My father, for as long as I’ve known him, has been one to make up his own song lyrics, or create nonsense noise to entertain himself. I once listened from another room, in hilarity and wonderment, as the man in his sixties meowed an entire made up tune, completely absorbed in his own amusement.
children were small, Dad used our juvenility to his advantage, getting us to
join in on the singing of silly songs. Driving to preschool, he and I would
improvise verses to the song from Mister
Rogers’ Neighborhood, “There are many ways to say I love you.”
the TICKLING way to say I love you," we would sing, followed by a squeal
from me as he reached back to my car seat to poke a wiggling finger in my rib
Rogers died in 2003, the news was slipped to me after school.
and my mom’s eyes darted to catch mine, as she screwed up her face in sympathy.
tell you earlier,” she said. “We thought it might ruin your day.”
been obvious that I inherited my father’s silliness, his outgoing nature, his
patience with the eccentricities of others. It would be one of the things that
would draw people to me as I grew older, allow me to lead the pack in
uncomfortable situations, easing tensions.
also be the thing that would mask the deep, ongoing struggles of cynicism and
darkness of my twenties, making it that much harder for people to believe that
I had a real problem.
depression first crept into my life, I didn’t recognize it as such, perhaps
because I assumed that ugly label, “depression,” was reserved for another crowd.
Reading a (not particularly moving) novel during my senior year in high school,
I noticed it strange that I had to set it down, for the tears suddenly coming
out of my eyes.
It was my
second year in a new school, and I found myself feeling more like it was my
very first day, every day. I had few friends, and loneliness and cynicism were creeping
into my bloodstream. As the solitary crying became a pattern, the fear of what
was happening to me became too much, and I gave my tears an audience. My dad
held me as I wept, unable to express words at what I was feeling. I would
always be his baby girl, but this was too literal a translation, an oversized,
17-year-old baby in her father’s lap.
My parents gave
me practical suggestions: Maybe join a club. Why not attend a football game? But
I wasn’t brave enough to blaze a social trail, when I felt like my classmates
weren’t eagerly waiting to greet me.
out to my parents, I abated my woe of being in total seclusion, but the stress
and wear of feeling like a perpetual new kid in school continued to rag my
edges. Within months, I developed painful skin lesions that the doctors
ultimately deemed anomalistic, but which I am convinced were the result of
extreme and continuous emotional stress.
a clean bill of health, I marched back to my previously dreaded school counting
my blessings and the friends I did have, even if previously I considered them
acquaintances. I realized college was just over the horizon, and set out to
make the best of the end of the academic year.
I maneuvered my way through potentially disheartening situations. Having no one
to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance, I took my brother with me. I ignored the
fact that I didn’t have enough close male friends to ask even one to go with me,
and focused instead on the humor of my solution. We took a photo at home before
leaving for the event; in it, my brother pretended to scowl, disgusted at the prospect
of having to take his sister to a dance.
All this daring
resolve would make me stronger, but it built deeply ingrained defense
mechanisms, creating a sometimes nasty crust around me, which I am still trying
to shove off.
between high school and college was treacherous, as I began to doubt my
lifelong Christian faith for the first time in my life. As if the depression
and cynicism of the previous year weren’t enough, now my trust in a loving heavenly
Father figure started to fall from beneath my feet, sending me into a tailspin
shoulder all the worry on my own, I reluctantly reached out to some youth
mentors at church to let – limited – air out of my anxious wheels running on
overdrive, on overthink. My youth minister came over unannounced, likely afraid
that I might harm myself, to talk. I told her about some of my feelings of
guilt, how I didn’t know where to direct my help for others.
registered as a social work major, but that didn’t feel like enough. My parents
were looking to buy four and five bedroom houses, and I wondered why we had so
much while so many elsewhere in the world had nothing. I went along on these
real estate outings, though inwardly protesting the purchase, because I was too
uncomfortable to stay home alone, with my own troubled head.
myself for homesickness at college, but raced to that new place, ready to run
from the scary thoughts I accustomed with home.
life proved to be a welcome, shining light. I had grown used to moving
cross-country for my father’s job while growing up, so making new friends was a
breeze in the bustle of dormitory life. The homesickness I expected never met
me, and for the first time in my life, I was…popular? Baffled, I started to
question who I was, given so many years of feeling like my confident personality
had to remain shrouded.
schoolwork at times, thanks to my endemic procrastination, but giggled with
girlfriends, gossiped about crushes, and buzzed through a quick four years from
one cup of coffee to the next.
year edged near, the bubble of my college campus began to wear thin. The soap
started to slip toward the bottom of the sphere, threatening to pop the cocoon
that had protected me for three years.
