14 years later I still battle the dark thoughts that sneak their way in from time to time. I still find my thoughts almost daydreaming of “what would happen if” statements that I swear I’ll never follow through with because that’s just what they are, thoughts. 14 years of battling an ugly disease. The ugliest part about it is that it’s not always present, but becomes known on the days you tend to forget. It’s like it knows when you’re happy and waits for something or someone to bring you down and that’s when it slowly creeps back in– weaving it’s way into your brain and ways of thinking. 14 years later and I’m still facing the struggle of pushing those nasty thoughts to a different space than the empty space it wants to take me into. And once you’re enveloped inside of those negative spaces it’s hard to see through the tiny cracks of light that are desperate to peak through. I’m trying to peak through but after awhile your eyes become adjusted to the new dark and rather than trying to find your way out, you accept the quiet of the darkness for the moment, until you can’t.
I don’t openly talk about my battles of depression. Not because I don’t think that I could relate with anyone else but because it’s the most vulnerable parts of me that I don’t really want to share with anyone else. It’s a story that I’ve kept to myself and hidden away from my own memory and the memory of every person that my story could potentially effect. It’s almost as if I’m carrying around this large porcelain vase and if I’m not careful I could easily drop it and it would break into pieces. I think I often feel like I am that vase. If I tell too much about my past and what I’ve struggled with and what I struggle with daily that would be too much overflow into someone else’s life and my vase might crack under the pressure. There is no way to sugar coat depression. There is no happy ending or “cure-all” story out there, because they do not exist. It is a constant battle. The worst part is it’s not a battle that most people would even recognize on the surface. Depression can be the quietest, sneakiest, prey of all, and steal joy like a thief in the night, and nobody but you would even know. Depression isn’t loud. Depression doesn’t shout or boast. It creeps, it crawls, it preys, and it lingers.
The first piece fell into my vase when I moved states after my 7th grade year of school. I was 12 the summer I moved and that was my first time to ever move and it was honestly one of the hardest things I had ever gone through at that time. I had friends come and go over the years but nothing like trying to keep in touch with the girls you grew up with as babies until now. I left behind my childhood home, my neighborhood where I actually knew my neighbors and went over for play-dates daily. I left the very first boy I ever kissed. My first crush. I left my school and my dance classes and the orchestra I had just become a part of at school. I left it all for probably the smallest place I will ever live in during my lifetime. To put it simply… It. Was. Hard.
Our house wasn’t even ready when we moved and we lived for two weeks at my grandparents house. I remember sitting in the floor of my new room, struggling to get everything unpacked and just laying in the middle of my floor crying. I probably was being a bit dramatic. I was a teenage girl, everything is a crisis at that age. I literally thought this place was the worst and that there was no way I would survive without my best friends. Somehow I survived. I actually made new friends rather quickly (which made me feel guilty like I was betraying my old friends, and that they would feel replaced) and I grew up. I accepted the change. Until I couldn’t. Until I became the change and I changed in ways I didn’t then realize. I couldn’t have. But I changed. I don’t think it was avoidable. There were so many changes happening all at once in my world and I just assumed I was supposed to change with them.
The major changes didn’t happen until my freshmen year of high school though. Eighth grade was smooth-sailing and apparently then my bushy hair, close eyebrows, tucked in shirts, and braces didn’t matter. In 9th grade I lost the braces, learned how to straighten and style my hair, plucked my eyebrows, and cared a little more about what I wore. I also learned how to cuss. I quickly learned the people that thought you were cool if you cussed or a “poser” if you did. I learned that wearing Converse made you “emo” or a “fake”. I learned all the right bands to listen to and the ones not to. I learned that depending which table you sat at during the lunch hour was the determinant of your high school status. I fit somewhere in the “average nerds”. I learned that passing notes in class was more important than taking notes. I learned the art of texting under the table or which teachers simply did not care if you used your phone during class. I learned all of these things and so much more.
Entering high school was a big deal. It meant boys and dances and football games and pep rallies. It meant food fights and girl fights and drama. It meant heartbreak and headache over studying for exams. It meant unforgettable conversations with friends you thought would last forever because you’re BFFs until the end of time, until time ran out for you both a lot quicker than you had imagined. I experienced all of those things and more and in the midst of all the rush somewhere I lost who I was in the new person I had become.
