My Mental Health Story.
I’ve been diagnosed with major depression since I was nine years old, which is essentially the past twenty-five years. It’s been an incredibly frustrating journey of ups and downs, finding what works and what doesn’t, and learning how to deal with it.
The hardest part of it has been trying to figure out what’s my brain and what’s situational, because my family life has been less than ideal. I don’t like placing blame for my own actions on other people, because ultimately decisions I make are mine and mine alone, but I’d also be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t say that my dad and his emotional neglect of me throughout childhood didn’t impact me in a lot of negative ways. We were a typical family in the suburbs: parents, two kids (I have the most amazing older brother,) and a dog. My brother and I were encouraged, mostly by my mom, to explore every interest we had whether it was athletic, academic, artsy, whatever. While I played sports and was a really, really good swimmer, my interests were more academic. My brother remains the best soccer player I’ve ever known to this day, and my dad was completely obsessed with his athletics. Our family pretty much lived on a soccer field for my entire childhood, and I have the most amazing and horrible memories from those times. I’ve often said that soccer both saved and destroyed my family, and both are equally true.
I was kind of an oddball — my interests are all over the place. I’m a science nerd, but an encyclopedia of useless history facts. I wanted to be an archaeologist, an astronaut, a paleontologist, and a meteorologist. I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. One of the few great things I can say about my dad is that he really did care about my education and would rapid fire questions at me at the dinner table, and it was a big thing for me to be able to a) answer them all correctly and b) be better than my brother at something. There wasn’t much sibling rivalry, but since he refused to race me in swimming after about fifth grade, I had to cling to that. However, my dad had some terribly misogynistic views on women and treated my mom like garbage. It didn’t really click with me until I was in junior high or so that he treated me the same way, and I had been acting out to get attention my whole life. I had trouble getting up, showering, and getting dressed starting in about sixth grade. Other kids didn’t know how to handle the smart, fat, weird kid, and I got bullied — but I was an absolute jerk right back. I started cutting my wrists when I was 12 because I no longer had the strength to express any emotion to my mom. She was worried, my brother was worried, everyone was worried. Nobody knew I was cutting until a few days after my 14th birthday, when my friend Cody caught me doing it in class and told the school counselor. I got dragged into her office and, because I did it on school grounds, was committed to the Harris County Psychiatric Center. It was so close to Christmas and my mom was really upset that I might miss the big family stuff, so I told the doctors everything they wanted to hear and was out of there within a week and a half, leaving even more depressed than when I came in. I spent my entire Christmas break sleeping and avoiding the world, knowing that I’d financially destroyed my family. It was my brother’s senior year of high school, we needed money for his college, my dad had lost his job, and things were tough. Who was I to run up this huge hospital bill? A horrible sister and daughter, that’s who. When school started up again, I went to my history class, and this guy said “jesus what a loser, she couldn’t even kill herself right.” I ran out of class crying and walked home.
In high school, I attempted to turn over a new leaf, but it was just more of the same. I started having panic attacks every day, and my mom had no idea what was going on. We fought every day and no matter how many times I tried to tell her not to get close to me when I was having these episodes, she was my mom and tried to hug me. Once, she got too close and I hit her. I hit my own mother. The only person who had stuck by me when I was at my absolute worst, and I was physically pushing her away. I was officially the worst person on the planet and started cutting again, but this time, I was “smart” enough to do it where nobody would catch me.
I ended up dropping out of high school my junior year, with the caveat from my mom that I get my GED within a week, get my driver’s license, and enroll in a local juco. I did all three and started school in the summer of 2000 while working full time. I did really well at school the first year, until my class from high school graduated and all ended up at the same college. I figured hey, it’s college, it won’t be the same. Wrong. Same people bullying me for the same stupid crap and I just gave up on school, dropping out right after 9/11. I got a full-time job and went through a bunch of go-nowhere relationships until the depression hit again and I was laid out in bed for a month, not wanting to get up, live, die, or feel. Finally, when I was 23, I re-enrolled in college and took it seriously. I earned straight As and transferred to the University of Oklahoma in 2008. My boyfriend at the time, who I dated from the time I was 21 until I was 28, didn’t want me to go and I finally realized my pattern of being in horribly controlling relationships. Finding some modicum of self-respect, I moved to Norman in 2009 and, battling agoraphobia, made the Dean’s List three out of the four semesters that I was there. I finally got the courage to break up with this guy my senior year (2010) and stopped hating myself long enough to make friends with Billy and Maria, two people who changed my life and made me realize that life is worth living.
