*Possible Trigger Warning*
This is my first post about my personal demons, and my heart is pounding frantically in my chest as I push the “Publish” button. Through all my blustering about how I want to share my struggle with the world in order to help remove the negative stigma surrounding mental illness, it is still terrifying to actually put my life out into the open. And that is what I’m doing; I am pulling off my mask and ripping open my soul to the world.
It’s extremely difficult to put a timeline on my depression as I have felt isolated from the world and my surroundings since I was a young child. I vaguely remember being energetic and happy, but then waking up the next day feeling utterly exhausted and defeated. That became my normal state of being from that point on. Do you remember in Wizard of Oz where Glinda the Good Witch arrived as a pretty pink bubble that magically shimmered away and she emerged? That was how I felt all the time like I was in that bubble but it never shimmered away. I could see out of it, touch people through it, but it felt like I was watching everything and everyone pass me by without another thought to me pounding against the walls of my bubble and screaming to be freed.
My Family’s Influence
I am the middle daughter of three girls and I was always the quiet one – the obedient and helpful child. My older sister was fighting demons of her own, while my younger sister was in and out of the hospital due to severe asthma. My father was often away with military exercises and the various other organizations he was involved in thus leaving my mother largely alone to handle the chaos. During this time, she was also facing problems at the school where she taught and was going to school, herself, to get her master’s degree in Creative Writing. She was handling my little sister and her hospital stays on top of the many eruptions of temper from my big sister. Everything she was having to deal with was too much for one person to handle. That was where I came into the picture.
As I was always so willing to jump in and help my mom anytime she asked, or even before she had to, she often turned to me to help keep her head above water. I loved it when she asked for help because that meant she actually saw me within my bubble and that I really did exist. The only problem was that I was roughly seven or eight years old with an adult relying on me more and more for strength and help. I was so tiny and barely able to function as a person; yet, my mom was leaning on me. I don’t blame her at all because she was desperately seeking relief and needing that helping hand no matter who it was that offered. Not only do I not blame her, I’m damn proud of her for being able to push through, getting that master’s degree and writing a novel in the process. What she did was the epitome of strength and tenacity.
Of course, that didn’t help my situation back then. After she got her degree, little sister’s asthma was stabilized, and her work situation evened out she was able to breathe a bit easier. Big sister was still struggling with her demons which made it very chaotic in our house. To say she had a terrible temper would be a vast understatement. Her eruptions were just that – eruptions. Screaming and slamming things around were regular occurrences. When we were older, she was left home alone with little sister and me when our parents had appointments. That anger she kept inside was turned onto me, which lead to a mildly abusive situation. No matter how many times I told my parents that big sister was hurting me, they continued to leave me alone with her. Looking back on it from an adult’s perspective, they could have chosen to ignore it simply out of necessity as money was tight and they might not have been able to afford a babysitter. Regardless of their reasons, it created a very deep rift between my sister and me that still exists to this day. My parents tried everything they could think of to help her, including taking her to a psychiatrist for several years, but nothing worked. It was a complete nightmare.
By the time I was ten years old, I was having severe stomach pains so bad that I couldn’t stand up straight. My parents thought I was faking to get out of going to school, which to be fair I did often, so they didn’t take it seriously. It was only after I persistently complained of stomach aches that they took me to the doctor. At ten years old I was diagnosed with having an ulcer. I was given medication for the stomach pains and was sent on my way. At no time did the doctor or my parents have the discussion about the possibility that I was suffering from depression.
I was always a shy child. When I started preschool, my teacher thought I didn’t know how to talk yet because I didn’t say a word to anyone. It took me two weeks to finally open up enough to start making friends and trust that my teacher was okay. I often felt paralyzed as a child, unable to say hello to other kids because the terror of rejection was so strong in me. For years I desperately wanted to be noticed and accepted, to have a lot of friends like everyone else in my class had. It took me a long time to find comfort in my own solitude. I was so used to being invisible with my family, that it soon became second nature to become invisible to my peers as well.
I did have friends, a few close friends that I adored spending time with and sharing laughs. I also grew up next door to a family that had three girls of about the same age as my sisters and I. We were extremely close and played together almost every day. I just couldn’t connect with anyone outside of my own tiny circle. The few times I did reach out, I was mocked and made fun of so I just stopped trying. Honestly, it was far better to be invisible than to be regularly bullied. Kids can be really mean as they typically don’t have the ability to feel much empathy.
The isolation only got worse when I reached high school. The few friends I had were a year behind me so my freshman year was extremely lonely. I wanted to talk to my big sister, as we were both in high school at the time, but she wanted nothing to do with me. She was a senior so she could not lower herself to be seen spending time with a tiny freshman. The next few years did get better and I still see my junior year as the best year of my young life. I had good friends, I was captain of the flag corps team in marching band, I had a really hot boyfriend from another school, and I just felt like everything I had ever wanted was falling directly into my lap. Unfortunately, as with all things, it did not last.
A month into my junior year I got sick with mono. I missed the rest of my first semester and had to be home-schooled. There were days in there that I tried to go to school, but I felt so exhausted by the end of it that I decided it was too much to handle and stayed home. My doctor finally mentioned the possibility that my slow recovery was due to depression, but nothing was ever done about it. So I went back to my life that was slowly starting to crumble away.
photography by Anders Krisàr
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE