What Wanting to Die Taught Me About Living

I have always loved stories, in all forms. This can probably be attributed to the fact that I spent the beginning of my life as an only child. My parents had lots of time to read me storybooks upon storybooks. As the only kid around, I would have to entertain myself, so all of my dolls, most of which were creatively named “Sarah,” would have elaborate backstories and engage in riveting narratives. I would sit by the stairs at night to listen to my parents in the living room or beg to be placed at the grown up table at parties, where all of the really interesting stories were shared. Not to mention that I spent most of my days in front of the TV watching Disney shows and Mary Kate and Ashley movies (don’t come for my parents; most of my brain cells are still in check, probably.)

My appreciation for stories led me to have a wild imagination and intense desire to find deeper meaning. I want everything to connect back to something greater, to find the underlying theme, the lesson, the happy ending.

What I didn’t account for was the extent to which stories do not always go as planned. You may wake up day after day wondering how you can feel like a stranger in your own story, why the story is so scary, or question why you were written in to this story to begin with. I have really struggled with feeling as though somewhere along the line I let the story go all wrong. I have said to myself countless times that it couldn’t possibly have been meant to feel this way.

For the past several years, I have suffered from major depressive disorder. I would consider “introspective” to be one of my defining traits, so being “in my head” comes pretty naturally to me. Around the beginning of high school, however, I realized that certain events could trigger a darkness that I couldn’t seem to shake as others could. When one thing happened, I would remember every other dark thing that has ever happened, and then I started to believe that they happened because I was a bad person, and thus would begin an unending downward spiral.

When I got to that place, I would convince myself that some people were just destined to live in darkness, that some people were too weak for this life, and that I was one of those people.

Somewhere along the line, the depression bled over into crippling anxiety that left me terrified of doing almost anything. I would sit in my car in the parking garage of my apartment and sob uncontrollably about how I had let things get so messy. I would cry harder with guilt over feeling this way, letting the negative aspects of life overshadow all of the wonderful opportunities I’d been given, all of the wonderful people I knew and loved.

This past school year, I felt as though nothing I was doing would be enough, and it seemed as though every week I was having a nervous breakdown to my parents on the phone. In our conversations, I contemplated leaving school; in my mind, I contemplated much worse.

I have realized, however, that you don’t have to die to kill yourself.

There are other ways.

You can stop engaging in your own life. You can look in the mirror and not even recognize your own reflection. You can allow pain and shame and gut-wrenching despair to bring you to your knees and paralyze you as a prisoner in your own life. That’s what I did. The past several years involved a winding path into a deep, dark place where I felt like something less than a human. There were just too many obstacles to getting better, and I was so weak and so overcome that I just basically existed physically. I was always in survival mode, and I would try to find any ounce of happiness or connection to something or someone that could ground me in situations that generally weren’t right for me.

Yet besides my family, no one knew.

What is the point in over-exposing myself on the Internet like this? I have spent months, years, trying to decide if I wanted to share this struggle in this way, how to share it without romanticizing it or coming off as though my experience is how every person who has depression exists. I didn’t want to make people question my character, morals, sanity, or most of all, my family.

At times, it can seem as if everyone only holds up the successes, best pictures, and craziest Snapchat stories. It’s not difficult to feel alone in experiencing the “wrong” emotions, in feeling too much, in a world where we only let people see us at our most filtered. But the filter is suffocating. I was also afraid to share this because of the unfortunate stigma that still remains surrounding mental health.

Even with the looming threat of a vulnerability hangover, I think honesty outweighs all of those fears. I want to be honest because stigma is what keeps people from getting help they so desperately need. I want to be honest so that struggle doesn’t have to rob you of your identity and turn you into some bottled up, warped version of your self. I want to be honest to hopefully show that we are all capable of change.

This summer, I didn’t chase after an impressive internship in the city or adventure abroad. I wanted to completely focus on getting back to the most basic form of myself, not the version of me that I perceive through others perceptions of me, or the person that I feel like I should be, or the person defined by struggle. I needed to find the person that I could love even after pain and shame said I wasn’t worthy.

In a book I’m reading it talks about how the opposite of depression is expression, meaning that you can take yourself from a state of deflation and let that negative energy change into something more positive. I’ve realized that, ultimately, your pain doesn’t have to be your punishment. Pain can lead you to purpose. It can direct us to areas that desperately need to change, qualities in ourselves that we might not have realized, or dreams that we had forgotten.

Depression and anxiety are deeply personal, and the reasons they appear in our lives are not to be generalized, but there are some realizations that helped me to feel change that are worth considering if you’re struggling.

Seek help.

Again, the number one reason I wanted to share this is because there is no shame in seeking help, and people want to help you (i.e. your loved ones, counseling services, hotlines, religious or spiritual organizations, etc.). I would strongly urge you to find a professional to assist you with your issues, and if you don’t click with one, find another. The right therapist is life changing.

Define yourself apart from depression and anxiety.

They are conditions that people suffer from, but they do not have to be fixed personality traits that dictate entire lives. Whether or not you feel like it, you are still a person.

Do things.

If you have been fortunate enough to not experience depression or anxiety, this sounds idiotic. If you have felt this way before, push past all of the discomfort, shame and fear and let yourself participate in the world. Depression and anxiety are very much related to thinking and feeling. For years, I was furious with myself that I couldn’t think my way out of it, or that I could never seem to make things feel right, but that’s because I was missing a major component: doing. Do the things you want to do, that you’ve dreamed of doing. This one is major, so if you’re looking for permission to live your life, permission granted.

Stop carrying people with you.

Some people aren’t meant to be in every chapter of your story, and that’s okay.

Be.

Sometimes constantly questioning if you’re happy is the fastest way to make yourself unhappy.

Accept that you can’t control what anyone thinks about you, except yourself.

If you don’t like the character you feel you’ve been cast as, stop being in those people’s stories.

Be patient with yourself.

Change takes time (sometimes more than desirable), but it is still attainable and so worth it.

Take all of the pain that you feel from your own life, the lives of people you love, or the darkness that you all too often see in the world, and let it bring you to purpose. Use it to change. And then, most importantly, let it go. A quote that finally resonates with me states,“If you want to kill yourself, kill what you don’t like. I had an old self that I killed. You can kill yourself too, but that doesn’t mean you got to stop living.”

It is never too late to be who you want to be, to give and receive love, to be happy. Life can still be good; it will be good.

The story is yours; all you have to do is write it.