Depression and me

Stress warning: This post contains information about self-harming behavior, suicide attempts and depression that may be triggering to some readers. Please note this post is about my experience with mental health disorders and is not intended to diagnose that of others nor suggest actions for dealing with such. What has worked for me has done just that, and I hope that readers experiencing any of the disorders described in this piece will search for what works for them. I firmly believe self-harming is not the answer and that there is always hope.

I watched Super Bowl 50 alone in my bedroom. Wearing nondescript blue clothing, I sipped Pabst Blue Ribbon at a pace that would hopefully not alarm my mom downstairs and ate “party” food she had purchased for me from Walmart.

This was by design.   

Though my lease in Denver began earlier that month, several events throughout the football season led me to believe that my superstitions would help the Broncos to the championship. I couldn’t wear either of my jerseys (both of which I had deemed at least mildly unlucky), and I had to be in Cañon City (where I was when the Broncos won back-to-back titles in the 90s). Surely everything I was doing had some sort of cosmic impact. After all, ever since my partner and I had winkingly taken the next step in our relationship, the team was unbeaten. I simply couldn’t mess with fate.

But there was also a bigger issue at hand. One deeper than a superstition.

Two Super Bowls prior, while the Broncos were falling into a 35 point pit, I was sinking into a bathtub. I only remember a few things post-halftime: drinking orange soda (with shots of probably vodka) with the three friends I had over (my live-in boyfriend was conspicuously missing), making dark jokes about Britney Spears’ Everytimevideo, wearing wet clothes (one of the said mildly unlucky jerseys was in the mix), putting my head underwater and spitting bathwater back out, hearing knocking on the door and telling lies about how I was OK. I thought that it didn’t count as a suicide attempt because I was refusing to let myself drown. I’m still not sure.

That was the true reason I stayed home for the biggest sporting event of my adult life. I was scared of what might happen. Scared that the Broncos might lose, but also scared of what my mind could lead me to do.

I feel a larger spectrum of emotions when watching sports than I do in just about any other scenario, but that’s not the real moral of this story. That night in February 2014 was a culmination of everything bad in my life, and I finally lost control. My dad’s psychologist friend called it a dissociative event. My boyfriend at the time posited that I was just blackout drunk. All I really knew for certain was how deeply sad and lost I felt. I prayed that foot of water was as low as my rock bottom would get.

Depression has been a constant companion since I was in eighth grade. I was seemingly inexplicably sad that year. I saw a therapist a few times, where I felt like I was coerced into crying. My only real takeaway from therapy was learning how to turn off my emotions if even for some fleeting moments.

The only things that really kept me going at that point were my deep faith in God, my love for my mom and my friendship with my bestie. I kept two spiral notebooks to remind me of the good things. In one, I let out my anger. In the other, I pasted photos of my female spiritual guides and body role models and tried to remain positive.

In the nearly 10 years between my diagnosis and my incident, not a lot changed in my relationship to my depression. It nudged its nasty head into my life whenever it so decided. I could feel it coming on the way a person senses a cold. Except with that sickness, I would usually have an idea of how I caught it. Depression has never worked like that. Regardless of what was happening in my life, no matter how happy or sad I was in my day-to-day, depression would come a-knockin’ like a bizarro Mr. Big.  

Battling depression alone has never been an easy task, yet somehow, dealing with it while in a romantic relationship has been just as mind-numbingly terrible.

I had my first serious relationship at 19. I was needier and more naive than I would have hoped and was experiencing freshman year growing pains. A lot of the time I couldn’t help but be sad. I’d start fights for no reason because it allowed me to feel something slightly outside of the spaces between sadness and scared. I felt bad that I couldn’t be better for the person I loved.

My sadness and presumed neediness during our attempt at long distance that summer was too much, and we broke up. We got back together about two years later. As a new college grad, he had difficulty finding a job and had to move back home. His sadness was too much, and we broke up.  

A year ago, he asked me, “Do you get sad often? I ask primarily because I am sad a lot (but sometimes I get emotional for realizing how great my life is and how lucky I am to have the people in my life with me) but not sure how much is standard for the growing pains of life and what we endure and what qualifies as being sad and ‘more than normal.’”

As friends, we were finally able to speak the same language. It didn’t matter how great (or honestly, terribly) everything was going in our lives (or how much each of us should always be grateful for), because that’s not always how we’re able to handle it. Depression simply doesn’t care.

