If you asked me what was going through my mind on that fateful day on March 28, 2016, I couldn’t really explain it. I wish that I could make sense of my own actions, and understand why I reached for the bottle of pills, but no matter how many times I run through that day, recounting my actions to countless therapists, psychiatrists, friends, and family, I simply cannot make sense of it. The only thing I can do is try to move forward.
Depression is a disease, not a feeling. “I’m so depressed” is a common expression that we use to express that we are sad, but in reality that “feeling” doesn’t even come close to the experience of clinical depression. I’m not sure I can put into words what clinical depression is actually like, or if it could ever be fully explained to someone who has been blessed enough to never experience it. There is a Ted Talk on depression by Andrew Solomon (I have placed it at the bottom of my post and strongly recommend watching), and if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, there is a particular quote that strikes me as the easiest way to explain the feeling:
I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, “but I’d have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it,” and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.
I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until the summer before my freshman year of college, although I had most likely been suffering from it on and off since the beginning of high school. Looking back, I always vaguely wondered if something was off, but I just figured I was just your typical stressed, lonely, and burnt out high school student, and that there wasn’t anything that I needed to fix. It wasn’t until my amazing best friend pointed out to me during one of our 3 am sleepover talks that the struggle I found to get out of bed every morning was very indicative of depression that I started to recognize the signs.
Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety was only somewhat helpful. That summer was difficult in many ways, but was also full of excitement and fun, and I ignored what needed to be treated. I saw a psychologist 4 times, promised that I would set up an appointment with the psychologist at Santa Clara University as soon as I arrived. With all the excitement that freshman year, a loving boyfriend, a new sorority, and new friends brought me, my symptoms began to subside and I ignored the problem.
After the end of fall quarter, my symptoms began to return, worse than they ever were before. Being away from home was stressful, especially because I didn’t have a great relationship with my roommate, and wasn’t friends with a single person on my floor, and only a small handful of people in my entire dorm, while everyone else seemed to love their floor as if they were a family. Because home was so close, I found myself constantly going back to avoid my own personal hell at school, which only alienated me further from my school friends, and put pressure on my boyfriend to always be available to hang out with me.
At first, I started pouring all of my energy into my schoolwork, always using the fact that I “had to study” as an excuse for not going out with the rest of my friends. Towards the end of the quarter, one of my professors, whose class I had a 99% in at the time, accused me of cheating, and I snapped. I had been working so hard at school, and was clinging to that one area of success in my life to keep me going, when suddenly that success was pulled from beneath my feet. I hadn’t cheated, but the professor had the liberty to punish me however she chose, ranging from failing me in the assignment to failing me in the course, and took over a week to tell me her final decision. At this point, I was crushed, and gave up on school. I stopped going to classes. I no longer found satisfaction from studying, or completing assignments, because what if my other professors thought I was cheating too? In one of my classes I had to write an essay, and stared at the prompt in the library for hours, wrote only a paragraph, and never turned it in. The most eye-opening symptom was my inability to sit and focus on watching a show on Netflix if I didn’t have the subtitles running. If I wasn’t also reading along, I easily lost focus on the show that I was watching for entertainment. Winter quarter came to an end, and I feared the release of my final grades, hating myself for my inability to work, but also unable to find that work ethic within me.
On March 28, 2016, the day before the spring quarter at my college began, overwhelmed by my depression, anxiety, the state of my relationships, and the grades I had received for the previous quarter, I took an attempt on my own life. I struggled internally as to whether or not I wanted to include that fact in this blog post. To be honest, I don’t know how many people actually know what happened, and while I would like to think that it is my story to tell and no one else’s, I also realize that a suicide attempt really is too juicy to not share with others. That split-second decision that I made to harm myself changed my life forever, my path that I had been headed down, and many of my relationships. It was unfortunate, but it also opened my eyes to the help that I needed, and in receiving my help I have learned many lessons about both myself and others on my path to happiness that I would be selfish to not share with others.
Lesson #1: Your family will really always be there for you
My family came through for me in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined, and not just my immediate family. When I was in the hospital, my parents were stuck in Palm Springs and couldn’t get to me, so my aunt dropped everything to come and be with me. My cousins called and visited me whenever they could, even if it was inconvenient, always checking up on me, or sending me goofy snaps to make me laugh and remember what a good time was like. Another aunt called me and talked to me, giving me advice on her experiences, and my Grandpa called every day for about two weeks, not expecting anything from me other than to let me know that he loved me and ask me how my days were going. My brothers are loving, tip toeing around me when they need to, but being brutally honest in a way that most people aren’t with me anymore (even if I don’t want to hear it). Family is stuck with your for life, and they will never abandon you, so if you are ever in a crisis, know that no matter what they will always love you.
