Personal Thoughts

On Depression, Choices, & the Daily Struggle

I wrote this yesterday and shared it on my Facebook page. It’s long (2,000 words) so I did not expect people to actually take the time to read it all. But, they did. They commented and shared. I think we all just want to know that we are not alone. I’m reposting here on my blog so I can easily find this in the future.

I was twelve years old. I was pretty and popular. I was a cheerleader, a basketball player, a world-championship-winning shortstop. I was a straight A student who participated in “gifted” classes. I was surrounded by friends. I had wonderful, loving parents who gave me the world. By all accounts, I had absolutely nothing to be depressed about. I would hear that over and over in the following years “What does she have to be depressed about!?”

I had no idea what depression was at twelve. All I knew is that it was becoming harder and harder to be happy. I still played the sports, went out with friends, and slapped on my happy face but alone in my bedroom, I was sad. I didn’t know why.

It worsened as I turned thirteen and became a teenager.

I don’t know if all the signs were ignored or weren’t caught. It doesn’t matter. I know that I became an expert at putting on that happy face.

Paper was the one place I could not apply that happy face. When I began to write, my hands would take over, my brain happy to let go, to be real with someone, something- even if it was just a sheet of notebook paper.

Paper was eventually how I slipped. On Fridays, we always had some kind of writing assignment in PE. It was an innocent question we were asked to write about- what kind of car did we want to drive when we turned 16? Oh, what a fun question for any girl who couldn’t wait to turn 16 and drive! Except that one girl, 13 at the time, who didn’t want to turn 16 and drive a car because all she wanted to do was die. She could lie to your face, but the truth always prevailed on paper. And it did that day and she thought nothing of it.

Until a week later, Valentine’s Day 2003, I found myself in the office of that PE coach with a psychologist. She was asking about my answer to that question. I would meet with her for the rest of the school year. I went to my family doctor and was prescribed a very low dose of antidepressants. They can fix me, I thought. This is fixable.

But things only became worse. My attitude was chalked up to being a spoiled rotten little brat but there was more going on. I would often pray myself to sleep, asking God to please just let me die. Dear Lord, please just take me so I don’t have to do it on my own and hurt the people who love me even more. Please don’t let me wake up in the morning. Please, please, take this hurt and this pain. Let someone else, someone who is happy and not fucked up have this life they want and take me because I don’t want it.

I couldn’t sleep most nights. I would take OTC sleeping meds in order to sleep and they didn’t work half the time. I would still be up when my parents woke up for work in the morning. I missed a lot of school which became kind of a joke in the school. If they only knew the battles I faced, it probably wouldn’t have been quite so funny.

That summer after my original diagnosis, I finally gave in. God wouldn’t take me but I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I was 14. I took a shower, I started with my bottle of Zoloft and then one by one, I wiped out the medicine cabinet. Once again, my words stepped in to save me. I had written a goodbye in an online journal that very few people knew about but the right person read it at the right time. My goodbye ended up saving my life. Over 300 pills later, I found myself in the ER fighting a tube going down my throat to pump my stomach. I was pissed. So very mad.

Well meaning friends and family came by so I threw on my happy face while in the ICU. One person while I’m sure she was well intentioned did more harm that good. She came in my ICU room and put her finger to my chest then pressed and asked if I didn’t know God. After she left, I attempted to remove my own IVs. Yes lady, I knew God. In fact, I had begged him to take my life and He wouldn’t. Quiet whispers (not quiet enough, I heard them) spun through our community. By the time I was transferred to the psychiatric ward at a larger hospital in Birmingham, I was supposedly pregnant and had apparently been molested. Because this girl, she had nothing to be depressed about. So let’s make up some quick rumors- let’s give her a story to go with her depression.

While in the psychiatric ward, they tried many medications. When you are severely clinically depressed, you are like a guinea pig. They don’t know what will work and when you are only 14, that really complicates things. I was still pissed that I was alive and even madder that my parents left me in that place. I refused to see them one day and also refused to see a local pastor. Finally, the doctors landed on the right medication and I went home. We had worked on coping skills and I was only allowed to leave the hospital with an agreement to go to therapy in Huntsville three days a week. I quickly graduated that program- I slapped on that happy face and I was in a class with the kind of teenagers you think of when you hear “depressed” so I looked like I was doing awesome. My hair was fixed; I had on make up, and a big smile, the cuts on my wrist hidden under bracelets. I rocked that program. I was definitely doing better but I was still far from your typical 14 year old.

I quit every sport and I lost the majority of my friends. They were all typical 14 year olds and here I was, the same age but completely different. Who could blame them? No one was sure how to act around me.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of my medication was anorexia. Yes, no joke. While I became able to cope with my depression, I became anorexic. On the rare days that I would eat, I would end up vomiting. I lost 40 pounds and the doctors threatened to take my medication if I lost more. Thankfully, I did not.

