I never thought I’d live to see my 20th birthday.
When I was young, it was because 20 is so old. I’d have wrinkles and a job, and I would probably be in a nursing home by then, at least. When you’re 7, that seems rational.
As I got deeper into my teens, it was because I was absolutely certain I would have succumbed to depression by then.
It wasn’t your storybook depression, either. I wasn’t confined to my bed, I didn’t stop doing the things that I loved, I didn’t talk about death. But when I was alone, I cried. I constantly felt like I was in a heavy fog that wouldn’t lift and even when I laughed, it was hollow. Nothing was easy and nothing was genuine. It was so heavy that, looking back now, it’s hard to remember specific details of just about anything that has happened in my life since 8th grade. I remember events, I remember faces, but I don’t remember specifics--what the air smelled like or what I was feeling. Probably because I wasn’t really feeling anything.
Depression is not beautiful. It is not appealing. What depression is is attentive and persistent. It’s a needy boyfriend. Depression looks over your shoulder and walks to class with you. Depression lasts so long that you forget how you ever lived without it, and it’s scary to think about who you'll be without it.
There weren’t a lot of days I wanted to die, but I can’t remember a day in the past six years that I truly wanted to live. That’s not to say there weren’t good days. Absolutely there were. But even at the end of those days, where I felt this pseudo-happiness, I would still go to bed hoping to not wake up the next morning, because that would be the perfect way for my existence to end. When the weather was nice, I thought, “This is the kind of weather I’d want for my funeral.” And when it was stormy, I thought, “This would be the perfect weather to die in--it would make a good metaphor.” It was like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.
And I never had a reason to be depressed. I have always had friends, a family who loves and cares for me and have excelled at nearly all of the things I have really put my heart into.
But that’s the thing: Depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re 16, 25, 42, 67. It doesn’t care if there’s nothing “wrong.” Depression truly does not care.
I remember, specifically, one night praying to God to just let me go.
“I’m not even asking for anything. I’m asking to take something away--to make your job easier. Hell, I’ll even help you out with things up there.”
I remember the night I drove out to the middle of the country, to some badlands just tall and steep enough that, if you gathered the nerve to jump, it would undoubtedly be fatal. My best friend called as I was sitting there, “just to say 'hi.'”
I remember holding a handful of leftover painkillers from shoulder surgery for hours before finally throwing them in my mouth. I spit them out before I swallowed because I thought about my younger cousins and my aunt having to explain to them what happened. I thought about my dad and my mom and my sisters. My grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Both of these were halfhearted suicide attempts, and I don’t think I ever had the intent to follow through. More often than not, it was not wearing a seat belt or driving too fast. It was not going to the doctor when I knew something was wrong and not looking one way, let alone both, before crossing the street.
I don’t remember everything about those moments where I was at my darkest, but I do remember how I felt. I remember thinking that the only way to ditch the literal physical ache I was feeling was to end my life. There was no other option, because it was all-encompassing and it was dark.
I don’t know what changed or why. But suddenly, a few weeks ago, starting on my 20th birthday--the one I never thought I would reach--I’ve been happy. The sunny afternoons, pennies on the sidewalk and baristas who accidentally make me a large, even though I paid for a small, are enough. Piles of warm laundry and sunny days and babies’ laughter is enough.
I swear to you, colors are brighter and flowers smell better and hugs feel better, too. My chest doesn’t get tight because I’m forcing a laugh. I wake up and want to be awake. I want to go to work and I want to go to the lake and I want to cook dinner. I want to sing and dance and do laundry. I want to brush my hair and floss my teeth and I don’t stay up until 3 a.m., staring at a bottle of pain pills, knowing that even if I took all 38 of them, they wouldn’t even begin to dull the pain in the pit of my stomach, but wanting to give it a shot, anyway. Thunderstorms make me happy because I get to smell the rain, not because it’s a metaphor for how I feel.
I always thought there would be this drastic turning point or some grand gesture, but it’s almost more humbling that. Just as suddenly as it came on, it has gone away. I’m so thankful today that God didn’t answer six years' worth of prayers.
And now I know there’s something so much bigger than myself going on and I believe now that there’s a reason I am here.
There are a lot of people, though, who never admit they're struggling and don’t ever find this new, somewhat strange, normal that I have. Stop telling yourself that what you’re facing “isn’t a big deal,” or “I should be able to handle this.” There is no should. If you're struggling, you're struggling. If it's difficult, it's difficult.
I think there were people along the way who kind of knew what was going on, but nobody ever addressed it or said it directly. Depression and suicide are always swept under the rug, but even when they are, remember what you’re feeling is valid. There are people who love you, regardless, I promise. When you’re in that fog, you can’t see it, but they’re there. There are people who care. There are people--more than you can imagine--that can’t wait to see you get better. Look for it in random phone calls and messages asking how you're really doing. Look for it in "I hope tomorrow is better," and a hug that lasts a few extra seconds. There are people who will go out of their way to check on you, both directly and indirectly, and they'll do it consistently. And to these people in my life, “thank you” is just a sampling of the gratitude I have for you.
I’ve always genuinely thought everybody has a story worth telling, and for the first time, I’m realizing that I do, too. And so do you.