I always try and keep my darkness off of social media and the blog. Sometimes, I slip up and it ends up seeping though.
So, let's start from the beginning. I want to first and foremost say that I am not writing this post to be "trendy" nor am I writing this post to expose myself to everyone here on the internet...but it's true. In light of Robin Williams dying and a bunch of other celebrities talking about their struggle with depression, it was time to share mine. This is not the full story, but maybe I will write a book one day.
I have severe clinical depression and panic disorder.
I think I have talked about this before on the blog but never in depth, which is what I am going to do today.
So we need to start from the beginning. Flash to 1997, when I was 11 years old. One day it just felt like a switch was turned from the on position to the off position. My mom immediately started sending me to counseling. I don't remember a lot from the years of 1997-2000. I just remember being bullied a lot, switching schools, and feeling ashamed about the fact I went to therapy. I think I stopped going in 1999.
I was okay for a while. I just kind of floated by and made sure I stayed focused on school.
Then the worst thing that could ever happen in my teenage life had happened. My dad walked out on my mom, sister, brother, and me. That was the beginning of the worst time in my life. I remember my mom sitting me and my siblings down and trying to explain that daddy wasn't coming back. My brother and sister were 7 and 4. I also remember picking up a safety pin and cutting into my wrist while she was talking. I don't remember a lot from that day, but I do remember the self-harm that inflicted on myself made me feel better somehow. I spent the rest of the year cutting superficially and hiding it from my family and friends.
2001 started out just like every other year: complete disappointment. I still was self-harming and hiding it from everyone I knew. But I know that they knew somehow. I don't think I did a good job hiding it as I thought I did. My most vivid memory from that time was writing a story about suicide and having the teacher question if I had any problems. I told him no. In Feb 2001, everything about my life changed within a second. I still was self-harming. Apparently, my friends went to the school principal and counselor and told them what I was doing. I was pulled out of my last class of the day to meet with "some people." When I went into the principal's office, two police officers were standing next to my principal and my counselor. The police officers told me to pull up my sleeves and show them my arms. When they saw the marks, they put me under a Chapter 51 hold which meant that I had to go get a psychiatric evaluation and be put under the care of the hospital for at least 72 hours.
The ride to the hospital was in a police car. I had never been in one and never have been since. It was terrifying and embarrassing being taken out to a marked police car in front of all of my peers. The doctors at the hospital told me that I was a threat to myself and that I needed to be put in this 72-hour hold for my own good. There was no way around it. I couldn't tell them that I would stop self-harming and I couldn't tell them that I wanted to go home. The hospital was my home now. I couldn't even have my blanket that I slept with every night in fear that I would have hanged myself with it.
The next two days were pretty much a blur. I still had classes but with a tutor, I had to go to group meetings, and do team building exercises. My family could visit during visitation hours. It was literally the worst time of my life. I told the doctors that I would stop self-harming and I told them that I would never do it again. I told them that I was okay and that I wanted to go home. They wouldn't let me. I felt trapped more so than ever before. I remember my brother coming into see me. He was 8 and understood more than my sister did. I remember him telling me that his favorite comedy movie to watch was Scream. I don't remember why, but I laughed and laughed. I made friends with some of the patients, but now after 13 years I cannot remember who they were or what their names were. I think its better that I blocked that out of my life. I do remember asking if I could go home after 2 days...and I think I got to. I remember surprising my grandma because she thought I was coming home a day later.
I stopped self-harming for a while after that. I was embarrassed to say I had been in a psych unit because of my depression and suicidal tendencies. I never wanted to kill myself, I just wanted to stop feeling so much.
A month and a half later, the worst day of my life happened. My grandmother who was pretty much a second mom to me said she didn't feel good. She ended up going to the hospital that night in an ambulance. Two days later she died. Grandma Louise died of blood poisoning and it was very sudden. Again my life was crumbling under me. 2001 was one of the hardest years of my life. Trying to rebuild my relationships with people I didn't trust (my friends, father, and teachers) was difficult. I kept myself very guarded in that sense. I only opened up to a therapist.
In high school, I found somewhere where it could be my oasis: theater. I joined the theater the end of my freshman year because of a boy. Yes, I can admit it now, I did makeup to be closer to him, the funny thing is even though he never liked me, and he made my life that much better. I could say I have him to thank for theater, but I won't...that's giving him WAY too much credit. I haven't spoke to him in years. He's bald now. It's okay.
