It is Mental Health Awareness Month and various posts about depression have inspired me. As someone who has suffered from chronic depression her whole life (and has alienated many because of it) I felt compelled to share my story. I’ve been working on this post for almost a week and it still doesn’t feel just like I want it to, but I can’t keep staring at it hoping that will change, because it’s probably just all in my head anyways. So, here it is raw and rambling in parts and full of heart, because well, that’s how I roll.
You will find while reading this (very long entry) that the tenses seem to change erratically. I tend to write like this a lot and it is only after intense proofreading and editing am I able to put my thoughts into a cohesive form. I understand this might make some of you cringe, but I hope it will be accepted in the form it is offered – as an insight into the mind of someone who regularly mentally and emotionally jumps through time.I hope you take the time to carefully read it as it has been written and I thank you for allowing me to share with you.
When I was a kid all the women in my life had patchwork quilts. They made these quilts over the years of their lives, a practice handed down by their mothers and probably their mothers’ mothers. These women took scraps of fabric from various things and places – a pair of jeans they loved but could no longer wear, a piece of their baby blanket, a part of a jumper they wore when pregnant. My mother, aunts, grandmothers and all their friends had one.
Some were faded and thin, some were thicker than others, some smelled like wet dog and some smelled like freshly washed linen and were warm to the touch. There were bright ones and ones with a lot of striped cloth pieces. Some were mostly denim and some seemed to be made of fabric that came only from things with flowers. While all of these quilts differed in many ways, one thing stood constant among them all. The stitching. These blankets were sewn together with the scraps of life with care and skill. All those little fragments of time were bound together by heavy thread. These blankets were strong.
Ever since I was little I have been saving scraps from my life with which to someday make my own quilt. I have a section of my favorite blanket from childhood – pink and fuzzy with the soft satin strip along the edge. I have a green bonnet my mother crocheted for me. I have scraps of clothing from over the years and punk rock patches.
|Yes I have excellent taste in music.|
I have fabric remnants from craft stores – just colors or textures that caught my eyes. I have everything I could possibly need to start making my own patchwork quilt. And it’d be a good one – colorful and multi-patterned with all kinds of textures. My sewing machine is broken, but I can do a mean overcast stitch by hand. So why haven’t I started my patchwork quilt? Because it has been hard enough piecing my literal life together for all these years.
Like some of you I am a product of a broken family. But unlike most of you I grew up emotionally and physically abused. I grew up neglected. In a perpetual cycle that has been in my family for only god knows how many generations, I was raised in a violent, hateful, sadistic, restrictive and oppressive household. But there was also love. I remember love.
|I remember I LOVED chocolate chip cookies!|
I also remember many weekends of standing in the corner for up to six hours while my mother and stepfather entertained their guests. I remember being sent to bed without dinner while my family ate my favorite meal. I remember being punched in the face when I was four years old because my mother had made macaroni and cheese for dinner again. My stepfather was so drunk and angry about it that he tossed the pot up in the air – I remember all the macaroni and cheese sticking to the ceiling and then I cried. Who punches a four year old in the face for crying?
I remember someone was always screaming. Nobody ever used his or her indoor voice at my place. Everyone made sure they were heard. Except for the children. Children were to be seen and not heard. Sometimes I got a spanking while I was in the bath because the water would make it sting more. I was beat with spoons, with belt buckles, with fists. I’ve had my hair pulled so hard my scalp bled. I was called “little bitch,” and “wannabe,” and “piece of shit.” I was told that I was an accident.
|But not by this guy!|
There was also a lot of silence. There were times when I’d walk into a dark room and I’d know my mother would be sitting there. The only thing I’d be able to see was the red burning tip of her cigarette. She pretended nobody existed when she got like that. I could have been on the ground bleeding to death and she would have sat there, taking slow heavy drags off her non-filtered Pall Mall cigarette.
My grandmother on my mother’s side was a paranoid schizophrenic, diagnosed as a teenager. She was hospitalized for some time but married and had a hoard of children soon after. My mother didn’t have the best childhood – the book, Sybil comes to mind when I think of it. So she suffered from chronic depression. To avoid the crushing despair that comes with the type of depression my mother has, she drank.
|My mother thought a fifth of vodka a night was her solution.|
I retreated into my mind a lot as a child. I had no real friends to speak of until maybe fifth or sixth grade (and even then only one person could really tolerate me). I planned elaborate plays that I put on myself (including really cheesy renditions of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats – hey, I loved that song “Memory” and I loved cats).