I became a girl who lied to my parents often because I was too afraid to admit the truth. I stayed up late most nights talking to strangers in chat rooms because it filled a void that I didn’t realize I had at the time. I could be the new me there and not feel hated or judged or criticized for “becoming someone else”. I could be the old me or the new me, I got to decide. And if I didn’t feel like being either of those people because let’s be honest, sometimes that too became exhausting, sometimes I would slip into a persona of someone I completely made up in that moment; and for that moment I was free to be this new version of myself that I would become only for a fraction of time. I became a girl who secretly dated older men I’d met in chat rooms because talking to boys in real life was stupid and crazy and nobody would want a silly nobody girl like me. Little did I know that I would wrap myself in this one person, this one stranger, to the point that I would not only date them in secret for a whole year, but that I would later date them for another year and a half in the sacred places of my home when I invited an 18 year old into my life at the age of 15. I became a girl who chose this boy over her closest friends and lost them because of the pursuit of this dangerous relationship.
I became a girl I did not recognize anymore. Not on the inside and certainly not in the mirror. I stayed up late. My closest friends became strangers I’d never meet. I remember the very first time I cut myself swearing that it would be my last. But it wasn’t. If only I knew that it would become a battle I would face for the next 6 years. I cut to numb the pain I felt inside. I cut when I let my real friends down. Cut when I made mistakes. Cut when I simply felt as though I didn’t deserve anything better than the scars I had created on my arms and stomach and any place I felt that I could hide from the ugly I had caused. I couldn’t, there was no escape. Freshmen year was pure hell. It’s not a year I can easily revisit. I see that year as a year full of deep loss and regret and pain. I not only hurt the people that cared about me, but I hurt myself—physically and emotionally.
Freshman year was the year I lost literally every friend I had made since I had moved there. I lost them over a boy that would later sexually and emotionally abuse me over the course of 2.5 years. The longest relationship I ever maintained, until now. I had too many scars to count, and some of them I still have as reminders of how lost I was. I lost my first pet (she was all I felt like I had left at the time) and one of my uncles in a car wreck. This was the year I got drunk for the first time over Christmas break after my uncle passed away. This was the year I started having nightmares so severe I was terrified of falling asleep for fear that God would take me in my sleep. I remember a period where I slept in my mom’s bed for five months just so I could feel safe. This was the year I would meet with a counselor due to the referral of a concerned friend in regards to my cutting, to my parents not only finding out about my cuts but about this blog I had kept hidden full of my deepest and darkest thoughts. I felt so naked and exposed coming home that day. My thoughts were no longer my own. I could no longer bleed in secret, my raw wounds would soon be exposed. A glimpse of the girl my parents thought I was quickly dashed away by images of people cutting themselves and poems I had written about murder and suicide. A girl that had grown up in church and still went to church every Sunday, but who struggled daily with her faith and to believe in a God who could allow so much pain and hurt to happen. My internet use was quickly taken over by my parents. Everything I did or said was monitored. I felt scared and trapped and most of all alone. I felt 100% alone.
But none of those days were even what I would consider the hardest or worst day that year. The worst day was the day I heard the rumors about me. In the morning I would hear the rumor going around that some girl was dating a 40 year old pedophile, and I knew that that they were talking about me. Before lunch I would hear the rumor that a girl I considered to be a close friend of mine, was going to beat me up. She did not beat me with her fists, but she beat me with her words, and I think that was far worse. It was during lunchtime and there was already a strange buzz about the room and my stomach was in knots because I was anticipating something bad to happen. What I was unprepared for the most was for the truth to come out. Truth that my friends had gotten together and taken turns pretending to be one of the “guys” I was talking to online. They wanted to try and understand why I was so wrapped up in this online world and why I connected more with strangers than my own friends. I had become very distant with my school friends and they wanted to know why. I can’t say that I blame them.
At the time I remember feeling numb. I couldn’t believe they would go behind my back and pretend to be somebody else, when I had been doing that very same thing for awhile now. At the time I felt great shame and embarrassment and hurt. I was hurt that they would do something that cold. Time has passed of course and I am no longer bitter or angry over what happened, but it cut a new piece of me that went deep. Deeper than all of the other things that had caused me pain earlier in that year. That night was the first night I had really considered taking my own life. I didn’t think I could face another day at school again. I couldn’t walk the same hall with the people who hated me. I couldn’t show my face or speak to the people I had lied to or pretended to be somebody I wasn’t so that I would “fit in”. I think I felt an immense amount of loss in that moment because I knew that I wanted to end it all only I didn’t have the means how to. I didn’t have a gun, I didn’t have a rope. I had nothing. It was painful but it passed.
