I usually keep pretty quiet about issues regarding mental health. As a writer, you might think it would be second nature to me to open up about my “weaknesses”. I assure you, it’s not. For quite some time I have debated writing an article like this one, mainly because my pride always seems to get in the way. We have these archaic gender stereotypes that are still subconsciously drilled into us from the time we are little kids and it’s always been in my head that if I admit to any “weakness”, how could I ever be the solid rock for a girlfriend or inevitably a wife one day? How could my peers take me seriously if they knew that I was so close to giving up, several times. It’s not easy admitting these things, but every year when October 10th roles around, for many reasons I am reminded how important it is that everyone out there who may be struggling understands that they aren’t alone. This year, I guess it finally hit me that no matter how small my platform may be, I owe it to those people to open up.
Depression isn’t someone crying at the drop of a hat. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have cried in the past 20 years and each had to do with losing someone close to me. Depression is a weight that you carry around, it’s a heavy backpack that sucks the life out of you. It’s not really even sadness and the worst part is that, you don’t want anyone there to make you feel better. You want exactly the opposite. Sometimes it comes across as anger toward those who are closest to you, but in all reality you are just trying to save them the hassle of having to deal with it.
For me it all started when I was a very young child. I was extremely skinny and wasn’t a big eater at all. My parents did the only thing they could do in that sort of situation and talked me into the fact that if I didn’t start eating, I was going to end up in the hospital. As a kid, the thought of that obviously terrified me, so I started eating…and eating. By the time I was 10, things had gone the other way completely and once I hit my teens, I started to hate myself. I was dealing with all the problems that come with being overweight, most importantly the embarrassment that I felt every time I went to look for clothes or just so much as passed by a mirror or window and caught my own reflection in it. By the time I hit 16, an age when most kids are excited about gaining some independence by getting their driver’s license, I instead had fleeting thoughts of it being an opportunity where I could end the suffering. I thought about driving into a wall numerous times, but would reason with myself that I couldn’t ruin my parent’s car like that. Maybe that was a defense mechanism, maybe I never had the stones to do it? I really don’t know, but at so many different times, it felt like the only way.
When you don’t like yourself, it’s not easy for others to like you, you really don’t let them. Because of this, my best friend in my late teens was my dog, Grizzly. He had his problems as well. He didn’t like anyone that wasn’t family and his anxiety would drive him crazy much of the time, but he absolutely loved me and I loved him as much as anything. He was my hero, if I had him with me, I was ok. Sadly though I never even got to see his muzzle go gray. He developed cancer at a young age and died while having a biopsy done of his liver. When I got the news, I absolutely bawled (one of those times), to say I was devastated would be the biggest understatement. I prayed repeatedly for him to just wake up and start breathing, because I was in a complete panic as to what I would do without him. He didn’t care that I was fat, he didn’t care that I wasn’t the best friend, brother, cousin or son that I should be, he was only ever the best companion to me and he never wavered. My heart shattered and for the months following his death, I had given up again.
Finally one morning, my mom confronted me about my mental state (I am not sure if she even remembers this). She was obviously worried about me, much like any parent would be. I remember telling her how much I hated the fact that I was fat and how I didn’t know what do now that Grizzly was gone. I didn’t tell her everything I was feeling, but at least I tried to scratch the surface a bit. She stayed strong and ordered me a simple little elliptical-style piece of exercise of equipment and told me “hey, if you only do 10 minutes a day, it’s fine, just do it for yourself”. She had also struggled with weight throughout her life and knew what I was going through, at least in that regard. Crazy enough, I started to lose weight, but it wasn’t all because of the exercise. My old friend (depression) somehow managed to take my appetite away and ironically helped me. Perhaps not in the most healthy way, but those things combined with Lance Armstrong inspiring me to by a Trek bicycle and I lost 130+ lbs. I went from XXL clothes hardly fitting to M clothes being even a bit big. Everyone was so proud of how strong I was and in several ways I was the happiest I had been in a long time, but at the same time I felt like a fraud. It wasn’t all strength that lost the weight, it was just the opposite. It was my weakness, my anxiety, my panic, my depression.
