The other night while I was driving back to Moberly from Columbia, I realized that while I’ve talked briefly about my depression in various blog posts in the past, I’ve only touched on minute aspects of it and have never actually talked in-depth about what my experience with it is like on a day-to-day basis. So this sparked up an idea that has surfaced intermittently in my mind over the past year or so: a series of blog posts dedicated solely to talking about my personal experience with long-term depression.
IS THIS REAL LIFE? A BRIEF HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
My earliest memory with depression was fifteen years ago, when I was nine years old. It may have started sooner, but this is the earliest that I can look at it and think, “Yep, that’s depression.” I had been chapter 51’d for attempting suicide by walking down the middle of the street hoping to get hit by a car. While I don’t remember much from the hospital itself, I remember being one of the younger kids there. I also remember my dad coming one night to take me home. I can only suspect it was not an authorized release, because he told me at the time not to tell anybody, and when we got home he instructed me not to turn any lights on, but rather closed the blinds and lit a couple of candles. I never actually learned why he did what he did that night, but I do have a couple suspicions. Nevertheless, I digress.
Though social and familial isolation while growing up definitely played a role in feeding my depression, there is also much, much more to it that I’ve talked about in various blog posts before. One Little Lie and Cutter are two reads that I would recommend in terms of adding a bit more context to the storyline. Most of my memories between the ages of nine and sixteen are blurry to me; unless a memory surfaces randomly in my mind, odds are I won’t remember it. I remember “going crazy” (as some may call it), talking to myself and getting lost in mental fantasies only to return to a reality that was generally cold and foreboding. My distaste for reality, of course, spurred more and more elaborate fantasies, sometimes blurring the lines of reality to the point that my dad would question whether my “friends” were actually real (the truth is, I lied to my dad about having friends until I was fifteen just so that he wouldn’t worry about me). Had I actually opened up with my counselor as a child about these fantasies, there’s a chance I may have actually ended up institutionalized for how closely they sometimes bordered on psychosis.
The question of whether or not I experienced psychotic episodes as a child is one that I’ve pondered in great depth, but also one that I’ve never been able to come to a definite conclusion on. Mostly, this is due to the fact that I was always in control of the fantasies and knew what was real and what was not. The closest I came to a psychotic episode was when I was fifteen and in juvi; I found myself so caught in a mental fantasy (which I had created as a way of coping with the reality of being incarcerated) that for a few brief minutes, I legitimately lost touch with what was real and, in a moment of realization that I can only attribute to a transcendent force that I had not yet become aware of, snapped back to reality. This is the primary incident in question; the rest were less severe. I would have internal dialogues with “voices” in my mind, but I always had some degree of control over them and always realized that they weren’t real. I’ve always chocked it up to a hyperactive imagination.
Though my INFJ personality does lend to being more reclusive than most, depression while growing up certainly affected my ability to socialize. Combine that with the fact that my dad worked most of the time (which I admire to a degree), I found myself alone more often than not and generally operated on my own, internally, intuitively, and spontaneously. Unfortunately, I was also an angry child, lacked moral guidance, and was almost continuously on probation. My early teen years found me in and out of juvi, and eventually locked up for a stretch that lasted fourteen and a half months. Needless to say, I didn’t exactly grow up with ideal conditions for becoming a mentally healthy adult. I knew this, too, but only continued to make matters worse for myself; instead of doing something to make a change, I played the victim and blamed everyone and everything but myself, avoided responsibility, and through it all I didn’t care. Every day I felt like my head was in a fog; the lines of reality were so blurry that I couldn’t make out what I should or shouldn’t do.
If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s that my depression wasn’t particularly known while I was growing up. Truthfully, I didn’t even know what to call it until recent years; I just knew I felt like shit all the time. Aside from a few incidents that raised concern, I have little doubt that I may have been institutionalized had I been vocal about the truth regarding what was really going on in my mind. I knew this to a degree, and so like many people with whacked-out minds, I was left to fend for myself (mentally speaking, that is). Now I’m not saying that I was utterly insane, or that I should have been institutionalized, but it certainly could have happened. I often wonder why God didn’t allow it to happen, but always find myself grateful that it didn’t; I’ve met people who were, heard stories of atrocious things that had happened in such places, and would thus never wish institutionalization upon anybody with mental health issues.