Justin and I became friends about 6 months after my suicide attempt. He didn’t know me then so he held no judgments. Though he was originally from here, he had moved for several years and had just moved back so he missed me at my worst. He didn’t see me as “that girl” and that was freeing for me. I was still very much struggling, but he never tried to fix me. He looked past the scars and fresh wounds on my wrist and my crazy moments. He took me fishing and he had no expectations of me and he taught me how to have fun. That summer holds some of my fondest memories and those memories are because of him. I have absolutely no doubt that God sent him to step into my life and change the course of it forever.

prom 2005

I ended up playing one more season of softball and another season of volleyball, but the spark was no longer there for me. The things I loved were now chores and after a season of each, I knew I was done for good. I could no longer relate to my peers.

It has now been twelve years since my original diagnosis and suicide attempt. I never attempted suicide again and I never will. I learned not only to cope with my depression but also to recognize when things were becoming dangerous. My senior year of high school, I was near suicidal again and made the decision to quit school (a controversial decision) and take care of myself. Everyone had an opinion on that decision and many of my classmates flat out made fun of me for quitting so close to graduation, but it was the right thing for me and I knew it.

I won’t lie- I am still not the most mentally stable person you’ll ever meet. I struggle daily. I have not sliced my wrists since December 2007 and I am proud of that. I have good days and bad days. The past 2 years have been very difficult for me and they have no doubt taken a toll, but I am able to cope. On the worst days, I am able to see through the darkness and know that there is light somewhere. I may not always know where or how to find it, but I know it’s there. God blessed me with an angel of a husband who stands by me even on the bad days. I know that I am not an easy person to love, but he does and he does it well.

I began writing this after reading an article that stated Robin Williams did not die of a disease, but from a choice. I don’t know his story, but what I do know is that my story began when I was only 12 years old and I didn’t know what depression was. How could I choose something that I didn’t know existed? It was not a choice.

For those of you who believe that this is simply a spiritual problem, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that you have never been clinically depressed. I believe that God has given me this story for a reason. He put me on this path and I pray my way through the day every day. I have prayed for God to take this depression from my life, but if I had never walked this path, how would I reach out to help others? If I had not faced the darkness, I would not be able to reach into the night to remind someone else that morning does indeed come.

Depression is a disease. Clinical depression is different than being depressed for a few days. Depression is not a choice. It is no more a choice than cancer. Sometimes with cancer, patients choose to let go and refuse treatment because they feel the fight is not worth it. It is the same with suicide- when I swallowed 300 pills at 14 years old, I thought my quality of life was not worth the battle. I had fought and fought, I had taken medication and talked through it, but my quality of life was not improving. I thought I could remove myself as a burden to those who loved me. I thought I was doing the world a favor.

With a clear mind now, I know those were all lies. Depression says “you are worthless” and “life isn’t worth living” and those things are not true. Morning does come. There is light, but you have to hang on. And hang on. And hang on. And fight. And fight. And fight. If you feel as if you have no one to fight with you, I will fight with you. Do not let this society make you feel as if you are beyond repair. You are not beyond repair. You may come out with a few scars, some scratches and dings, but if you are living and breathing, I promise it is not too late. Seek help. Your first steps may not work, but keep going. Keep seeking, keep fighting, and keep trying. On the other side, beyond the darkness, there is a light and a life worth living. Yes, even for YOU.

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4 Comments

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  • I understand this. It is not “spiritual.” I’m going to go out on a different limb here and say outright that that judgements made by religious people are part of the exact reason I don’t do religion. I even heard one say that we shouldn’t wish peace for Robin Williams, because he was probably not a Christian and was probably in hell. Really. After Williams’ death I heard the same things I always hear from more reasonable people–he “chose” this…he was “going through a bad time”…he was in a “low spell” and should have “sought help”…there are “alternatives.” Like always, I heard people comparing Williams’ situation to hard times in their own lives…the times they were broke…or going through divorces…or even after the loss of someone they loved. As bad as those things are—and the ARE bad! I’m not even going to try to decide which is worse—–those things are NOT what this is. Part of the problem is language—we use the same word, “depression,” to cover all of those things, and that doesn’t help when we need to make distinctions and increase understanding.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Many of us do understand.

  • Thank you for sharing with us. I admit I teared up just a little, because I felt I could truly feel your pain. I am glad that the right person found your online journal. You have 3 beautiful children and a loving husband and you never know what tomorrow will bring. I hope others hear your message. I hope those who need to find the light sense it is there by reading this and know that people are there to help them. I hope people choose not to judge so quickly the actions of others, because as you said, we never really know the story of anyone but ourselves. You have lovely readers and followers on your blog (and we read the whole post) because you always have a wonderful story, message or advice to share with us. Stay strong. Keep praying. God Bless.

  • Thank you Whitney for sharing your story. I found myself in tears many times while reading. The reason is because I can relate complete. Depression is scary and hard. To often people tell you that you have nothing to be depressed about so you put on a “happy” face to get through the moment and then don’t feel adequate in talking to anyone. Depression is not a choice and for someone who has never dealt with it doesn’t believe this and they look at you like you’re crazy. Depression is a disease. No doubt. The only things that keep you going in that moment you attempt to end it all is those that mean the most to you. Depression creeps up on you before you can even realize it. Again, thank you for sharing your story. Dealing with depression is one of the hardest things, a lot because you just can’t understand it unless you’ve been there. My prayers will be with you and if you ever need someone to confide in I am always here 🙂

 







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