A brief goodbye note sits on my desk, detailing my desire to bid the world farewell. I twist my heavy blanket tightly around my neck, gasping for air as I press my face against my pillow. I’m not sure how long I lay like this, but I wake up to my mother screaming at me. Not screaming out of concern, but screaming because she is furious that I tried to kill myself.
I’m in 3rd grade, and I’ve become completely unhinged because my mother refused to buy valentines for my class party. This might sound like a minor incident, but it’s not if you’re severely depressed. When you’re suffocated by sadness 24/7, you look for excuses to make it stop. Maybe you didn’t know the answer to the math problem you did in class or you forgot your lunch money. Perhaps your favorite stuffed animal fell apart in the washing machine or your grandma forgot your birthday. Maybe you had green beans for dinner and you hate green beans.
There’s always an excuse that validates your suicidal thoughts, even if it seems silly to other people. You can’t expect them to fully understand your mindset, though — and it’s not their fault that they don’t get it. Depression relies on emotions, not logic. It makes up its own rules as it progresses, dragging you along for a soul-crushing ride. Things you loved yesterday might mean nothing to you today, and it’s hard for anyone — including yourself — to keep up with the changes.
Aside from the late-night screaming session on Valentine’s Day, my mother pretends like the first suicide attempt (and every one after that) never happened. She lacks the maternal traits needed to raise a child with mental health issues and frequently reminds me that I am the result of a failed birth control pill. She doesn’t want a child, and she especially doesn’t want a child like me.
My depression embarrasses my mother, and she urges me not to tell anyone about my feelings. She is convinced that sharing my feelings will make her look like a bad parent. She doesn’t want anyone to know about her own mental illness or my father’s alcoholism, yet she taunts me with nicknames like “Daddy’s Little Girl” when I don’t tell people he was an abusive drunk. I can’t do anything right in her eyes, and this depresses me even more.
“I want to die. I hate my life. I hate my parents.” I scrawl in the notebook my 3rd grade teacher — we’ll call her Mrs. G — gave me. She told us all of our classroom journals were private, but thankfully she lied. My thoughts needed to be seen, discussed, and validated.
And they were. They finally were.
The school places me in a support group with a counselor and other elementary school students who battle depression. I attend this group a few times a week instead of learning about geography or science in Mrs. G’s class. My parents never mention it, and I’m not sure if they even know about it. I can’t imagine my mother granting the school permission to help me treat my depression.
This is the part of my story where some of you expect me to say that the support group saved my life. I mean, I’m obviously here now, right? Yes, but I picked up plenty of vices from the group.
The counselor encourages us to express our emotions, but sometimes that’s dangerous when you’ve got a room full of severely depressed children. Thanks to the group, I learn how and where to slice into my body without anyone noticing. I discover exactly how many over-the-counter meds I could ingest If I wanted to get high rather than die. I master the art of numbing my sadness with a swig of alcohol from my alcoholic father’s stash.
I learn how to keep dark, shocking secrets that I’ll never share with anyone — even now. Secrets about my own life, and secrets about the lives of others. Evil lurks in unexpected places, and the things that happen to young kids would probably terrify some of you. And really, they should.
I also learn how to lie. Even kids realize that mental illness is taboo, and nobody wants to be the crazy student with no friends. So you lie. You lie about your home life, and you lie about why you’ve got scars on your body. Besides, trusted adults have already gaslighted you into believing that you have no voice. Even if you tell the truth about how adults hurt you, nobody will save you.
You can only save yourself — or give up on life. The second choice makes more sense when you’re a suicidal 8 year old. Fighting a daily battle with your emotions gets exhausting, and you’re too young to realize that things might eventually get better.
I press the scissor blades into my arm, digging into my flesh until blood appears. My desk is in the back of the classroom, so nobody notices. When my teacher finally asks what happened, I tell her I accidentally cut myself during an art project. I still have the scar.
I go home, and the house is empty. This is common because my parents are usually off doing their own thing, and I welcome the silence. I’m convinced the basement is haunted, but ghosts scare me less than people. Ghosts are notorious for being scary; they’re not evil entities hidden behind perfectly styled hair and fake smiles. I don’t like illusions.
I hit my head against the wall, over and over again, until physical pain replaces emotional pain. It takes me years before I realize just how messed up my headbanging is. When I finally quit, I punch mirrors until they shatter and beat bricks and concrete walls with my brush. I have to release my anger or it eats away at my sanity.