When, in the
summer of 2006, people started to joke about June 6 (06-06-06) being the
possible end of the world, it frightened me more than it should have, in my
fragile state. With talk on the news of global warming, and some circles making
apocalyptic parallels to inclement weather, I became superstitious and
passed, and the world did not end, but panic lived on in me. I kept all of it
to myself, feeling physically rigid, as if no comfort were around any corner,
no matter how many I turned. It helped to have my friends near as I returned to
school, but underneath the surface, I was continuing to secretly change,
becoming more fearful, more uncertain, more uncomfortable.
I started to
worry about my every move. I worried about where people went after they died. I
worried about my own eternal fate, and grew tic-like in the silent prayers I
uttered half-heartedly throughout each day, hoping somehow I was fending off
the devil and what dark things he might be trying to wreak on my heart.
know my role, anywhere, except perhaps as student-toward-diploma, and every
step I took was riddled with uncertainty.
my burgeoning madness I told myself, with graduation weeks away, that I would
not become depressed when school ended. I was convinced I would be fine
emotionally, as if my resolve not to feel down were enough.
I did OK for
a while at my plan, though I spent my evenings after work becoming more
internal, brooding for a light and airy life missed. The bathtub became my new
hangout, where I would draw a hot tap and steam in the soupy water several nights
after work, and even during the Super Bowl, an event that until then I never would
was continuing in my life, unrecognized, unlabeled, undiagnosed. I simply
thought I was riding the freedom wave of being able to do what I wanted with my
time, after years of slaving over assigned essays and readings.
By the time
spring rolled around, a new kind of thought had started to enter my mind.
nowhere, I would think nasty phrases that would never actually escape my lips,
even if incensed to the point of justifiably doing so. For no reason, I would
think things like “Rot in hell” toward people who encountered my path. I
couldn’t help but have these thoughts. They didn’t match the sentiments of my
heart, yet they kept popping up.
And they scared
the hell out of me. I legitimately wondered if I was possessed by a demon – at
times it seemed the only logical explanation for such inexplicable thought
As time went
on, the thoughts got worse. I would think, “Well, these thoughts are horrible,
but at least I haven’t had any of them directed toward my best friends, or my
family.” Then, in thinking such, I would automatically think an uncharacteristic
thought toward one of those people, furthering me into my self hatred,
confusion, and fear of this faceless, uninvited monster inside me.
several months answering phones as a receptionist, the lack of a challenge
reached its unbearable limit inside me, and I submitted myself to a social work
master’s program the day the application was due.
victim to unwanted thoughts of hatred and harm toward others (I would come to
find, years later in therapy, that these are known as “intrusive thoughts” and
are quite common), studying social work proved to be fuel on my terrified fire.
The last place I needed to be on Monday mornings was in a classroom where bleeding
hearts shared stories of clients and their burdened lives.
One day in
particular, when suicide was the focus of discussion in class, I fled home in a
panic. I walked in the door in tears, nearly hyperventilating. My brother held me
while his wife got me a glass of water, and I sat down and told them between
heaving breaths what had happened, how I couldn’t bear to listen to the stories
being shared at school. What I didn’t tell them was that I had run that day not
because I simply felt bad for the people who had lost their lives and those
left behind; I had reached a new level of darkness, that made the possibility
of ending things no longer unfeasible.
suggestion of my brother, I started attending therapy. The night before my
first session, I found myself crying in my dad’s lap, like an instant replay of
my 17-year-old life.
trying not to swallow that this was my reality – as if therapy were the worst
thing that could happen to me. I would later think that being diagnosed with
bipolar disorder would be the worst thing, or that acting on one of my violent
impulses would be the worst thing. I could cause myself to worry about anything.
It was the ultimate game of one-upmanship with myself, and I was trapped in it,
sessions brought up more than I was ready to think about, and I hated sitting
there talking about things that scared me, hated being the one needing help. Sometimes
I hated my therapist, because I didn’t want to want help, and she was help.
