The first time I suffered a bout of depression, I was 10 years old.
I didn’t put a diagnostic name to this insidious condition until I was well into my 20s. In fact, I considered the feelings associated with these moments in my life to be more like “occurrences,” or a momentary rupture which was more of a indictment of my own lack of effort to buck up and fly right.
During my fifth grade year, my teenage uncle sexually molested me. He was visiting my family for the summer and would creep into my room at night and explore my body.
I’d never been touched that way or even understood why someone would want to touch me that way.
I remember squirming around, tossing and turning, acting as if I was still asleep in an effort to discourage the act to continue or go any further.
As I told my parents about it, they stared at me in a total state of disbelief. Here I was, this 10 year old me knowing some wrong had occurred and was looking to them to make it right. Instead, they interrogated me as to whether I was actually sure it had taken place.
The whole family attended counseling. I sat up on the couch with my parents while they talked to the psychologist but I paid no attention and stared with jealousy at my two younger sisters playing with Legos on the floor.
When the psych asked me what I thought could help the situation, I replied that perhaps I could study harder and get better grades. No one had clearly explained to me why we were there.
I found myself feeling a sense of numbness and detachment regarding the situation that would only be reinforced by my parents lack of effort. These were feelings that I’d never felt before and I was only in fifth grade.
My second direct encounter with depression made an entrance during my sophomore year of high school.
I’d been sent to live with my aunt in Texas for part of the summer. This also meant I got to spend a great deal of time with my favorite cousin. Unfortunately, as the years had passed and the difference in our genders revealed themselves, he too became curious and attempted to explore my body while I slept.
Once again I wriggled and tossed around until he gave up. I was motionless on the couch, eyes wide open, in shock that this had happened again. My eyes immediately closed tight when I heard my older cousin come home. He later would go out and try to succeed where his brother failed. He did not.
Toward the middle of my 20s I started feeling listless. I was a generally adaptable person, yet toward the end of the semester in college, I found myself lying on my bed for hours, too lethargic to do more than the bare essentials. I remember a few times my uncle would check my pulse to make sure I was still living.
I made the decision to transfer out of school and start over at a new one. I had hoped a change in scenery would do me good. It worked for a time until I got dumped by the man of my dreams and spiraled all the way to a depression class.
Yeah, you read that right. Never went to a psychologist, but took a class. Like I said, I saw these feelings as nothing more than setbacks, “occurances” that I was destined to deal with for the rest of my life due to the circumstances that were injected early on. So why not just learn how to deal with them? My parents weren’t going to help me, psychologists just gave me pills, and I certainly couldn’t expect my friends to deal with such a heavy burden.
In my late 20s, they discovered a brain tumor. The medication was the cure to some of the most extreme hormonal shifts I had ever felt in my life. Finally after years and years of wanting nothing more than to feel normal, I felt wonderful. Like my own true sense of self.
I moved to Korea, discovered the pure joy I have in teaching and met the love of my life. For once I thought it just might be possible that the occurances were gone for good.
I began feeling the relationship unravel, yet wasn’t in any way prepared to deal with the ramifications. This bout of depression moved in and out like that green slime kids get at the Toy Store. It felt as though the slime would enter and exit at will. As I think about it now, I can say that I had hit rock bottom like some kind of a junkie.
This series of emotional negotiations lasted longer than the others. There were not just hormonal ramifications but physical ones as well. There was also a case of sexual infidelity to help confuse the matter further. It boggled my mind why the magical pill wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing anymore.
Then, one Saturday night we snapped. Broken apart like a dry twig in the woods stepped on by an unsuspecting hiker. I was devastated, actually felt I might be successful in suicide for the first time in my life. Scared shitless, I promised myself to go see a doctor the following Monday with the position that I was having an adverse reaction to my meds.
They took blood work, and a few days later it all came back normal. From their perspective there was no cause as to why I had no appetite, my ankles were swollen, or my mind felt like a record spinning at 1000rpm. So we made an appointment for a psychiatrist the following week.
It wasn’t even a day later when I had another nervous breakdown and the ex took me on an emergency visit to a locally recommended psychiatrist. That’s when he made the bugle-like announcement that “You have mild onset depression and your meds have been causing psychotic episodes.” So as it turns out, I really am a crazy bitch. In some ways it was a relief. It was also heartbreaking because I really didn’t have control of the things I did to make the man I thought I would marry fall out of love with me. And no matter how much I have grown and learned about my situation, I have no control now in making him remember who I really am.
What does it all mean to me? It means I have to stop abandoning myself as my family had years ago. That I truly need to learn how to tale care of myself. Not just academically, or financially, or professionally but in a way that benefits my state of well-being.
These feelings exist in the lives of high-functioning people; people who you’d never suspect suffer daily from such a debilitating internal soul-crushing ailment weighing them down daily.
After the death of Robin Williams, the current conversation about depression and mental illness had a new spotlight shone on it. It certainly made me grateful that I have a support system of doctors and friends who have helped me through was has certainly been the most difficult month of my life.
Only now that I allow myself to embrace inevitable change and growth have the fumes of depression and my chemical imbalance escape from their holding tank and evaporate into nothing.
Take care of yourselves and be excellent to each other.