Update: This was written in 2013. I no longer need anti-depressants whatsoever and am still free from the dark grey cloud that followed me for way too long.
You know that scene in Titanic? That one where Rose sits at the dining table with the family she feels like she doesn’t know and says something about the world moving quickly around her and on the inside she’s screaming? Well, that’s the best comparable way to explain how I felt the night I stood on my balcony in Sweden suicidal. That movie is one of my favorites for the reason that I can relate so well to Rose. And yes, I realize she’s a character. And yes, I realize it’s only a film. But, it’s one of those films that puts me in to a sad-coma for a minimum of three days after watching- so it must be a pretty fucking good one. Rose was totally sane, before she started drowning in her feelings; before her urge for something more led her to question her sanity, and she ran to the front of that boat to jump. Well, that’s where my story starts; my front of the boat, my breaking point, and the events that brought me there.
It was in high school that I started noticing that something was just “off”. I appeared happy, and I was very outgoing, but my mind was never at peace. I wasn’t worshiping the devil or starting fires, I was simply a normal girl who was dead on the inside. I wanted so badly to truly enjoy what everyone else did- dating, parties, football games, but my mind was simply uninterested. I was constantly questioning the purpose for my actions and for my being as a whole, rather than just following paths that led me to laughter. My relationship with my mother was strained due to her addictions, so living with my father I assumed I was just a different kind of girl, going through her own version of teenage angst and boredom.
I was very good at pretending to be normal. I was a brilliant actress; I had created a version of myself similar to the one that was there prior to my brain going into a permanent fog, and put on the act whenever I was forced to be social. Other than the occasional bitching of my friends about how I would never listen, nobody could tell that I felt no joy or had no urge to engage in anything whatsoever. I knew I needed to keep my friends, as I needed that minor distraction. I kept up with the role. My grades got lower and lower as the years passed, and by senior year I was hardly ever present. I spent my free time writing or partying, hoping that one day my brain would snap back to normal. I ended up getting rejected to the college I had wanted to attend as my GPA had dropped, so I roomed with my best friend at Old Dominion. After one semester I was bored, uneasy, and irrationally paranoid about wasting my life away at a school I couldn’t stand. I applied for a university in Sweden, and was on a flight to Gothenburg within a month.
I used a Swedish loan option to pay for an apartment, a small studio on the 9th floor of a run-down hotel. I spent much of my time in that apartment pacing around; bawling, just pleading with whoever runs to universe to please let me die. My heart was constantly beating at a hectic pace, my throat was always choked to prevent me from crying or throwing up, and my eyes were so emotionless I was constantly asked if I was sick. And, I was sick. I was mentally ill.
I stood on the balcony of my apartment, I looked over the edge. It was far I thought, but was it far enough to kill me? Would my ankles shatter and I’d just lay there screaming? Or maybe, I could turn upside down midair to make sure I landed face first? “You’re being pathetic,” I told myself, “how dare you?” I imagined starving children in Africa, cancer patients, and a quadriplegic happy as could be. But, it didn’t make me feel less miserable. Selfish, yes, but my heart still felt black. I booked a return ticket, and flew home.
My time at community college wasn’t much better. I was constantly in my own world, incredibly anxious, and would sleep constantly to make time pass more quickly. I tried exercising, vitamins, even trying to start new hobbies- all stuff I read on line as ways to get out of a funk. Nothing worked. I couldn’t feel butterflies when around a crush, or fear when doing something dangerous, or embarrassment when acting foolish. I went to a family doctor and tried to express that something was wrong. I think he thought I was just another college kid looking to cram info, and he prescribed me Adderall. Adderall only made me further focus on the war in my mind and I stopped it after one bottle.
Soon the anxiety became unbearable, and I attempted to, again, run from my feelings as though we weren’t interconnected. I packed 2 suitcases, quit my serving job, and got on a one way flight to Los Angeles. I didn’t know where I was going to live, or what I was going to do, but figured hey, maybe if I get famous I’ll feel more fulfilled. I bought a car, hopped around from place to place, got offered a porn gig, and bawled. I worked a job at an ice cream place, only to realize that $8 an hour probably wasn’t going to cut it. I sold my car, bought another plane ticket, and flew home.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sit still or focus on anything other than the rain cloud that constantly hovered over me. I googled ways to die, found an option in my cupboard, and downed it. I went to bed absolutely euphoric about never having to think again. A few hours later I awoke vomiting up the worst taste I’ve ever experienced. Dammit, I thought.
I spent the next few months attempting to distract myself. I spent my nights in the club scene, only to awake every morning empty then before. I was happily accepting drugs, much unlike the old me who would feel uneasy when offered anything other than weed. I went to the doctor, told him I felt sad, and he offered me a different medication- a low dose anti-depressant. I continued to live the party lifestyle, combining uppers and downers, acting like a psychopath- and hurting loved ones in the process. It wasn’t until I made a huge, relationship-ruining mistake that I knew I needed to get help…real help.
I was going on my fifth year of feeling like a mental case, and it was exhausting. I broke down to my childhood friend and almost instantly was speaking to a psychiatrist at the hospital. Within weeks of speaking to a psychiatrist and getting my medication straightened out I felt human. I enjoyed sunshine, and laughter, and running around with my dog. I could watch TV without having to get up from anxiety, I could drive home without crying, and I could feel pride and joy from my accomplishments. I was satisfied and grateful for each day, no matter how mundane, and couldn’t wait to create more memories. It was almost as if my switch had been turned off and all I needed was a reset. “Low serotonin levels can be genetic,” my doctor said. As some people are low on vitamin D, I was low on the chemical that accounts for happiness in the brain. All I needed was a little boost, it seemed, and to not poison it by adding other substances. I’m normal now, well, as normal as a weirdo can get. The only anxiety left are my what-if thoughts about having perhaps gotten help sooner. Why didn’t I? I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to be crazy. I didn’t want to be needy, or emotional, or weak. I wanted to pull through, to be strong, and to pick myself back up. Mental illness seemed like something I had total control over. That I was less competent because I couldn’t deal with daily life the way others could. But then, I started thinking. I started researching. I realized that having mental illness is like being sick. If you have a cough that perhaps isn’t so bad, you might be able to sleep it off. If you have a cough that turns to bronchitis, you’d go to a doctor to get medicine. If a cough isn’t something that defines you, why is society so hush-hush when it comes to sickness of the mind?