After a few
sessions, she suggested I consider anti-depressant medications. With her
encouragement and the nudging from a sibling who had taken similar drugs, I
made an appointment with an MD and started on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake
In a short
while I could eat again, finishing a whole meal in one sitting for the first
time in several weeks. In a few more, my sleep improved. I could breathe
through a day, not feeling like the world was a terribly miserable place. I could
enjoy trivial activities, like movies and bowling, without overthinking them,
questioning our existentiality and why we would bother with things like bowling.
therapy and drugs, things weren’t all swimming. Alone with my mom one evening,
and so distraught I could see no way out, I witnessed a woman who could once
comfort any hurt in her daughter at a loss for how to soothe her offspring. She
called my brother for help.
I sat on the
kitchen floor, the landline phone clutched to my ear, and he prayed for me as I
cried, so unable to escape my despair.
As the end
of my social work semester neared, my brother helped moderate a discussion between
me and my parents, explaining why it was OK for me to leave the program. We
wrote pros and cons on a paper plate, and agreed that I would take community
college classes to defer my undergraduate loans while I looked for a job
instead of continuing the program.
I’m lucky to
say I laughed a lot in my twenties. I took vacations, kept friends close,
danced, bonded with coworkers. But when I look back on the decade, I view it
primarily as a battlefield.
never be predicted. Tears were restorative, but too close at hand on too many
occasions to set me at ease amidst the cathartic release. Moments of elation
became less enjoyable, as I lived through them with a dread of the crash that
would always, always, follow the day
all the best habits – eating right, sleeping on a schedule, holding down a
regular job, socializing when I didn’t want to socialize. Running became a
nearly obsessive hobby, chasing endorphins to maintain my tenuous sanity.
running couldn’t combat the insomnia, the schedules couldn’t stop the mania. My
view on the world was still dark, my snap judgments of people laced almost
entirely with jealousy.
When I was
happy, I was too happy. It was like a hyper lever had been turned to
turbocharge and couldn’t be lessened in intensity. When it was switched back,
everything went to black, like a carnival ride immediately silenced and
darkened, from full motion to depravity.
to family were routine; calls of miserable, can’t-shake-the-cynicism tears.
blizzard that kept me housebound for several days, I told my brother: “I can’t
get a positive thought into my brain.”
I tried my
damnedest to practice all my good habits. I discovered writing as a release,
and started a blog. I continued therapy, continued popping a pill every day.
All of these
actions helped, but I was powerless to the battle raging inside me. I didn’t
trust myself to feel any which way, except overly excited or completely in the
trenches. When I was somewhere in between, I was never content or even simply
bored; a general anxiousness pulsed through me, like the buzz of fluorescent
lights in a disconcerting basement.
I tried to
relay this to my family and friends. I could sense them growing tired of my phone
calls, which caused me to dial less often and in turn grow more fearful. I
would scroll through the contacts in my phone, picking the person who might
side with me more in a given moment, then reluctantly select one, knowing that
I might fall off the edge if I didn’t call someone.
It scared me
that no one else seemed to be scared. Everyone believed in me too much. Their
solutions were always well-advised, but seemingly too simple for my escalated
moments – suggestions of a walk outside, coffee with a friend, a church event.
These things helped, yes, but I couldn’t handle the cycle. The supports in my
life were looking at moments, and I was looking at my life. Not generally a “big
picture” thinker, I couldn’t help but notice my thoughts sometimes veering
toward my future with the “S” word, suicide, as the great premature end to my
these thoughts aside with activity, writing, phone call after mindless phone
call, to some avail.
At 27, I
moved to Los Angeles, to start an internship in my new field (miraculously, I
had managed to get into and complete a master’s program in journalism). Once my
internship ended, I “made it” in the big city, in the sense that I was pushing
paperwork and able to pay my bills.
tearful phone calls continued, the constant underlying worry that feeling good
now didn’t guarantee feeling good tomorrow, let alone in a few hours. Family
and friends occasionally urged me to move back “home,” thinking a familiar
landscape would help me, but I knew my battles would follow me no matter where
years in the city, I met with a psychiatrist to discuss my medications. I told
her about my up and down moods, and she suggested a mood stabilizer to pair
with my SSRI. I explained my fears about getting on another drug, perhaps being
on it indefinitely, but said that ultimately I wanted to feel more stable.
Enough was enough.
