I was twelve years old when my ‘best friend’ at the time looked me straight in the eyes and said, “the world would be a better place without you in it, why don’t you just kill yourself already?”
It wasn’t my first encounter with bullying, and not even the first encounter with bullying by someone close to me. Close friends in elementary school would act like my best friend forever one second, then be avoiding me as if I were a disease the next. It didn’t help that I was nine years old when the first volcanic bump destroyed my once perfect complexion. And only a short time later the bee stings on my chest grew into full grown oranges. The first to reach puberty, I was a prime target. What was worse – I had always been a tomboy, actively avoiding the norm, categorically opposed to anything that could be seen as conforming to my fellow students. Who better to tease than the outcast?
It honestly wasn’t even the first time I faced the concept of suicide. That same friend and I had met a year before, in 6th grade, and had become fast friends due to our shared childhood depression. At the age of 10, both of us had already considered ending our lives – who even knew a child so young could be so sad? But it happens. And at twelve and a half, after the ‘best friend’ stole a song I had written about my struggles with depression and the abusive friendship I had fallen into, I gave up on life for the first time, beaten down so hard that I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sitting in the hospital that first time. I still remember thinking “How am I here?” I was too young, the hospital was forced to put me into the teenage wing with people who struggled with anger and bipolar disorders. My roommate was cruel. Like the bullies in my classes, she criticized me and made me feel like nothing. I swore to myself – I will never come back to a place like this. I will use this experience to scare myself away from another suicide attempt. I must stay happy. I cannot return here.
And it worked. Until it didn’t anymore.
Sixteen years old. Fighting with my family. Struggling with who I was. Struggling with the definition of beautiful, the definition of family, what a friend really was, how to exist in a world that kept throwing me curveballs meant to knock me out. I met a boy. He made me feel like I was on the top of the world. He even asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. It was stupid, but it seemed like the universe had finally thrown out a buoy to help keep my head above water.
There were signs, friends had told me he was a bad guy, but to a confused 16year old, he was the light at the end of my tunnel. Until one day his eyes moved from me to my best friend, and my light extinguished, sending me falling full speed back into the deep dark tunnel of depression which I had faced all those years before. And again I was consumed, feeling so dark inside that I truly believed the words that have forever haunted me – “The world would be a better place without you in it.”
Deciding to end it all is not so much a conscious decision as it is the loss of the ability to decide anything anymore. That part of your soul that tells you everything will be okay disappears. It disappears, consumed by the darkness that manifests in the pain you feel by perceived difficulties. You break, not just with reality but with your soul. With the part of you which makes you ‘you’. Part of you tries to say ‘Look at all the people suffering in the world! Your life is so much better than theirs! You shouldn’t feel sad, feel happy you have it better!’ But comparing one struggle with another does not make the darkness disappear, it only amplifies the black hole consuming your soul. It bends the well meaning comparison, instead making you feel worse because you are so sad – ‘How can you be so selfish? How can you feel like your life is so bad when their’s is so much worse?’
Two days in the hospital, pieces of my soul began to scratch and claw their way far enough out of the deep dark hole for me to realize what I had done. But I was still in the hole; I still struggled to see the light. I threw myself into my studies. I resigned myself to the fact that this was not a one time battle. Depression doesn’t just disappear because you are too afraid to return to the hospital. Depression is a monster you cannot attack alone. You need help. You need an army. You need therapy. And you need to take it seriously this time. And if that means taking medicine, you are no less of a person by admitting you cannot fight this battle alone.
My army was my family. My therapist. My friends from group therapy. A daily regiment of antidepressants. But the head of my arm was my Carma. She had a sixth sense – if I was sad she knew I needed her. When I failed chemistry first year of university, she saved me – keeping me so distracted playing with her that I couldn’t spiral back into the deep hole I knew I would return to. When she got sick, a part of me died. The hole approached again, this time darker than ever. But she trained me well – I went to the doctor, I asked for help, I knew it made me no less of a person to acknowledge that I cannot fight the monster that is depression alone.
When she died, I nearly broke again. But this time I had my army. This time I had the techniques I learned. This time I knew how to slay the monster. This time I knew how to ask for help.
Depression is not a one time battle, it is an epic which continues every second of every day. Those fighting the battle constantly worry – am I lesser of a person? What if people find out? How will their opinion change? If I speak out, will it affect my ability to get a job? To get into school? To make friends? And honestly, thats why I’ve never said anything. But here is the reality: depression cannot be found behind closed doors. It cannot be closeted; you cannot deny it exists for fear that people will see you differently because of it.
In a battle alone, the monster will overwhelm you. It will beat you down, crush you into a million pieces until you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror. Alone, the battle is near impossible to win. But with the help of friends, of doctors, of medicine, of an army of your own – the monster loses all its power. It shrinks, diminished by the light emitted from the love of friends and family, by the neurological benefits of antidepressants. It loses its control, and while it never goes away completely – it becomes a tiny portion of your daily struggle.
Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would make my struggle – and all the others who battle extreme depression every day – a pre-existing condition, one worthy enough for insurance companies to charge us higher premiums. This move means people who struggle every day to convince themselves life is worth living will now also struggle with the reality that their disease means they must pay thousands more for healthcare premiums than under the ACA. This is essentially telling everyone suffering from severe depression: ‘Hey, you are sick? You are struggling? Well, too bad. On top of forcing yourself to get out of bed every day, you now have to worry about finding thousands of dollars more to be insured. You want that medicine that keeps you sane? You want to be covered for those doctors visits? Well, you gotta pay!” And if you don’t think this is going to be the push that drives people off the cliff, you are sorely mistaken.
No one should have to worry about whether they can go to the doctor. No one with a mental disease should have to worry whether they can afford the very medicine that keeps them off the cliff. No one should have to pay more because their body chemistry makes them different than ‘normal’ people. What the House has done is atrocious – and it will mean the loss of lives if this passes the Senate too. Many more lives than they currently expect.
I have always struggled with telling people about my disease. I know people will look at me differently; I know it will change how people see my pretty-much-painted-on-smile (which is a coping mechanism, for those who may not know). But I am tired of the US Congress throwing around policies that severely affect people like me. I am tired of people assuming things they do not understand about those with depression. I am tired of everything – and I’m ready to speak out.