Lesson #2: Your true friends will always be there for you, too
I’ve always believed that I struggle with making friends, mostly because my low self esteem prevents me from believing that people like me. But the number of people that
reached out to me, ranging from old middle school friends to girls I barely knew in college, made me realize that the people you deserve in your life will end up there. Stressing about which group of friends are right for you isn’t worth the drama, if you just be yourself the right people will come along, and you will know they are there for you when they stick with you through it all.
Lesson #3: Your self worth is not defined by the relationships that you have
The day after I got out of the hospital, my boyfriend of about a year came over to visit me, was very quiet, and then broke up with me before he left. I’m not trying to paint a negative picture of him, there were a lot of things that led up to that moment, and my mental health was not making being in a relationship with me very easy. He was getting ready for big changes in his life, heading to the next step, and I was too much to handle. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but that breakup has been the hardest part about my experience, and continues to be a struggle for me every day, but the biggest lesson I have learned from it is that your self worth is not defined by someone else. You can never be happy as long as you are depending on someone else to make you so. Happiness does not come from your relationships, it comes from you. But if you allow yourself to be happy for you, then the relationships that you need will fall into place.
Lesson #4: A little kindness goes a long way
This is true for both yourself and others. As a perfectionist, I tend to beat myself up when I make a mistake and am constantly hard on myself. Consciously taking the time to be kind and forgiving to myself has made an enormous impact on my life, and it’s such a small step. Be proud of yourself, pat yourself on the back for something as simple as making your bed, or eating breakfast, and work on your relationship with yourself.
This also rings true in your interactions with others. As someone who has walked around with a grey cloud on their head, I can promise that you don’t know what anyone is really going through, but spreading a little kindness to everyone you encounter can leave a positive impact on their life, whether or not you ever know it. Try not to spread that gossip that you heard, subtweet that girl that you can’t stand anymore, or prank call someone because you think it’s a “joke.” Snap judgments are everybody’s worst enemy, and instead of assuming your worst, try to assume the best. Working in the food service industry, I try my hardest to treat every customer with a positive attitude and a smile, even if they are rude to me. Sometimes people are just having a rough day, but if you have the opportunity to do even the smallest thing to turn it around for them, you should take it! You could change someone’s day, or even someone’s life, by something as simple as a smile.
Lesson #5: Animals really are a source of therapy
Getting my kitten Bailey was one of the greatest things that has happened to me this year, and here’s why: I have to take care of her. Yes, bringing home the cutest, fluffiest, squeakiest, 10 week old 2 pound bundle of joy was an amazing experience, and her purring and playfulness bring joy into my day, but the greatest gift that Bailey gives me is her dependency. Looking at her and realizing that I am responsible for her, that she needs me to feed her, give her water, and raise her, is an incredible feeling. She gives me a reason to get out of bed every day, because she is a growing kitten and needs her breakfast (and having a kitten attack your toes until you get up and feed her is enough to wake up anybody).
I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. I am taking it slow, one baby step at a time, working my way back towards complete functionality. Thanks to all of the therapy and support I have received, some day soon I am confident that I will be ready for whatever life throws my way. As long as I keep working on myself, and what I need to do to feel okay again, that is all that matters. I went through so many days feeling so alone, but I now understand that it is impossible to be completely isolated, which brings me to my next and final lesson:
Lesson #6: Someone cares about you
If you are struggling, don’t know how to get out of bed every day, and don’t know how to get the help you need, even if you believe no one cares about you, I do. When I was deep in my depression, and didn’t know anyone that understood me, I read through my Big’s blog and found a post similar to this one, and I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t read it and reached out to her. Please, do not be afraid to reach out to me, we could have met for half a second, shared one class together freshman year of high school, or never even have met at all, it doesn’t matter; I care about you and I am here for you, just as so many people were and still are here for me. Depression is a disease that is a burden to carry, because of the stigma that surrounds it in our society, but I understand and I am here to help. Everybody deserves to receive the help that they need.
Lots of Love,
p.s. here is the Ted talk that I mentioned earlier 🙂