I was seventeen when I tried to kill myself. If there’s one thing I remember, it’s that the blade was cold, and that it only stung for a moment; once the adrenaline kicked in, I couldn’t feel anything. I watched the blood flow and then stop, so I jammed the blade deep into the cut and flicked it outward, watching the gash get wider and wider until the blood started flowing again. I can’t honestly say whether I actually cut a vein (because frankly I’m no expert when it comes to medical things like how fast blood flows when you cut a vein), but I remember starting to feel weak and tired after a little while; despite the adrenaline that masked the pain, I just wanted to fall asleep. Nevertheless, I only found myself angry that it didn’t work. I’ve talked about this, before, so that’s not what I want to focus on; besides, the scars have faded some over time.
What I do want to focus on is this: I continued to cut myself, intermittently, up until I was 20. I’ve often told people that I stopped cutting after my suicide attempt, but that’s not the truth. The last time I cut myself was during my first year of bible college. One night, almost on a whim, I decided to personally hand my box cutter over to the men’s residence director and explain why I was handing it to him. But hold your applause; I only stopped cutting because I was afraid of getting expelled and being left alone halfway across the country with no home to go back to. However, I handed the blade to him personally instead of simply discarding it because I wanted somebody to know that I wasn’t okay. And this is where I get to the point of all this talk about self-harm: despite being depressed, I longed for a sense of home, for companionship, and for somebody to know.
This longing is a thread that I can see playing out all through my childhood, teenage years, and very early adulthood. I would be lying if I didn’t say that it’s still a present thread in my life and in my thinking. Yet the very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. As a teen, I feared that I would only get in trouble if I asked for more help; I was already under pretty close supervision as it was, and I wasn’t about to put myself in a situation that would require even closer supervision. Sure, I had a counselor (who I was required to see), but I didn’t even talk to him; either my dad was sitting in on the session, or I feared he (or my probation supervisor) would find out nonetheless. When you’re depressed, you first thought isn’t that people care about you; neither is it your second, third, fourth, fifth, hundredth, thousandth, or millionth thought (if your mind operates as fast as mine does). I found myself rationalizing to the point that I was convinced that nobody really liked me, and that my isolation was my own fault for being so undesirable.
Yet during all of it I had things that I wanted to do, things that I would become passionate about (even if I lost interest after a while): model railroading, automotive design, architectural design, writing, sewing, cooking, golf, martial arts, etc. As I was generally alone a lot (despite being closely supervised), I found myself absorbed in things that would offer my mind something to focus on, a safe escape from reality. If anything, it offered short-lived blips of happiness that speckled my reality like stars in the night sky. But the problem is that it was always short-lived; I couldn’t find a lasting solution to my depression. No hobby that I wrapped myself in could satisfy me. There was no word that could soothe, no blade that could cut deep enough, no pill that could fix, no patch that wouldn’t shrink and rip off.
It was as though God wired me as an INFJ with depression (or allowed it to happen) so that only He could satisfy me. It may sound weird (even preposterous to some), but it’s how I think nonetheless. Yet I’ve been told by well-meaning Christians over and over that “if you just have faith, God will set you free from your depression.” Little did they know that their words damaged more than they healed; it left me envious of those who seemed to get better and made me question my faith and whether God loved me. I ask: what’s so difficult about supposing that God allows some to be depressed so that His glory could be displayed in their lives? Two stories come to mind. The first is John 9; the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed. If you haven’t read it, go read it now and then come back to this. Jesus said he was born blind so that God’s glory could be displayed in Him. The second is 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul prayed and prayed for God to remove “a thorn in his flesh,” to which God simply replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
If you’re reading this and struggle with depression, you’re not alone, and God loves you; you are the way you are for a reason. Don’t doubt for a moment that God has your best interest at heart. Even if it’s dark, He’s been there, and He is there. This isn’t some sort of sympathetic attempt to paint a silver lining, but the truth: Jesus suffered just as we do. He understands our pain and our struggles. Even if it’s dark, He’s right there with you, and you’re never alone.
Part two of this series is coming soon. Keep an eye open.