She put me
on a new drug, and within a week I became tearful and despairing. I thought these
things were par for the course – I had been in such a state hundreds of times
before, so it didn’t occur to me that the drug might be to blame.
certainly didn’t want to play trial and error with my meds. I had been through
enough, and for crying out loud, shouldn’t a doctor know how to get it right on
the first try? With the complicated chemistry of each individual person, the
answer to this is unfortunately no. It is one of the most unfair battles heaped
on top of the battle with depression itself, salt in the wound.
uneasy at home alone, I called a dear friend. She immediately invited me over
for a sleepover. We drank cocktails, played Pictionary, laughed and talked late
into the night. I felt fine. The next day as I was leaving, I became overly
stressed out about my job, and as I tried to walk out the door, I wept instead,
for several minutes.
I got home
and, in an attempt to eat well, started chopping a cucumber.
As tears suddenly
streamed once again, the cucumber became blurry. With more force than ever
before, I became almost convinced my life would end in suicide. I didn’t think
I would kill myself right then – though knife was in hand – nor that week, or
month, or year even. But I finally got scared enough that I called the doctor.
It was a weekend, so I was directed to the 24 hour hotline. I promised the
person who took my call that I would alert some local friends of my delicate
situation, asking them to keep their phones on all night.
I called my
parents and emailed my family, blood and otherwise, to bring them in the loop.
simultaneously better and worse. Better for not keeping it to myself – I will
never cease to be amazed at the power of saying words aloud – though feeling
instantly like a different person. In saying the “S” word, finally, to anyone,
I had transformed. I was in a new class, and though enveloped with support, I
felt the stigma. I felt myself at once separate from those supporting me.
The next day
I stepped out of work several times to talk to my psychiatrist’s nurse, and she
told me to stop the new drug she had me on immediately. She put me on Abilify,
something I had seen in commercials for years.
In a matter
of weeks, I was able to send an email to my main support network. It read: “I
just got really excited about the parmesan cheese on my spaghetti. I think the
Abilify is working.”
to come, Abilify, paired with the SSRI I had been on for years, would come to
make my moods the most stable they had been since they were more or less
naturally during my early teen years. I call it my miracle drug.
11, 2014, my phone rang.
calling about Robin?” I answered.
sorry,” Mom said. “I know what he meant to you.”
comedian, troubled for years with alcoholism and silent depression, Robin
Williams had asphyxiated himself in his home. I had just read the New York Times headline.
As a child,
Robin was my favorite. I watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” over and over. I saw several
of his movies in theaters, then later collected them on VHS tape. Inspired by
his antics, I told people I wanted to be a comedienne.
talking about “Mork and Mindy” and “Hook” with my mom, she turned the phone
over to my dad, to discuss the real reason they were calling.
small talk of Robin’s great works for only a minute. He then reminded me that
if I ever felt like I was leaning toward the deep end, to make sure that I
reached out. For the first time in years, though sobered by the news and
smacked once again by the realization that depression and suicide are never
removed from our world, I was able to say with some confidence that I would. More
so, I felt I wouldn’t have to make the call, as I could feel a stabilization in
me that I had craved for years. I mourned that Robin couldn’t feel the same,
but I rejoiced in my newfound steadiness.
came to visit me in LA, and we spent an entire weekend running around the city.
Usually such a rush of constant activity would have me on edge, wanting time to
myself, to meditate, to zero in on my anxiety.
next med check with my psychiatrist, I told her that I was able to enjoy the
whole weekend, not worrying about a crash that would follow its end.
ruminating?” she asked me.
I nodded, in
victory. All it took was two milligrams, a sea foam green tablet that could
rest on the tip of my pinky finger.
Rogers died, my parents hesitated to share the news. When Robin died, the phone
rang almost immediately after the news was released. Seven years of phone
calls, including one recent and particularly frightening one, had altered the
way we all acted. We were forever changed. Some might say for the worse, but
I’d argue it’s for the better. In admitting something very scary, but truthful,
communication was opened in a way that hadn’t been there before.
For years, I
felt like I was screaming at a soundproof wall. People in my life saw a
together person, a person with a sensitive heart who occasionally got too
withdrawn. All the while I felt more and more powerless, more scared of my
future, more pushed down into silence. The help of those around me was
well-meaning, but their fear for the worst made talking about it not a
possibility. Once moved into conversation – and with the help of an awesome
medication – healing was able to begin.
“S” word (in regards to oneself) is never something one wants to brave, but I’m grateful I was able to
say it through a medium other than a suicide note. Ears were opened, and a
wound was opened, making room for Abilify and new, fully honest conversations.
Where before there was misguided communication, now there is peace. When I pick
up the phone these days, it isn’t in scrambling desperation for a voice on the
other end to catch me; I’m simply calling to chat.