I was never a happy kid. Starting at about 13 years old, I had this sadness inside of me that I could just never shake off. The sadness translated into self-loathing, an inability to form many close relationships, and just an all-around sense that I wasn’t like the other kids. I always felt like I had to hide myself because there was no way anyone would want to know the real person. Early one Sunday morning when I was seventeen, I found my Mom lying on the floor of our bathroom covered in blood that she had been coughing up. There were bloody handprints smeared on the walls, the tile floor, the toilet, and all over her face. When I began frantically asking her why she was on the floor, she didn’t even realize she was there. It is an image and feeling that I will never forget, and that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Through a series of tests we found out that she had brain cancer. They removed the tumor on July 5th, 2002 and nothing has ever been the same since.
If I had to pinpoint when my depression really took ahold of me, it was then. It felt like a switch physically flipped on, and the sadness went from a lingering feeling to something that made it almost impossible for me to live a normal life day-to-day. So what did I do? I ran from it. I ran as fast as I could because I had no way of identifying what was happening to me. Friends reached out to me, and I just ignored the calls. I didn’t want to talk about how terrible things were and how I felt like I was losing my mind. I wanted to be “normal”.
One year later, after a lot of self-medication and destructive behaviors, my parents made me go to a therapist who diagnosed me with clinical depression. He was unable to prescribe anything for me, but he advised that I speak to my doctor about my diagnosis. So what did I do? I ran from it again. I stopped going to that therapist, I didn’t go to a doctor, and never told a single soul about my diagnosis. It became my darkest secret, and out of desperation I sought out a new way to mask it. I started making people laugh as a way to deflect. No one would guess there was something wrong with someone who joked around all the time, and people wanted to hang out with the funny girl. That’s a great plan until you end up driving in your car for hours on end, no destination in mind, just so you can cry without anyone seeing that you were falling apart.
For a decade I did that. The only people who ever saw my depression where the few friends who got close enough to see past the jokes. Those friends became frustrated with me because they couldn’t understand why I would become quiet and withdrawn, or why I was so negative and always felt hopeless. “Just be happy” is a phrase that I heard over and over from friends and family, all whom were trying to help me. I honestly could not comprehend how that worked. How could you just decide to be happy, and then be happy? It’s not like I didn't try. I tried to be funny. I tried not letting people close. I tried taking every herbal remedy I could find. I tried doing yoga 5 times a week. I tried running 7 days a week. I tried meditation. I tried writing. I tried quitting caffeine. I tried other therapists. I tried prayer. If you can google it, I tried it. I really, really tried.
Regardless of how hard I tried, nothing fixed me. All it took was one bad event and I would be down on myself for long periods of time. I felt like I was in this dark cloud and that was all I could see. I didn’t believe there was anything outside of that dark cloud. I didn’t see any way of ever getting out of the dark cloud. The dark cloud was a part of me and I didn’t understand why I had a dark cloud and other people didn’t. The turning point for me was last July. I had done some research online and found a book about positive thinking. It was supposedly the best one on the market, so I was ready for yet another self-help book. When I received the book, I immediately recognized the cover as a book that had been on my Dad’s shelf for as long as I could remember. I had seen my Dad struggle with a sadness his entire life, and it wasn’t until that very moment that I was able to realize that he wasn’t just a negative person – he had a dark cloud too. My Dad had a dark cloud and I got my dark cloud from him. He got his dark cloud from his Mother, and she got her dark cloud from her Mother. The dark cloud was something that I couldn’t fix, and I was finally able to admit that it was out of my hands.
I started medication later that week. Within a few weeks I realized that I felt level. I had never felt level in my entire life! The dark cloud was mostly gone, and when it did return it was only for a night and then I woke up feeling fine again. I had no idea it was possible to feel level. I had no idea it was possible to have a bad day, and then bounce back to level within 24 hours. I felt relieved. Relieved that I was able to stop something I fought so hard against. Relieved that I finally admitted it was out of my control. Relieved that I could be alone in my room without feeling sad. That little pill was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I finally new what "normal" people felt like.
So why now? Why am I putting this out in a very public arena now? Well, it is because of Matt Walsh. For those of you who may not be familiar with this man, he is a conservative blogger. Based on the things I have read on his blog, he is one of the most hateful, judgmental, and least Christian people out there. I often disagree with his posts from a political and moral standpoint, but this week a post he wrote felt like a more personal attack. Obviously it wasn't, but I was horrified to see his post pop up in my facebook feed titled, " Robin Williams didn't die from a disease, he died from his choice". As someone who has dealt with depression for a long time, I couldn't help but feel empathy for what Robin Williams must have been going through. I do not claim to know what it is like for a person to reach the point where they believe their only choice is to take their own life. I have not been there, and I hope to never experience that kind of sadness, but the fact that I don't know is why I have no right to judge someone who chose that. I get so angry when people like Matt Walsh accuse those who commit suicide of being selfish, or of taking the cowards route, or any other number of negative accusations. I particularly hate when religious people claim that suicide will condemn you to hell or that God could have saved the person had they just turned their hearts to Him. I cannot believe in a God who would send someone to hell knowing the pain and suffering that drove them to that point, and as someone who spent countless nights praying with desperation to have the pain go away, I can confidently say that just "turning your heart to God" is simply not enough for those suffering from mental illness.
It infuriated me that people like Matt Walsh could feel it is their place to put any sort of label on a person suffering from mental illness, and suffering is the only way to describe it. It is not easy, it is not a choice, and it is all consuming. Someone who has never experienced that cannot pass any sort of judgment on another who has. So thank you, Matt Walsh and all of the other intolerant people out there. Because of you, I felt compelled to come forward with my story to combat the stigma attached to mental illness; a stigma that is perpetuated by hateful words from those who don't know how depression feels. So yes, I have clinical depression, and yes I am on anti-depressants. I will likely be on them for the rest of my life, and that's okay! It's okay because I am a good person who is smart, and funny, and kind, and who happens to have a genetic condition that requires medication. It does not make me less of a person to have depression, and it is not a choice I made. I am proud of who I am and I am proud of where I have been and where I am. Everyone is fighting something, and it is no one's place to ever place judgment on that.