The death of Robin Williams, may he rest in peace, hit me pretty hard in a pretty soft spot. I have suffered in silence, and I've experienced low points when I didn't think I deserved to live. Ironically, and thankfully, I'm both a dreamer and realist. The dreamer knows I have so much to accomplish and experience in my bright future, and I look forward to making a positive impact in this world, and the realist knows that depression isn't forever no matter how much it hurts. I grip onto the dreamer and the realist, and sometimes I hold on for dear life, literally. I hope that in sharing my story, I can instill the hope in others, especially young women, that life beyond depression exists. Your future is bright, and you are not alone.
Many illnesses are preventable, but middle child syndrome is not one. As a young girl, I had big dimples and thick thigh but not a thick skin. This made me an easy target for my big brother and baby sister's teasing antics. They may have thought they were being playful, but I was sensitive and words like "chubby" or "not as 'fill in the blank'" stuck to me. They were children, while I was an old soul. At this point in my life, I never felt sad or left out from my family, just different. Introspective. I was happy to curl up with a book, cut and paste magazine clippings of things I love into collages or share stories I wrote with any audience who would listen, which usually meant my dog. I spent a lot of time with my thoughts, my books and my journal. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, for this quality time with my imagination led me to discover my innate writing and storytelling abilities, skills that would eventually shape my dreams for my future.
So I went to the best university in the state, and I majored in journalism. Once again, I found myself surrounded by people I loved and enjoyed -- but I sometimes I chose to be surrounded by books over friends. What was this force pulling me inward? This force sent me on long, solitary runs through the hidden woods of my college town while my peers used the gym as a social hour on side-by-side treadmills. While other people were happy for their only creative outlet to be vehemently discussing which Kardashian sister they liked best, I lied in bed dreaming about my future. Things would be bigger, better, brighter. This is not to say I didn't fit in or enjoy the same things as my friends (I like Kourtney the best), but that's what made me, me. I'm both a participant and an observer. In the midst of an incredible group of friends -- the designated mom, usually -- but also, in some ways, a loner. Social, but independent. I had the best of both worlds, I just didn't see it. I had been told one too many times before that I wasn't "this" or "that" enough, and it replayed in my thoughts like a broken record. That's how I felt: broken.
Depression was creeping up on me, and I began to let her get in the way of my relationships and my potential. I was blinded by my secret past, and it was eating me alive and diminishing my happiness. I was indefinitely scarred by growing up with a brother addicted to drugs, an eating disorder that I kept a secret, a break up that shattered my heart and the scars from my childhood that had ultimately diminished my self-esteem. I thought that my good grades, my string of enviable, high-level internships, my travels around the world would save me, but they only numbed the pain for a short periods of time. My eyes that once sparkled with ambition were now dulled with misery. These experiences felt engrained in me, and so I allowed them to define me.
In an effort to let go, I turned to fitness, everything from kickboxing to yoga, and then to meditation, both in groups and alone. I turned to my first love, books, but I was too tired and too sad to even read. It seemed that nothing worked. I started to deny invitations to go out and soon I stopped going out at all. I was convinced people didn't like me, but my friends really did love me, and they wanted to help, but I was alienating everyone. I hated being alone, but I didn't know any other way to cope, and I didn't want to subject my friends to my misery. I was quite literally scared of people. People were judging me, at least that's I kept telling myself as an excuse for losing touch with friends and staying in on a Saturday night. I just couldn't handle it. What did I do to deserve this pain? I blamed everyone but myself. I turned inward, and this time my introspective self was not creative and loving -- she was cruel, harsh and hurtful. I turned to both prescription and non-prescription drugs to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night. I was without a doubt a complete mess.
I hit rock bottom when tragedy struck: One of my best friends passed away. How could this happen? It was impossible: She was too good of a friend, too beautiful, with too many people who loved and adored her to leave behind and with too much greatness ahead of her. "It should have been me," was all I could think. She didn't deserve to die when she wanted to live. I felt sad, guilty and ashamed for my thoughts. More than anything though, I missed my friend more than words could describe.
A year without her contagious smile, positive energy and unmatchable advice went by, and I'm sorry to say I did not get better. In fact the opposite occurred; I completely lost myself. I hated the world for being so cruel. Exactly one year later to the day, when I felt lower than I ever have before, it all hit me: I have let myself become my own worst enemy. I am not the person I want to be, the person I know I am at my core. It was time to stop looking to external factors to change me; I needed to learn to love myself and be grateful for my fortunes instead of pining over misfortunes to make a lasting change. It's so much easier said than done -- I know that first hand -- but the truth hurts. I needed to leave the fear behind and live with a mind wide open, a heart ready to receive and a life fuller than the full, for myself and for my friend. I like to believe she helped me come to these realizations as she has always looked out for me, and I like to believe she is going to continue to be by my side, probably whispering cheesy quotes in my ear, while I find myself again.
Recently I indulged in a Sex in the City marathon, and Carrie said something that really caught my attention. In this particular episode, Carrie had been asked to model in a fashion show. It was continuously pointed out that Carrie was not a supermodel, just a normal person modeling. As she strutted down the cat walk, she tripped over the higher than high heels she insisted on wearing. Utterly humiliated and sufficiently embarrassed, she looked around the room at the sea of people snapping photos, obviously judging, but pressed herself up from the floor and continued to strut as she narrated, "Or I could pick myself up, flaws and all, and finish."
It's unimaginably difficult to express these thoughts and certainly scary to share them with others, but putting the truth on paper frees me of denial and guilt, and it reminds me of my strength and bravery. More than that, I believe it is so important to shed light on depression as a biological illness that is crippling and painful, and I know how helpful it can be to have a loving, supporting team by your side, even holding your hand if necessary. The littlest gestures, a "How are you?" text in the morning and an "I love you" text at night can make big differences I hope others can find inspiration similar to the inspiration I have re-found, and I plan on taking my bleak, black and white canvas and painting it with all the bright colors I can gather. I'm grateful to be alive, and I am ready to pick myself up, flaws and all, and live.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.