Fast forward to 2010 (the year I started this magazine). I won’t go too much into detail, but a combination of my parent’s marriage coming to an end, my grandfather (who I worked for as well) having a stroke, as well as a change of city (same state, but much different places), I was in a very vulnerable mindset. The weight loss during my late teens had given me confidence that I hadn’t had in quite a while, but I still had my struggles and that year felt like it was out to get me. Once again, I won’t go into full detail, but someone who very much understood the vulnerable state I was in took advantage of me starting the magazine and me feeling lost at the time. Perhaps I will share the full story some day, but to keep it short, before “Catfishing” was really a thing, a woman (who I did not seek out), pretending to be someone else, messaged me regarding the magazine and from there struck up a friendship and we became very close. On the morning of October 10th, 2010, she led me to believe this person had been killed in a car accident. I felt responsible since this person “died” while I was messaging her. Once again, my thoughts went toward ending it all, as it would be months before I was made aware of the fact the whole story was made up.
My family was there for me despite my attempts to stay as far away from people as I could. One friend in particular subtly through text messages forced me to grab a drink with her at a local coffee shop. She had suffered from depression her whole life and she was there for me. She was a huge reason why I kept on pushing. You see, sometimes it’s just getting to the next morning. You wake up and you regroup. Sure, the thoughts creep back in, but you get to the next day and keep putting one foot in front of the other. My friend, Shobbie, was one of the people who – without sounding too dramatic – helped save my life. Three years later, she took her own.
Depression and all of its friends are cruel. When they take you over, life is miserable, but on the other hand, it’s easier. Life is so much less scary when you don’t give a damn whether you are living it or not. For those of us who suffer, when depression goes away, anxiety creeps in. Every time something good happens in my life, I am scared that it will be ripped away from me. Every time I start to enjoy the small things and when depression feels like it’s taken off for good, every time I start to feel happy, I am reminded that suddenly I fear losing it again. I think too damn much, sometimes in my most terrified moments, I contemplate whether depression is actually my friend. It helped me lose weight right? It took the fear of life away for me right? It keeps me from being a burden to those I love doesn’t it? Sometimes I feel like it’s the only one that belongs in my corner, the only one I deserve, the only thing that will ever be consistent in my life. But, what I have had to realize and remind myself is that it doesn’t care about me at all. It’s selfish, it’s the monster that keeps pushing all my true friends out.
On October 2nd of last year, I was in a pretty bad car accident. It wasn’t my fault and for the split seconds that lasted between me swerving and colliding with the other car, I was scared. Just like in the movies, it really is like slow motion, I can remember knowing full well that after I collided with the car, I would then collide with a tree. In my mind, I wasn’t thinking about the seat belt or airbags that would inevitably save me, I just kept thinking “this could be it and I don’t want it to”. Like I said, I may never know if I have it in me to actually end my own life and I hope to God I never find out, but in that moment, as my driver side wheel tore off on impact and my airbags inflated, I legitimately feared for my life and I will always hold onto that. I have had my moments of depression since the accident. I am beyond blessed to be breathing, walking etc., but I did end up having surgery on my left hand and am still dealing with a partial disability that doesn’t allow me to do many of the things I used to enjoy without pain or in many cases at all. I lost my job due to the injuries, everything got flipped on it’s head.
I try to look at the accident as a reset button. I’ve always loved the outdoors, but have a new appreciation for spending a whole day in the mountains or on the water. As I said earlier, true happiness can be scary for people like me, but the smile on my face you see while I am exploring new trails and summits is as genuine as it gets. This mixed with those I love, both here and gone being there for me, have brought me to a point where I feel like I am doing alright. Of course I worry about slipping, it will always be a fear of mine, but just so long as that’s all it is. I can live with that.
It may sound cliche, but it can’t be said enough. If you are suffering, you are not alone. Sometimes you just have to get to the next day. I can’t help, but wonder how different it would have been for my friend if she would have allowed me or someone else to be there for her, like she was for me. Today on World Mental Health Day, I dedicate this to Shobbie and everyone out there who is struggling. Don’t let your pride get in the way, don’t forget that admitting your weakness is perhaps the strongest thing you’ll ever do.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine
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