After my incident, my parents searched for a solution. My mom suggested mindfulness classes. When I began practicing meditation, I felt a strong change in myself. I got my anxiety attacks in order and didn’t let myself hit what we lovingly referred to as the “perfect score of suffering.” After every class, I called my boyfriend on the drive back to our home, annoyed at his questions (“How was yoga? What did you do?”), but happy with my progress.

A month or so after my final class, in what would be our final fight as a couple, he said he didn’t see a change in me. All he saw was my constant sadness. He told me I was never happy. I really wanted to believe he was wrong. I was better.

I had yelled at him that night. I’m not sure about what. I think I just wanted him to feel what I felt. More acceptance for how my happiness and sadness were evolving. An acknowledgement of my burgeoning sense of adventure and hatred for monotony.

I got in bed with him that night knowing it would be our last together. What I didn’t know, and wouldn’t find out until much later, was what was really going on in his life. He didn’t pack up the next day because of our fight or because of my sadness. He left because of the troubles he had been hiding from me for over a year. He left because a voice in his head told him I’d be better off dead. I finally felt like I was living, and the thing I loved most in life wanted to put that to an end.

So, I waited for the lease on our beautiful apartment to run out, quit the job that I already hated, and moved back home to live with my parents. I told my boss it was for personal issues. To this day, not even my closest former coworker knows the full truth.

After a few months of wallowing by myself in Cañon, I found a companion in despair. At the time, I didn’t see it that way. This was someone who very quickly told me he loved me, liked things because I introduced him to them and shared my vice for high alcohol content in the form of craft beer (a neat little hobby). My heartbroken, wildly shaken self saw these things as the makings of a great relationship. It didn’t matter that when we started dating, he was still living with his fiancee, and that we also had a shared love of doing nothing and feeling sad and sorry for ourselves.

While he sat around playing video games, I quietly hit a new achievement of my own. A different kind of rock bottom. For some reason, I thought this relationship could help me move on from all the darkness that had been in my life, but I was just sinking back into it.

In the meantime, one of my ex’s multiple personalities was still calling. Thankfully, most of the time it was the one I had fallen in love with. But once or twice, it wasn’t. It was the one who wanted to kill me. He threatened my life and told me what a terrible person his vessel was. I heard him on the other side of the phone gliding his hand through a box of bullets. He hounded me for the name of my new beau. He only returned to a semblance of the reality in which I was experiencing when I responded with “Lucifer.” My mom was on the landline with the police in his city, as we were both terrified he was going to hurt himself. He was hospitalized that night, and we haven’t spoken since last August.

Things weren’t much better with the current relationship. He was getting progressively more and more depressed. Each day, he would dwell on tragic events from his past that he had no way of fixing. I was also depressed. But I thought I needed to be the strong one. I was always trying to reaffirm him and show him how happy we could be (without taking time to be happy myself).

I needed to be the strong one because I knew I would never attempt suicide again. The same wasn’t true for him.

Returning to his apartment one afternoon, I could tell something was wrong. I looked on the coffee table and saw a handle of whiskey, a large bottle of ibuprofen, several bottles of prescription pain medication and an unfinished letter.   

I came in before anything could happen. I told him we’d get through this. I wrote him countless texts and letters about how much he meant to me. We worked with his friends and family to try to make him well. He told me he was going to get help, but after catching him in several lies, I stopped believing he wanted to.

Far too many tears later, I had to move on. All that time I had convinced myself I loved him. Really I just saw the same darkness that was inside of me and thought that by giving my everything to try to help him, I would somehow feel better. It only ended up making me feel worse.

It seemed like I was back at square one.

I’ve been struggling to figure out where to go from here. In this piece of writing and in my life …

The year after that breakup actually turned out to be one of the best of my life. After a few weeks of moping around, I put on my big girl pants and moved on. Just as a depression had almost unexpectedly fallen over me, with a few small steps, I had pulled myself out again.

Without putting too much thought into it, I made all the opposite decisions from when I had first moved home. Staying underground was doing me no good. I got a job. I met new people. I put myself first in the way that everyone needs to but might feel too selfish in doing.

For some silly reason I thought I was a grownup. I had had my shit together once, and that’s what being an adult meant, right? I had a job, bills to pay and a serious relationship. But none of that really made me an adult. All it did was make me unhappy.

It wasn’t until I met people who didn’t live by this convoluted system that I felt like I was a real human being. I was coming to terms with the idea that I had an active role in my own happiness. I might not be able to control when or where my depression would hit, but I could make an effort to live in a way that could ease my constantly troubled mind.