I spent most of my time day dreaming, in fact a good chunk of my early report cards indicate as such.
If I wasn’t daydreaming or pretending to be someone else I was reading or writing stories. I participated in the Reading Olympics a lot as a kid because while other kids were outside playing during the summer, I was usually grounded to my bed nursing some form of belt welt for “giving lip.”
I can’t recall exactly when I started acting out, but I was young. I peed in the laps of my mother’s friends. I wiped Crisco all over the kitchen. I started peeling the paint of the wall when I had to stand in the corner. I snuck out and ran away more times than I can count, but I always went back home because I missed my mom. I was horrible to my sister and was always reading my brother’s comics, playing with his Star Wars toys and listening to his records even though I knew that it meant certain death if he were to find out. I had “middle child syndrome.”
It’s like my life could be described as a crazy-inducing yo-yo. I’m little, I’m happy. I have joy. My dad takes me to Disneyland regularly. He teaches me to fish, but I ultimately don’t like it because I don’t like killing things. I am obsessed with late night horror movies on television and my mother won’t let me watch them, but my dad will. I adore him and his side of the family. Christmas is always fun. We make gingerbread men and play softball.
|I still make that face.|
My cousins adore me, but I develop a deep friendship with only one of them. My father remarries; I have a little brother. But then his mom takes him away and I don’t see him again until after my father’s death. It seems as if everything falls apart after that. There’s all this drama in my family. My mother has become a Born Again Christian. She thinks I’m possessed by the devil. She doesn’t want my father to see me anymore. They are constantly fighting.
My father starts staying away, but continues to write and wants me to come visit. My mom guilt trips me into staying home. She fills my head with lies about him and his family. I don’t want to believe her, but she’s my mom and there was a time when I thought every lie that dripped from her lips was words of wisdom that would guide me my entire life. My poor crazy mother and all of her worthless plans.
I was ten years old when I started my period and it was shortly after that when my stepfather started walking around naked and barging in on me when I was peeing or taking a bath and it wasn’t too long after that when my mother shipped me away to live in a foster home in order to save me. Unfortunately I didn’t know that until a few years ago. She had always told me it was because she couldn’t handle my behavior. I was led to believe for my entire teenaged and adult life that I was too precocious, to bad to remain at home and she needed someone else to take care of me for a while. So I was sent to live in Mariposa on a ranch with an aunt and uncle I barely knew (only related through marriage). They became my legal guardians and my mother signed me away, just like that.
Even though shit got real during the few years before Mariposa (My mother started sleeping on the living room couch with a paring knife before becoming “born again,” and drinking every night) that old joy that I believe is always in my heart, just below the surface exploded with hope for my future. I’ve always been one to try to make the best of things I think. Ever since I was little I have always sought out the silver lining. Even when I’m preparing for the worst and fearful of what is to come next I always have my eye out for… possibility. So even though my mother broke my heart when she made the decision to dump me in the country because she couldn’t care for me anymore I looked upon the opportunity as one that could change my life.
It did change my life, in a sense. If I hadn’t been sent away who knows what could have happened and I can’t imagine that any of those possibilities could have been good ones. I learned a lot about nature, about caring for animals. I learned that I was loveable and smart and capable. My mother gave me three skills: She taught me to read when I was three, she taught me how to type as soon as I was able and she taught me how to cook. She said no matter what as long as I could read better than anyone, type faster than anyone and cook better than anyone I would always have some place in the world. After living in Mariposa, I learned that my world was so much bigger than that.