After graduation in December of 2010, I made the mistake of moving to Tennessee. I wanted to go to Vanderbilt for grad school, and the guy I started dating towards the end of college lived south of there, so it seemed like a good decision. Wrong again. He told me he was suicidal and my idiot nature of wanting to “fix” someone was in full effect. So I gave up my dreams and took a job waiting tables/managing a restaurant for five and a half years so that we’d be taken care of. I slipped back into an incredibly dark place and convinced myself that I’d never be anything more than a waitress, that I was destined to marry this guy and live in rural Tennessee for the rest of my life. My mom and my brother were furious, knowing I could be so much more.
In October of 2014, my mom was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. My brother was living in Phoenix and I was still in Nashville. He was with her when she found out, and my friend Zach flew me out the very next day. I spent the next two weeks of my life taking her to doctor’s appointments, figuring out what our options were, and fighting my own demons to take care of my mom. I’d never in my life wished I could do more for another person. I flew back to Tennessee completely lost and devastated. I become a complete depressed zombie, on autopilot in every facet of my life. A year later, a week before my brother’s wedding, my mom had to get an emergency colostomy and I had to make the choice to go to Houston or to my brother’s wedding. I didn’t do either because my boyfriend at the time was being completely horrible to me, I was suicidal, and every time I tried to think of a way to get either place it got shot down in one way or another. The official reason I gave everyone is that my rental car fell through (which is true!) but the honest to god reason is I didn’t want anyone in my family to see the state I was in, with cuts up and down my arms and legs and perpetually crying. I was willing to risk my entire family hating me for this. Not long after, I started therapy again because I just could not handle any of this and I was destroying myself.
I went home for Christmas and talked to my mom, brother, and sister-in-law. I don’t think they know how much I love them because I never show it and my depression/anxiety have made me such an unbelievable jerk to them more often than not. Anyway. Not long after I got back from Houston, my boyfriend of five and a half years broke up with me. He told me I could stay in the house as long as I needed to, we kept buying each other food and hugging each other, and I was confused. I thought there was still a chance we’d get back together. I pretty much glued myself to the couch when I wasn’t working. I went to visit my mom in April for a couple of weeks and she wasn’t doing so well. My brother begged me to move to Houston and I told him I was doing my best. When I flew home, my ex told me he was seeing someone (which I already knew, for a few reasons.) He started becoming more brazen about speaking to her in front of me, which I found disrespectful, and a couple of days after I came home I got really mad and started yelling at him to use headphones. This turned into a huge fight where he told me that the sight of me made him want to kill himself & he called me the c-word a few times. He went to bed and I packed up everything I could in my crappy car and drove all the way to Houston in the middle of the night. Within two weeks of returning home, my mom died after going on hospice the week after I got there. I try not to feel like this, but my ex stole so much time I could have spent with my mom. He told me he hadn’t been in love with me for a year — why wouldn’t you tell me this when you know my mom is dying, when you know I could go home and be with her?
I spent my entire summer in a daaaaark depression. I hated myself. My mom is the only person who really understood me, even though my brother tries his best. I’d spent my whole life being strong for Mom, citing her as my reason to keep going, and now she was gone. Why should I keep going? My brother finally physically pulled me out of the house and told me to get help, which I’m currently doing. I enrolled in grad school in Chicago, moving up here in September. I’m thriving up here. Billy lives up here, so I have my rock. I’m dating someone who knows all about my mental health history and insane family and he still cares about me. I am working my ass off to be the Best Me and it seems to be working.
There’s no cure for this and it’s going to be a roller coaster for the rest of my life. My dad is never going to be the dad I want him to be, but I can make sure that my kids’ father is. I can only accept responsibility for myself and I take great care to treat others with respect and love now. I have a lot more to offer the world than just being a waitress in Tennessee.