I was in a place where I was allowed to be myself and be OK with what that meant. But after all the things I had been through in the recent past (a lot of which I was keeping to myself, as much fun as talking aloud about mental illness is), I was still guarded. Or at least pretending to be. I had set up a few rules for myself, so surely I couldn’t get hurt. Right.   

I fell for someone, but a parallel set of rules dictated that I couldn’t pursue them. I made sure not to fall in love with him, but it didn’t sting any less when he left.

The end of something that was officially nothing gave me that extra push into actual maturity. Wisdom is what folks usually call it, though I feel like being wise is something reserved for Betty White. I only pretend to be wise on the internet.

Case in point: when that life-changing summer came to an end, I wrote about him. I said, My happiness isn’t tied to one person or one location.” Lovely. I meant it at the time. But then my life changed again, as it’s so damn prone to do.

I made a new set of rules for myself. I was so happy and effing living, but I wasn’t going to let “just a boy” get in the way of any of that again. I knew that he had been a big part of my happiness. With how much progress I thought I was making, I clearly still didn’t know how to be alone. I was never much more than a complication to him, albeit a pretty, cool one.

Sure, I had successfully not jumped into a relationship, but I wanted to take it a step further. I was so sick of hurting both at the hands of others and my circumstances. I wanted my next relationship (official or otherwise) to mean something. I wanted someone next to me who was more than a cool dude or a pretty face (read nice beard). The clear theme here is that my happiness is obviously going to be affected by those I’m closest to. And that’s part of life. I didn’t need to deny that, I just needed to find someone to share my happiness and every other emotion with.

My depression was always hanging out in the background of my favorite dives and other local hangouts, though I didn’t pay much attention to its presence. Something much better was in all those places, too.

I’d been ignoring both. Until. You know, life. Always.

The location that “wasn’t tied to my happiness” and that I had hated for so long would play a defining role in what would happen next.

My legitimate other half had been there all along.

But I had these rules. And those silly little stipulations I had placed upon myself just might have been what allowed me to know what kind of love and happiness actually existed if only I let myself feel worthy of them.

Another chance night where two people meet and things change in each of their lives. But this was different. It started as acquaintances becoming friends. And then all of a sudden I knew I loved him. And I felt it in my bones that he loved me back.

The story’s basically as simple as that. I have never loved or been loved at such an extreme capacity before.

And I wish it was that easy.

But, after all, this is a writing primarily on depression, and how silly concepts like love and relationships interfere with feeling sad.

A raft guide dating a girl who tried to drown herself. Me, the person who until around six months ago would frequently day dream of Virginia Woolf’s death.

My boyfriend is the Golden Retriever of people: blonde, happy, well-liked. I know it’s not that simple for him, because no person really has it that easy. But sometimes it makes me feel better about being sad pretending that he never feels the way I do because he balances me out so well.

Before I moved away from him and Cañon City, I was genuinely the happiest I’ve been since I was a carefree child. I refuse to be so pessimistic to think that nothing that good can last, but I’m also realistic enough to know that I am always going to struggle with feeling sad.

Loving him is the strongest emotion I’ve ever felt. It’s bigger than any of the sadness or pain or loneliness I’ve experienced. Our love has always felt so pure and effortless. And we always agreed that regardless of what outsiders said, we didn’t need to ever fight to somehow prove we could make it in the long run.

Fighting used to be my true north. I no longer want to feel that, but fights are sometimes inevitable. I’m always going to have insecurities that finagle their way into my mind and become words I can’t take back.

That’s my reality. I’m in love with the best person I know. But I can’t help but share the company of sadness. Part of that is having to be away from him. Part of that is just something I’m always going to have to fight.

And that’s terrifying to me.

I’m so scared that this person who loves me for every stupid/great thing that I am will wake up one day and decide he can’t deal with it anymore. Thank God, I know it won’t happen, and part of the reassuring thing is knowing that I’ll never wake up again and think that I can’t deal with life anymore.

I never want him to feel the way I felt years ago, loving me in hopes of saving me. Love isn’t the cure for depression, but his love doesn’t stem from that place. He loves me when I’m happy and loves me when I’m sad and understands that there will be times when we don’t know why I’m either.

So, again, nearly 10 years after this silly sad saga began, I look to my newest “positivity notebook:” a memo on my phone entitled “Reasons to keep living.” I think of the people I’ve lost and the people I’m still lucky to have and hold strong to something I wrote years ago: “I do believe that everyone becomes closer to beauty and to life when we push ourselves to our breaking point.” I’ll never really know what moment was my real rock bottom, but I’m going to let the bullshit continue downstream because fresh water is coming my way.

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