For at least a decade now I have lived with, and at times, seriously struggled with major depression. At some points over the last decade, I have struggled with self harm. Unlike many of the stories one hears about self harm, it was not the result of some horrific abuse or a personality disorder. There is no shame in having experienced those things, that's just not my story. I had a good family, a privileged home, and the best friends I could ever ask for. But for as long as I can remember, I have also had cyclical periods of disconnection and numbness.
At its most benign, I simply lost interest in everything and was riddled with apathy. But at its worst, it was like I was surrounded by a glass wall a
mile thick. Colors were duller, music lost its beauty, all of the wonderful people who loved me were far out of reach, and I felt nothing. I was stuck
so deep inside myself that I completely disconnected with the world around me. This is where the self harm came in. I needed to feel something to pull
me back. I started, almost experimentally, when I was 12. I didn't understand depression and I was angry at myself for not being happy even though
I had a good life. I only had a few episodes of self harm from 12-14, and then I stopped... for a while.
I went through high school, and I was doing better. I put most of my energy into caring for and about my best friend who was in and out of a mental hospital because of her bipolar disorder. This pulled me out of myself, but also allowed me to avoid dealing with my own mental health issues. To this day, trying to help others in place of helping myself is a familiar pattern.
As I entered my senior year and started to apply to college, a new challenge surfaced. I started having frequent panic attacks. I was convinced I wouldn't get into college and would have to stay at home. Although I love my family, mental illness runs deep and they are not the healthiest of people. At the same time, I was terrified that I would be accepted and that leaving my best friend would surely be dangerous. I had at that point become her most trusted "counselor" and many nights, I was the only thing standing between her and another suicide attempt.
I got accepted to a school about 6 hours from my house and decided to go. It was tough for my best friend at first but ultimately better for both of us. My freshmen year was great. I made a great group of friends, including my lovely roommate. 4 years later we are still close. I did everything with this group. We ate meals, went to classes, did homework in the library, and went to the gym every day together. I still had a couple of panic attacks that year, but it was definitely my healthiest year.
Then sophomore year came and everything crumbled. Actually crumbled is too soft a word. Everything... imploded. I had gotten a position as an R.A. Because of this, I was now living in a single instead of with a friend. I was also carrying eighteen credits and trying to start a "To Write Love On Her Arms" chapter at my school, all while maintaining involvement in four other clubs. A week into R.A. training, and a few days before my residents would arrive, my grandfather passed away. He was 90 years old and miserable in his Alzheimer's. In many ways his passing was a relief, but it was also incredibly painful. This was the first significant loss I had experienced, and I honestly didn't know what to expect. I returned to school a week later to my circus of a semester. My residents had already arrived, and I didn't even know their names. I hadn't gotten anything ready for my classes. I didn't have my schedule printed, my text books bought, or my syllabi downloaded. I hadn't even unpacked my clothing and toiletries for the year. This overrided my anxiety so much that I just shut down. And I remained shut down for a while. I was always trying to catch up and be ready. But I was overwhelmed. The more overwhelmed I was, the more disconnected I became. I would go to class but not have any idea what was said, so I eventually stopped going. I would spend time with friends but could barely hold a conversation, so I started to isolate. It wasn't long until the self harm took hold again. And this time it would stick around, pretty routinely, for a good year. I tried to reach out as best I could. The most solace I found was with my campus minister.
My medical treatment was handled very poorly. The counseling center at my school only offered part-time positions, so there was a lot of turnover. I saw six different counselors in my four years, one of which was a grad student. I saw him when I was at my most vulnerable. He took me to talk to the physician's assistant that worked in our school's wellness center. After asking a few preliminary questions and asking to see my scars, something that was incredibly painful to show, the physician's assistant put me on an antidepressant. I asked about what to do if my depressive symptoms worsened. He told me they just wouldn't, and there would be no side effects. This should have raised some red flags, but I was vulnerable and desperate, so I left with the script with hardly any information. I started to take the pills and had a very bad reaction. Within three weeks, it made my depression plummet to new lows. I was suicidal, but too depressed to take any action. In a rare moment of emotional lucidity, I decided that it was more dangerous to stay on these meds than it was to come off. It was a weekend, and the wellness center was closed, so I just stopped taking them. The next few days were a roller coaster of insane highs and devastating lows until my neurochemistry evened out. The physician's assistant who gave me those pills in the first place had found a new job in the three weeks it took them to wreak havoc on my already shaky mental state. That was my lowest point.
I had found a doctor at home to go to, finally telling my parents about my struggle with depression. They still do not know about the self harm, and I likely will never tell them. I was on a new medication for two years, increasing the dose as needed. It had pretty terrible side effects, but I admit that I absolutely needed it at that point in my life. Coming off medication is a decision I thought long and hard about after months and months and months of therapy and hard work. Even after evaluating my mood, showing that I was in a better place, and displaying the coping techniques I had mastered, my psychiatrist was still reluctant to let me come off. I eventually came off fully about nine months ago.
It hasn't always been easy. I still have periods of depression. I still have the impulse to isolate and the urge to cut. These are likely things I will
live with for the rest of my life. But there is so much more than that. There are playgrounds and baking, youth groups to run and poetry slams to attend.
There is faith and family, and unrelenting friendship. There's the chance to tell my story to offer comradeship to others. And there is hope. There
is so much hope.