Throughout my teens I had explosive emotions. I drastically swung between hypomania when I’d be either ecstatic about everything or easily agitated and quick to rage to complete and total despondency when I cried for days and couldn’t get out of bed. My uncle tried to teach me to channel it all by working on the ranch. I dug postholes I built a chicken coop, I helped work on the truck, I milked goats and helped in the garden. (He also turned me on to science and astronomy – what a cool dude he was.) It was all a nice outlet, but it was as if no matter how much I swung at a hill with a pick ax or screamed at the stars from the rooftop there was so much more emotion just boiling over. It was more than I could bear. It was more than anyone could bear.
|Some statistics don't lie.|
After a while things went sour and I couldn’t stand being in the same room with my aunt without wanting to set her on fire so I ran away. I told my uncle one day, packed my things and moved in with my best friend. Because of it my beloved uncle was not allowed to associate with me and even now after he’s been dead for a few years my aunt still won’t speak to me.
After wearing out my welcome at the home of my best friend and almost getting arrested for vandalism, my mother decided it was time to come home. What I didn’t realize was that nearly sixteen years of rage had been building up and had been sort of channeled while living on the ranch, but when I moved back in with my mother slowly but surely it was all released and once again she couldn’t deal with what she had made.
|What a monster.|
I was put in therapy and when I was sixteen years old I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, with a tendency towards manic depression. They put me on an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic after which I had a complete psychotic breakdown and tried to kill myself. I was in the hospital for a week and when they attempted to have me committed I begged and pleaded with my mother to not let them take me. She didn’t.
|Ah, the power of hindsight...|
After that I quit going to the shrink. I quit taking their medication that made me feel completely crazy and out of my mind with confusion. So instead I started drinking and smoking pot and doing blow, which certainly seemed to solve the problem I had with my weight. I hurt a lot of people during those years. I was angry all the time and violent. Out of a fit of rage I accidentally knocked a few of my sister’s teeth out. I threw a cake pan at my mom’s head. I nearly slit my older brother’s throat with a butter knife.
I had all this anger and I had no idea where it was coming from. While my mother was trying to push me to shove antidepressants down my throat because I “clearly had a chemical imbalance,” (you know the hot psychological buzz phrase of the time), the only thing that made me happy was when I was drunk or fucked up on some drug. I had a constant need to numb myself because I couldn’t bear feeling anything anymore.
Still were my days of sobbing and not getting out of bed. I successfully alienated my parents (my father lived up near Visalia at the time and I treated him like shit, too). I got into fights all the time and nearly had myself killed a few times. I knew I had a problem but I didn’t know how to solve it and it didn’t seem that anyone else could without drugging me with crap that made me even crazier than I was. I lived like this until one night I was critically wounded by a gang. I still live in paranoia over that so I won’t go into the details here, suffice it to say I was nearly killed and couldn’t leave my house for months.
It was that event that got me really focusing on getting my anger in check. I began writing more and writing helped me work through a lot of the fear that I lived with after my attack. I eventually moved in with this guy and even though I was still doin’ drugs and dealing with manic highs and terribly depressive lows I wasn’t physically violent towards others. I may have thrown shit and broken stuff, but I had more control.
No matter how many arguments with my mother I got into it was always my fault. Not once did she admit to anything or take accountability for anything. She still hasn’t. I always get, “I did the best I could with what I had,” and I suppose she did and I suppose it’s up to me to learn to live with that.
While the relationship with my mother deteriorated I worked on rebuilding the one with my dad. While my mother played the “poor me,” act my dad did his best to understand where I was coming from. He suggested I had some abandonment issues from both of them and we talked about that. I wrote him a novella of a letter pouring my heart out to him and he told me and everyone he knew how proud of me he was. I was going to school, living with a guy and although my mother withdrew from me and ceased talking to me altogether for about two years once again I felt like I was putting the seams of my life back together.
Then my dad died and my relationship fell apart. I lost my apartment and my job and my mother wouldn’t let me move back in. I lived out of my car and couch surfed when I could until after some serious rock bottom bullshit I made the decision to fucking LIVE. I knew my dad wouldn’t be so proud of me if he saw me. I got a job working at Borders, found an apartment and one day found I had a ton of friends a new love interest and I was in the best physical shape of my life.
This is where shit gets really weird. I find myself at 24 getting married to a vegan, racist, anarcho-punk rocker, Christian alcoholic and man am I stinking drunk like every day. I get really fat, chain-smoke and blog about how unhappy I am every single night while my “partner” is in the bedroom practicing some “talent” for his acting resume or blowing off my birthday for an audition.