Besides still being teased, called "cow" every day by bullies, and getting chewed gum threw into my backpack, what got me through each day was knowing that I could go to my makeup room, be appreciated for something I was good at and have real friends. I did theater the rest of my high school career. It probably was the one thing that kept me going. I had ups and downs just like normal high schoolers. I still went to therapy every week per doctors orders and was on a regular regimen of anti-depression medication.
College was the next time that I remember my depression spiraling out of control. Being alone away from family was a hard transition. I was still doing theater but it wasn't as fun as it was in high school. I didn't get to do makeup, just costuming and I just wasn't that happy doing that. I never was good at sewing. I stayed busy just like every other underclassman. My campus was hella small so everyone knew everyone and I guess I could say that I was "popular" for the first time in my life. I went to keggers and had boyfriends…or friend-boys. College is confusing. I think this was the first time that I was off my medication. I still went to regular therapy and tried to make the most out of my time in college. Second semester I met a boy who really spiraled me out of control. He was into drugs and was what I would call back then as "emo." You know the type: guy liner, skinny jeans, tattoos of lyrics on their arm... I don't know why he made me spiral out of control, but he did. I was so unhappy in our messed up relationship and I kind of shut down. I didn't self-harm, but I did just kind of give up. And I never did any drugs either, mostly because I'm afraid of what it would do to me, so why chance it?
I moved home shortly after my finals, went back on a medication regimen, and enrolled in community college. Life was good again. I still had bad days, but there were far less than any time earlier in my life. In 2007, I decided that I wanted something more out of life, so I applied to fashion school. I got in. I decided that in the fall of 2008 I would move to the west coast. I was still having some self-harming thoughts that I couldn't shake, so I got a tattoo courtesy of one of my best friend’s boyfriends. I got Love. tattooed on my right wrist to remember where I've been and what I have come back from.
2008 is when my life changed for the better. I met Beardy and started dating him. He was the first solid, not effed up relationship I ever had. After having the time of my life on the west coast, I decided that coming home and seeing where this new relationship would go would be my best decision.
It's weird, but I don't remember a time after moving back from the west where I wasn't with Beardy. He was a happy-go-lucky, goofy guy who genuinely wanted me to be happy. He never had dealt with things like depression and my bad days didn't scare him off. I was still taking medication and seeing a therapist, but I still had bad days.
My depression is hard to explain. Everything could be going well in life, but I still could feel trapped. On December 31st, 2009, I started feeling like I was having chest pains. It hurt to breathe. I was rushed to the emergency and diagnosed with panic disorder. On top of feeling worthless and sad, I started having acute to severe panic attacks.
So there's my story. I left out a lot of the graphic details but I figured this post is already too long. I still have bad days and I haven't self-harmed in months, but there is still that overwhelming feeling some days. The best way I can describe it is that I feel like I'm drowning. Figuratively and literally. I fight with this demon every day and it probably will be a fight for the rest of my life.
The stigma surrounding depression and self-harm is maddening. It isn't a trendy thing. You don't need to call the depression medication "crazy pills," because they aren't. They are just trying to make your chemical imbalance less imbalanced. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. It is debilitating and embarrassing. To fully understand how severe depression feels, you would literally have to walk in someone's shoes. No matter how much you think you understand, you don't. Not to be mean, but it's true. Everday is a struggle to not feel worthless. I am still taking medication for both depression and anxiety and for the first time in my life I am not seeing a therapist. My last therapist told me I have all the tools to make changes, so I am working on myself without help. It might change in 2015 because I am not sure I want to keep doing it alone without a therapist. I believe no matter how hard therapy is, you really can do good work with the right therapist.
I don't know why it's taken me a long time to be okay with saying: "I'm Liz and I have severe clinical depression and panic disorder." My depression doesn't define who I am. It's a chemical imbalance and it's not my fault for having it. I've got a great support system and every day is a journey. I just have to remember that "one day at a time" is a pretty good mantra because God knows that I have been through worse.
If you are feeling worthless or depressed and don't know where to turn you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8245). You don't need to do this alone.
If you stuck to it and read the whole thing, thank you. It means a lot. I know it's a long post.