For weeks, I’ve tried so many ways to start this piece for our September issue of “Normal.” I tried saying point blank that I’ve suffered from depression on and off for the past three years. I tried using clever devices to talk about depression – theories I read about, family history, events in my life, like this one time I was at the after party of a writers conference, cried in the bathroom, saw my friends dancing in a ballroom with sharp spotlights roaming the space between their heads and the ceiling, and ran away scared out of my mind they’d notice how unhappy I was. (They were drunk out of their minds and wouldn’t have noticed a thing.) Or that one time, two years ago, when I cried for four and a half hours straight in my room. I sat on my bed and stared at the wall across from me and cried my goddamn eyes out for absolutely no reason other than my heart and lungs were so weighted it felt like they held concrete instead of blood and oxygen.
Actually, I only stared and cried at the wall for two and a half hours until I realized I wasn’t crying at a wall – I was crying at a poster of Aly & AJ. I’d had that poster in my room since the 8th grade. I was riding the school bus in a seat with duct tape for fabric when a friend of mine folded the sheet in half, because from the arms down, it could’ve been two women kissing, hilarious by my thirteen-year-old standards, when it was really the two sisters in a close embrace smiling at the camera like they were posing for a picture at the carnival. I couldn’t cry at that poster anymore. Whoever I told this story to would be taken out of the gravity of the situation if I told them I cried for so long in front of a poster of a pop duo I never listened to. So I turned to the ceiling and cried for another two hours. Then, I wrote a short story about a character who is – surprise, surprise – depressed. This all happened from ten at night to four-thirty in the morning.
I could’ve expanded on these events to illustrate what I’ve been through, but the writing never came together. Family could be used as a device. Depression isn’t an illness that is new to the women in my family. My mother liked to tell stories. She talked about my grandmother in admiration and disgust. I heard the admiration in stories of standing up to men and getting into bar fights. The disgust came with the abuse and the stepfather. My mother went through the trials and tribulations of her youth like a war veteran and would usually end with a summation like, “Your grandmother should’ve never been a mother,” or, “I think she was schizophrenic,” or, “Maybe that’s why I swallowed all those pills on my 17th birthday.” The same rogue DNA that connected my grandmother’s neurons and synapses in mismatched angles, DNA that told my mother to swallow those pills, is in me.
Still the writing was as misshapen as my genetics. I diverted my attention onto the Writing Process Blog Tour and answered some of those questions. One of them was, “What are you working on?” I thumbed through mental files of stories I’d been more or less avoiding for the past two weeks and noticed a pattern in my protagonists – they focused on how they were born.
I’ve been dealing with the idea of being born “wrong.” It’s a concept people don’t want to talk about because nobody wants to hear they’ve been born “wrong.” They want to be fixed, so they go to therapy and take prescribed pills at their scheduled times. In my bouts of depression, I avoided such luxuries. It was my problem, and I would solve it. One day. In the meantime, I slept.
Sleep was the perfect loophole because I didn’t feel anything, yet I was still technically alive. I could still be a living, breathing person and not have to daydream about driving kitchen knives up and down my arms like crayons. The only flaw with sleep was at one point I had to wake up.
During my bouts, I’d lose my appetite and lose upwards of six pounds in two or three days, and lie in bed asleep or near sleep. Then, I’d force food down my throat and remind myself to shower, because if I didn’t shower, friends and family would know something was wrong with me.
There’s that word again – “wrong.” Depression is a mental illness, a disease of the mind, but we don’t take sick days because of depression or schizophrenia or anxiety. If a person is mentally ill, society doesn’t see that person as sick and in need of help, they see that person as “wrong,” like a bad answer. This idea of wrong is why we keep our mouths shut.
It’s another reason why I avoided therapy in the past, because I believed I wasn’t sick, but that I was wrong. Something went wrong in my DNA, therefore my depression couldn’t be fixed, cured, or obliterated by drugs. It was sewn into my bones.
I’ve never self-medicated. Friends of mine drank, some snorted, got baked, but I could never afford it. And suicide? Out of the question. Depressed or not, I was, am, and always will be a stubborn bastard. If I was put on this Earth, it wasn’t to blow over 20 years of living by way of a noose. Of course, if some kind of external incident such as a car crash or intergalactic spoon were to hit me from the street or sky respectively, those are situations out of my control.
I tried distractions. A couple years back, I filled my semester as much as I could – classes, volunteering at festivals, friends – no go. Still depressed. Still entertaining thoughts of shoving pins and needles into my legs like stuffing in a turkey. During the festivals and friends, I seriously considered cutting.
There’s a theory that if a part of you hurts, you cause a nerve sensation in the same area or elsewhere on your body and the initial orifice hurts less. It’s why we rub our toes after stubbing them. The sensation of rubbing takes your brain’s attention away from the pain of stubbing it. Through this logic, I reasoned the way to make the thoughts in my head hurt less was to cause another sensation of pain on my body – cutting.
I came to this conclusion one day in the shower. If I was going to cut, I had to do it right then and there. The sharpest object near me was a razor, cliché, but convenient.
My mother’s voice rang in my ears. “Before the pills, I started with the razor. It took forever to break the skin.”
I didn’t want to kill myself though, just cut. I sat in the tub, water pounding my ears and neck and back and dripping down my face and sliding down my hair like sweat. I held the razor in a firm grip and hacked at my leg – arms were too noticeable. I never wore shorts. No one would know.
They especially wouldn’t know if I couldn’t break through the skin. I hacked like a goddamn lumberjack, but the razor wouldn’t go through, so I hacked harder and harder, gritting my teeth and squeezing my eyes, almost snarling in frustrating. Two minutes later, a tiny rip formed, a perfect red line of hard work. Did I pat myself on the back? Did I lie back in reverie as water dragged the blood down my leg into the drain?
No. It stung like hell.
I threw the razor and checked the cut and, yep, it was a cut. I cut myself, and it did nothing. I expected a mix of pain and relief. I got the pain, but not the relief.
I felt robbed. Before, I was depressed. Now, I was depressed with a cut on my leg small enough to go unnoticed but big enough to sting for the next three days. Lifetime movie specials fooled me – cutting was a big rip-off.
Here’s where I tell you how I found some miracle solution to my depression that cured my mental ailments forever. I went to therapy where an understanding man or woman “totally got me,” and helped me to become “normal” again. No such thing has ever happened. The months between the bouts are crisp and clear. I can get out of bed and eat breakfast and go outside without a heavy weight in the pit of my chest, but the bouts themselves come and go as they please. They can last one week, three weeks, or upwards of two months, and while I know it’s a sickness and that I should try to break down its stigma, a part of me can’t help but think perhaps something really is wrong in me.
So I wrote about it. About a month ago, the same character from my depression story, the same character I created after crying two years ago across from that damn Aly & AJ poster, popped into my head, waved, and said, “Let’s do this.” I wrote about her childhood, of being born “wrong,” and a surprising thing happened – it helped. My character resolved there was nothing “wrong” with her. She was just made a little differently from everybody else. There is nothing wrong in that, and this is what I’m becoming accustomed to. I have to remind myself I have not been born wrong. There is nothing wrong with being depressed. My DNA is not a burden, and from here on out, I refuse to be told otherwise.