Trigger warnings: suicide, depression, cutting.
It wasn’t an easy time. I remember when I called my parents to tell them where I was, there was this schizophrenic girl leaning over my shoulder babbling about Jesus. There was also a very nice bi-polar soccer mom who seemed much too sane to be there. The woman I shared my room with would wake me up slamming the nightstand, looking for her smokes. I didn’t have much in the way of clothes with me either, and at the time, just one friend (the same one who told the RA that I was suicidal) to get me more. I remember really wanting my clove cigarettes (it’s okay to laugh, that’s funny, and humor is how I deal with things anyways) though whether or not I got them, I can’t remember.
My panicked parents got in a car and drove down to fetch me while I filled out worksheets in group therapy. I hadn’t told them much on the phone, so they were happy to arrive, finding me a little on the skinny side, but intact. It was in February. I don’t remember if my birthday got celebrated that month. In fact, I feel like there’s are vast swaths of “I can’t remember”, and I’m not really bothered by it.
The second semester of my freshman year, I was hospitalized for being suicidal.
It sounds awfully dramatic. It’s not like they’d found me in a bathtub full of pink water, or foaming at the mouth from an overdose. I was just suicidal. Left to my own devices, I probably would have locked the door to the room I shared with my roommate and made a go at my wrists (instead of comforting myself with cutting).
It only took me three and half years to get my B.S. in biochemistry. It’s not something I think about very often. You graduate from high school (2000) and four years later you have some manner of bachelor’s degree (2004). I never felt like an overachiever, just that I was playing catch-up, trying to get things back on their natural course. The trip to the hospital, everything that happened after, was just kind of a hiccup in the scheme of things.
I can’t say when it–the depression–started. I knew when the cutting started. In high school I was a goth and I used to show off my neat little rows of red. Completely lame, I know, but there came a point where I stopped doing it because my friends were doing it, and did it because I liked it. It was like the ancient art of bleeding, draining out the bad blood; or just evening things up, getting enough bad on the outside to match my inside.
I’m fairly certain that I was a bit queer and melancholy as a child, more suited to Edward Gorey than sunshine. At least, that’s how I felt. Looking back, I’m not really what sure my parents could have done to help me. Giving children (and teenagers) psychiatric medications is tricky business, and finding a decent therapist a crap shoot. It’s not that I wasn’t happy either. Depression doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as happiness for you. I just felt different, strange, always painfully shy, not understanding how to act with a group of children. Not that I know what to do in crowds now. I had a lovely little wedding with only close family at my sister’s house, and I still felt awkward.
The hormonal changes of being a teenager was like giving that strangeness a shot of steroids. No wonder I became fast friends with cutting. To this day, my hips are littered with scars. Ever practical, I opted for somewhere less visible than my arms (where I sometimes see scars on strangers). Shopping for swimsuits does give me a bit of trouble.
It was probably that plodding sense of practicality that led me to mumble my desire to die to my friend. On that fateful day when I was hospitalized for being suicidal, I pulled out my insurance card when the nurse asked if I had a plan. There was that awkward moment when she clarified, “No, to kill yourself,” and I mumbled something about slitting my wrists.
I was aware, prior to my stay at the hospital, that something wasn’t normal. I’d even been to a therapist who sat behind a desk and made me feel uncomfortable while I fiddled with these toys on her desks, the kind with the little steel ball in it. We never really got anywhere when it came to dealing my feelings. Instead I would check off lists in Seventeen and come to the conclusion that: yes, this was a problem.
There was a lot to learn when I got home from the hospital. I spent months reading in bed with my cat. I spent a week with my sister. What I remember the most was creeping by her husband’s study while he sat inside reading Barron’s. I don’t think he said a single word to me the entire time I was there. Not that I knew what to say to him, or to anyone really.
I had a psychiatrist who worked in a mental hospital, who talked to me about books and prescribed me some different meds when I told him that I thought the Paxil was making me crazier. I had a therapist I had to drive forty-five minutes and make one hair-raising left turn to see. I liked them both a lot. Now, over ten years later, I realize that the people at the hospital had carefully selected both of these people to help me, and they knew what they were doing.
I can’t say I’m sad to be in my thirties. My twenties felt like a constant struggle, making lists of things I could do that would make me feel better and trying to cross them off. Switching meds. Trying to find someone to see. I’ve always had crap luck finding people on my own. I’ve been told I was depressed because my life had no meaning (after I said I was an existentialist) and I didn’t need medication (just a baby, a husband, another degree, who knows). I’ve had therapists who were just nice but better suited for small children. I went to an appointment for a psychiatrist only to discover another woman was slated to see him at the same time (he was running an hour late and I started chit-chatting with people in the waiting room to see if this was the norm). I was given paperwork to fill out while the woman went to see him. Clearly, I was another fee to wring out of an insurance company, and not a patient, so I left.