At one point I start feeling really anxious. I have panic attacks pretty regularly and start suffering from sleep paralysis. When I’m not feeling anxious I’m numb. I don’t feel anything. I feel cold on the inside. After all those years of feeling everything all the time I finally felt nothing. For anyone. I assumed I had just become a nihilist, but then the coldness started scaring me. I started feeling worthless and that nothing meant anything and if nothing meant anything then what was the point of any of it?
I began leaving home for days and not answering my phone. When confronted with where I was I answered in sarcastic riddles and belligerent metaphors. I allowed my “partner” to gaslight me into believing I was crazy and that I needed medication, so once again I started taking anti-depressants. They allowed me to feel something long enough to realize that I couldn’t stand living with this man any longer and I left him and stopped taking the pills.
Again I was left feeling nothing. I drank and drank and drank in order to at least feel silly or have a crying jag over shit I have no concept of. I used sex to feel.
I used myself all up until all I had left was self-hatred. I didn’t think I deserved any form of happiness. All I was doing was going through the motions of living. Just getting through a day without chasing a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of vodka was all I could do.
But you know what? I was able to get through it and cut way back on my drinking. At this point I drink a few times a month. I don’t even get ripped. But you know what happens when you stop numbing yourself? When you take the cork off the bottled up girl who’s been trying for years not to feel anything?
The man I am going to marry next month met me during a nervous breakdown and he loved me anyways. He loved me as I tried to push him away and was terrified of hanging out with any of his friends because I was SURE they’d hate me anyways. God it’s like I have gone through my whole life assuming that everyone would do much better without me and that nobody will ever care for me the way I care for them. It’s like I’ve been punishing the world for the mistakes of those whose responsibility it was to love and to care for me.
I felt like everyone else had these perfect little lives and if they weren’t perfect you better believe they pretended they were because nothing is worse than people thinking your life sucks. Some of my own friends seemed so affected, like nobody was really being himself or herself, only caricatures of what they thought society expected them to be. Everywhere I went everyone seemed so fake and so utterly disgusted by my raw honesty. The more syrupy someone’s attitude about life was the more I hated them. I felt they were blind to reality or trying to hide from the awful truth of everything. I was facing it head on and yet again alienating everyone in the process. Only this times it was with my words.
In person I was quiet and shy unless I was drunk and then I was full of Too Much Information or too snooty. On Facebook all I seemed to do was bitch about All The Fucked Up Shit. So people thought that was all I was about. When people complained that I was being too negative and why couldn’t I just be happy it made it worse. I felt they were dismissing my pain. I felt they weren’t trying to be compassionate or understanding. They felt that as long as I had finally found true love why couldn’t I just be happy.
One of the amazing things about my fiancé is that we share our madness. Not like Folie a deux or anything, but like we both have neurosis. We both suffer from chronic depression. He understands that even though we are perfect for each other in every way and we encourage and support each other to be better people and we never feel as whole or that the universe is more right than when we’re together – he also understands that sometimes it’s not enough.
We both suffer from a paralyzed fear of rejection. We both worry that other people don’t really like us as much as we think. We feel like others do not respect us as much as we respect them. We feel like the world sees us as weak and less than whole. We feel dismissed and passed over and we know that people find that contemptuous. The world looks down on those it views as weak and really for anyone to think we are weak because of our sensitivity is a major exercise in narrow-mindedness. I think that might be why we clung so tightly to each other when we first met. For the first time there was someone who shared the same exact thoughts like all the time!
|I now believe in soul mates.|
It has always been very difficult for me to get to know people unless I feel completely unjudged by them. Being a paranoid person it's very rare that I don't feel judged by someone. Usually when someone refuses to make eye contact with me I have a hard time trusting them. If someone constantly makes excuses for not hanging out I assume they don't like me and I give up. During the first year of our relationship I weeded out a lot of people I thought were my friends and that made a huge difference in how I felt about myself. Most of his friends befriended me quickly and I think they love me and I love them (I adore his parents) - it's nice to have an extended family! But we both lost people we thought cared about us deeply because they just couldn't understand or accept our relationship.
