And another. Pulling this unwilling soul up out of the chasm. Pushing me towards the help I desperately needed. They refused to give up for me. They insisted and forced me (because I was a minor they could) to survive, to let help slowly steep in. It worked. Not in that moment. But at least I found the strength to survive, to begin the long and arduous path towards health.
It took decades for me to return to my whole self. I was very fortunate to be able to do this without taking medicine. Others are not so lucky. We are made up of a jumble of chemicals that can easily go awry. Even if you find the right mix of medicines your body can change causing you to start the stabilization process all over again. You “survive” what you can easily describe as your most difficult battle in life only to discover you will have to face it again. Perhaps repeatedly. I almost drowned once. I remember the waves coming so hard and fast I was not able to gather my strength in between each wave. I kept trying and trying, swallowing more and more water. Eventually my legs gave out from under me and the waves pummeled me. I was under the water, the waves rolling me along and I lacked the strength to do anything about it. Luckily the life guard pulled me out but this is very much like fighting depression. The waves of depression, much like the riptide of an ocean, are so much stronger than you. To “defeat” depression, you must vow to tread water, to continue to exist until the current shifts. I cringe every time my mother refers someone’s child to me saying, “Kerry has overcome depression. You should talk to her.” It is not something you overcome. Much like an alcoholic, it is one day at a time. I keep the clouds at bay with positive behaviors/actions, therapy and surrounding myself with love but rip currents can surprise you.
I remember coming back to school, standing by my locker in between classes, chatting with friends. Someone told a joke. I don’t even know what it was about but I laughed. A deep belly laugh. A real one. Not at all like the fake ones I had been doing for so long. God, it was a brilliant gift and it felt so good. The current had shifted. I instantly thought to myself, “I am glad I did not kill myself.” I have not had such a deep depression since then but I have had periods of struggle. In those times, I remember that laugh and remind myself it will come again. Perhaps this is why I adore the every day simple moments so much. I no longer need to be or want to be at the edge of thrill, excitement, defeat or death to feel things. Right here, in the middle of every day life are the greatest pleasures. Light. Laughter. Learning. Love.
I usually limit my writing to life with my self, family and friends. While this is my personal story of depression, it is inspired by the loss of Robin Williams. Yesterday, it seems apparent, one of the world’s greatest actors and comedians committed suicide. It boggles the mind how someone so talented and adored could end in this way. And, yet, I understand. He struggled with depression for so long and won out so many times. I wish there were a distress signal those suffering could send out.
S.O.S. – Support, one of us is suffering.
Then, from all walks of life, people with your affliction come to tell you it will end. It will eventually be all right. They can hold you up until you find your way again. I wish you had lived to laugh and love again, not only Robin but all others who have died from mental illness.
Depression is a deeply uncharted chasm of sadness. It makes me ache whenever I hear of someone not making it to the other side. It is there. The other side is there.
I write this for those of you suffering right now. Your big belly laugh is there waiting for you. On this blog I often talk about sunny days and rainy days. When depressed it is so hard to envision sunny days. It’s as if you’ve lost the right to have access to them anymore. Stephen Fry once wrote, “It will be sunny one day. It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will. One day.” Please do what you can to find someone to be your umbrella, your raft, your life guard until your sun returns.
For those who have been left behind, I write for you too. There is nothing you could have done to save your loved one. My family got me help but it would not have worked unless I wanted it too. There was enough of my brain not clouded over with the disease to let others begin the healing work. Only I could finish it though. I could have refused to engage with any of the services offered to me in that hospital and afterwards. Your lost family member or friend loved you very much. This disease is just as venomous as cancer. I pray you find peace in knowing they are finally at rest. Their suffering is done and I’d be willing to bet they have found their big belly laugh in Heaven. Yes, I wholeheartedly believe they are in Heaven.