My father is screaming at me again, but I’m not sure what he’s saying. He likes when I cry, but I refuse to give him that satisfaction. I stare at the wall behind him until my vision blurs and his words don’t exist. I go 4 years without shedding a tear.
Numbness replaces sadness. I date a ridiculous amount of guys because I want to love someone and be loved. I get wasted off champagne and whiskey in middle school. I smoke cigarettes until I throw up, but I tell no one. I skip school constantly, but nobody notices or cares. I’m still on the honor roll, and that’s all that matters to my mother. I have to make her look good.
In high school, a boyfriend comments that I’ve built a wall around my emotions. I agree, but I don’t want to fix what I’ve done. I live with my parents and need to protect myself emotionally since I can’t protect myself physically. My emotions — or rather, the lack of them — have become the only thing I know how to control.
My boyfriend and his parents give me a phone so I can call for help. This is a big deal since nobody owns cell phones yet; I’m still in the pager era. I hide the phone because I know I’ll need it.
“Please come and get me” I whisper into the phone after my dad finishes beating the hell out of me. My boyfriend arrives, and I throw a few bags of stuff out my bedroom window. I’ve been planning this for a while, and I know I have to get out of here for good. I’m only 16.
I go back and grab more stuff later, and the visit results in a physical attack. I’m used to this, so it doesn’t matter to me. I just grab as much as I can and leave.
I stay with a few different friends and then move into my boyfriend’s parents’ house while I wait for an apartment. I’m 17 now, and I’ve found a roommate. I can’t be on the lease because I’m not 18, but I still pay half the rent and utilities.
I work a lot, so there’s no time for homework. I go to work around 4 a.m. at a fast food restaurant near my apartment, and then I attend school from approximately 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. After school, I head to my other job and work until late at night. Some days I only get 2 hours of sleep, but it’s okay because I’ve reached the manic phase of my depression. I consume nothing but candy, coffee, and whiskey yet still maintain my 105-pound weight.
“You’re a good worker, and I’d like to promote you to a management position. However, we need you here during the daytime.” My manager extends this offer one day while I’m chugging Sprite from the fountain.
I consider my manager’s proposition and eventually accept her offer. My boyfriend and I have been fighting a lot, and he doesn’t want to drive me to school anymore. My apartment isn’t in the school district, so I’ve been using my parents’ address to remain enrolled. I try to transfer schools before I drop out, but the secretary says I need a parent’s signature on the form unless I’m 18.
My depression becomes worse after my boyfriend breaks up with me, and I drop out of high school. I still manage to keep my job at the fast food restaurant because expectations there are minimal, at least as far as emotional stability goes. My manager has bipolar disorder and throws dishes at her fiance while we’re working, so nobody judges my moodiness. It’s normal not to be normal there.
I’m drinking and smoking pot daily by this point, even on the clock. It’s irresponsible and illegal, but nobody cares. Especially not me.
“Hey, want a ride home?”
I’ve got a new coworker, and he’s cute. I accept his offer for a ride, and he becomes my boyfriend a few months later. Partying is my favorite — and only — hobby, so we spend most of our time getting trashed. I keep detailed journals during this time because otherwise I have no clue what’s going on in my life.
When I turn 19, I learn that I’m pregnant. My boyfriend offers me whiskey and a cigarette, but I decline.
“Nah, I’m quitting all this junk. I don’t want to hurt my baby.”
My mother, who I haven’t spoken to in months, finds out I’m pregnant because my friend works with her. She tells me I’ll be a horrible mother. My father agrees, stating that he’s not going to raise another kid. I laugh to myself and think that they didn’t even bother raising their own.
Their opinions don’t matter anyway. I’m going to be someone’s mom, and my baby needs me.
I schedule an appointment with my OB-GYN and tell him the truth when he asks how I’m doing: “I’m a mess. I’ve been suicidal since I was 8, I have very little contact with my parents, and my boyfriend doesn’t want this baby. I’m scared and overwhelmed, and I need help.”
My doctor prescribes an antidepressant and recommends one-on-one counseling. When I tell him I’m worried the Prozac will hurt my baby, he reminds me that untreated depression can be deadly — for both of us.
I take the pills as prescribed.