We started seeing the world and our own ideals differently and I think a few of his friends thought that I had changed him - which really doesn't speak well of how much they respected him in the first place. So much paranoia and fear over something so silly because ultimately even if they didn’t like me, even if they did think I changed him, we were both happier than we had ever been in our entire lives. We had a good relationship grounded in honesty and trust, respect and admiration. We took care of each other. It didn’t and doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of us as long as we’re good people and doing what we can to make our lives and the world a better place.
|Which is all that matters.|
But still I had times when I couldn’t get out of bed and I’d cry for days and sometimes lay there for hours just staring at shadows on the wall. I still had such a hard time fitting in and worrying about what other people were thinking how I was treating them all the time. I avoided my family because there was just too much hurt built up and just being in the same room with them filled me with too many confused emotions, but then I also felt guilty because I knew they needed me. So I felt (and still do feel) conflicted.
I was so paranoid about hurting so many people for so long that I became obsessed with always letting people know where I stand. I was constantly making excuses for myself and explaining all my modes of thought. God I must have come off as such a fucking lunatic.
My mother should have had me committed years ago. Perhaps if I had just taken a little vacation when I was 17 and had time to be creative and educated and get psychological analysis I could have avoided years of suffering. I am lucky enough to have a person in my life who loves me so much he knew that I needed that. He knew that I needed what I had been robbed of. A chance to focus on school and my creative endeavors and not have to worry about the responsibility of a full time job and forcing myself into a mold into which I would never and could never fit.
Before I quit my job I was seeing a psychologist called, “Dr. Mike.” I saw him every week for a few months and in that short time he gave me a much better diagnosis than the bullshit crazy label I had been given when I was sixteen. He told me that I have PTSD. He said that my paranoia comes from being hyper vigilant and he told me that my actions and reactions are very close to those who have lived through war. And really, I have. My childhood was a battlefield. I was also brutally attacked by a gang and almost killed. I’ve been beaten and raped and humiliated. But I am alive.
My fiancé has given me the time and the space that I have needed to deal with (and fairly soberly at that) things in my life that I had been running and hiding from, ignoring, trying to forget. I have spent a long time going over my life and giving the little girl inside what she has gone without for so long, self-love. No, not that kind, jerks. I had to look at me as a child with love and affection. I had to make her see that it was going to be okay. I know that sounds crazy, but it makes perfect sense to me. I had to forgive myself. I had to let go of all the self-blame and hatred that I had been heaping on myself because I unconsciously believed that was what good people did. Isn’t that sick? I had been hiding under a very thick veil of liquor and smoke and when I was fished out of it I had to be nursed back to health.
The love of my life has been my rock for three years now. It is because of his compassion, understanding and unwavering devotion that I have the strength to tell this story now. It is because of my unstoppable hope and perseverance that I am alive today. It is because of the reliability of good friends that I was always helped to see a new perspective.
A friend of mine the other day mentioned something about choices. I have had people tell me to, “just be happy!” like it was a choice and while I do not believe one can just choose to be happy, I do believe we have the ability to choose to try. We can do that which brings us joy. We can spend time with those we love. We can take care of our bodies and be productive. Get your ass to the gym and clean your goddamn house. You know?!
|You can now buy this as a t-shirt here.|
While so many wounds have been healed, there are some yet that will always be sensitive like scar tissue. I love my brothers and my sister and I want to be there for them as much as possible, but I have a lot of hurt left from my mother. Still, I am there for her as only I can be. She doesn't seem to really want to have anything to do with me unless she needs me for something. I am still putting myself back together and trying to learn to forgive her. I bounce back and forth between feeling sorry for her and feeling like she deserves everything that happens.
Throughout my life pieces of me have been broken off, stolen, ripped apart and it has been a great and worthwhile struggle to hold onto the pieces that need to remain with me. My humanity, my compassion, my love, my tolerance have all been stitched together and while my senses and preoccupations may sometimes be scattered throughout time I am becoming whole again and warm to the touch. I am and will always be a constant work in progress, but I do a mean overcast stitch by hand and my seams are holding strong. I am a patchwork person and that is how I see depression. Thank you so much for reading.
*UPDATE* I feel compelled to mention (for those of you who might be concerned) that I am no longer doing hard drugs. This New Year's Eve will be my nine year mark.