I stopped taking my meds about a year ago and was forced to admit that I’m altogether a more pleasant person on Wellbutrin. Not that the trade-off was worth it for me. The past few weeks have been rough. It seems, about once or twice a year, I find myself immobilized by that same numbness, unable to do much more than read (I can’t write when I’m depressed; I often wonder if people who claim sorrow for a muse really know what it feels like). Sometimes I would mix it up, and lay on the dog and read, or read upstairs. Obligations gnaw at the back of my brain like an angry ferret (I’ve been reading Harry/Draco slash I’m ashamed to admit–it seems I’m partial to the angst/romance ones with a mature rating) and I’m happy to let them, to flip on Bravo’s Housewives and cozy up with my netbook and give myself another head ache.
Dealing with depression isn’t really about being happy or unhappy, it’s learning to crawl out from under it when it does decide to bitch slap you. It’s not letting the knowledge that you’re going to have to do it again prevent you from acting. It’s knowing you failed yesterday but this day you’re going to do better. It’s knowing you can hide in a book or a bottle for a few days, but after that you need to get your shit together. It’s knowing that you can’t pick up a razor blade again, but maybe if you write about it, it will help. It’s knowing that a moment will come that will make it all worthwhile for you.
In the end it’s always stupid shit that makes me happy. My husband sitting down in the room where I always write to take off his boots after work so he can talk to me. Going over to see my sister and her kids and their puppy and planting roses. My dog losing his shit over a Jollyball because bulldogs have a thing about balls, especially Jollyballs. My friends checking in on me. The fact that I have perfected making meatloaf. The fact that even if I bawled and had a couple of beers, I still wrote about this. Knowing that even though my parents will never talk to me about me being suicidal or get over it, we can still bullshit about dahlias and grilling.
I know it’s odd to say it, but this is lovely. The older I get, the more I believe the ‘stupid shit’ is all we have to give us a visceral feeling of participation and presence in life. It’s the craft skills, the dishes, the physical acts, the kids trying to outreason you so they can get 2nd dessert as you tuck them into bed. I suspect those parts of life are what I’ll savor as I pass away… unless I’m being eaten by a lion or something. Young, ambitious me used to think this was goey sentimentality… but now I envision life not as a sprint through Las Vegas where you cut away distractions, but rather a jog in the country where the universe reports in, and I can practice presence and mindfulness.
I have no idea what depression is like, my own ‘special’ things merely combine to make me ridiculous and destructive, thank god. I’ve lost mentors and acquaintances to depression, which has left me shocked, then confused, then disgusted, then pissed. Without exception, these were amazing people who were suddenly just gone, as if they had quit an awesome boardgame halfway through and left the party.
It’s very challenging for a non-depressed person to have a clear-eyed perspective on what the depressed experience… I bet talking to civilians is super-annoying. I found this hyperboleandahalf post helpful to me as an outsider for framing the problem: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html
Isn’t this an odd world, where someone can feel awkward at her own wedding, and at the same time be revealed as the most graceful insightful tough-love nurturing soul when distilled down to the essence of word and thought.
Aw…I’m blushing now, and I want more of your stories to beta-read too.
Reading that Hyperbole and a Half comic I can relate to the sensation of feeling like a badger someone is trying to drag out of hole. It’s not an easy thing to explain either, because there’s this huge part of it that’s just bizarre, and you don’t understand it yourself, not how you got there nor what it is. It’s not something another person can fix either. You have to do it yourself, and in the meantime it’s just stupid and frustrating.
I don’t really think I have a corn moment. I just seemed to slip out of being depressed much like I slipped into being depressed. But life is weird, that’s for damn sure. Thanks for reading this and saying something nice. I don’t know–I can only process so much emotion at a time, and your comment (and your support) is kind of a big deal. It’s weird, because I’ll run away from the nice as much as I’ll run away from the bad. Brains are bizarre.
Wait, you majored in BIOCHEM?!! My uncle burned his books after he took that class, a required course for his degree in animal science. I always thought you’d majored in microbiology. Thinking back on it now, I suppose they’re maybe the same thing? I dunno! It’s all those times you’d be explaining mitochondrial DNA and cellular fission to me and I’d just be in this state of blissful unknowing. You were working something out at a very high level. I was just happy to be there.