I got drunk for the second time my junior year after a big fight with one of my best friends. I was upset and alone and didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t know what coping was or any of the things that I now know about depression. I let the darkness rob me of my joy. I let it consume me. I didn’t know how to fight it anymore. I was tired. I was done. I was so done with it all.
I kept fighting and pushed through until graduation. I graduated and started right away to college the next fall. A lot of friends (even though it probably felt like an eternity during the time I had no friends, I don’t think it was long before I started making new ones) moved off to bigger schools while I stayed home for two more years and went to the local college here. Freshmen year I hit a second hard spell of depression. This would be the year I would try cigarettes for the first time and decide early on that they would only be for leisure and not become an addiction (luckily they never did). This would be the year I would not only become so depressed I would chop off all my hair in an attempt to change how I felt on the outside, but because I also was struggling with feelings of attraction towards the same sex. This would be the year I’d lose someone I knew to suicide. The impact of his suicide would not only cause me to fail my final exam for a class, but months later would result in my first attempt to end my life by overdosing on too many pain pills. This would be my first experience trying to reach out to a hotline, only to hear a devastating busy signal on the other end of the line. This would be my first real scare into calling poison control just to make sure I was going to make it through the night. Somehow I did, somehow God wasn’t quite ready for my story to end there. And it didn’t.
I transferred schools summer of 2012. I needed change, I needed a safe place where I could start over. I needed to renew and refill my crushed and lost spirit. And I did. I thrived where I also failed and continued to make mistakes. I went through at least five or six times of changing my mind about my major. I dated too many dumb boys. Okay, not all of them were dumb (sorry Phil!) but I made some dumb mistakes. I survived breakups and more drama and a second suicide of a close friend. It took me going through ten different relationships before ever finding the ONE I would marry and spend the rest of my life with. It took loads of time and effort and slowly pulling out of my dark shell and finding the lost pieces of the person I once was. And it was hard. It took lots of patience and time and grace that I did not allow myself for the longest time. It took learning how to love myself and be happy with who I was again. It took rediscovering my identity in Christ rather than in what other people thought of me. It took forgiving people who had hurt me in the past and forgiving myself. It took not looking back and only forward. So much so that I often fail to tread back into those dark spaces that had haunted me like ghosts inside my mind for years to come. I became a closed off person. I could be friendly and quirky and make jokes that only I found funny, and nobody would ever have to know any of the ugly cracks inside my vase. Only I had to see those parts. Nobody else would ever have to know the scars that I remember creating and etching into my skin, that would later become flaws and pieces of regret.
I recently had the opportunity of going to a ladies only lock-in event with my church. I always love going to those types of things even though I always walk in anxious. I can be a really shy person. I can be pretty guarded and reserved. We were put into small groups of other girls of various ages from our church. Each and every girl in my group shared something deep and personal from their past. They openly talked about their past and current demons while I could only sit there in silence and be reminded of mine. But I kept my mouth closed the entire time. I spoke when spoken to and did not share anything remotely personal or about myself. Part of the problem was the fact that I was sitting right next to my mom but I also was holding tightly onto that vase. I was too afraid to let the darkest parts of the vase that I carry crack or chip off in the tiniest way. I didn’t want the attention drawn on me. I didn’t want my voice to be heard. I didn’t want anyone to know. But these girls have gone through so much worse things in life than you will ever have to experience. And it’s like I know that. I know there are people out there who have had to go through literal hell to get to where they are today. I know people that are still fighting daily in battles that I hope to never have to face. And yet I close up and all defenses go up when it comes to sharing even a fraction of my story. It’s too real. It’s too raw. It’s too personal. It’s too frightening because I promised myself that I would never go back to those darkest places. Those darkest places almost killed me. Those darkest voices that once controlled my mind almost completely rid me of the girl I had lost inside. How could I go back there? How could I open the doors I slammed shut and ran as far as I possibly could from?
But I think the scariest thought of all is what if I’m not that far from the edge after all? What if I’m really only a step away from another breaking point? What if I don’t make it out alive the “next time”? Will there be a next time?
After all this time I can say that there is hope. There is hope for a chance at a better life. There is hope for a chance for positive and healthy change. There is hope to renew your faith that once was lost or never present to begin with. There is hope for redemption and forgiveness. There is hope for healing through the passing of time and stronger relationships than before. There is hope for carrying a vase so heavy that you don’t know how much longer you can carry it for. The good news is that Jesus is now carrying my vase. Jesus has picked up my burdens and I no longer have to carry them around with me. I have been set free from a past I thought would consume me. I am no longer a slave to depression, though I still struggle from time to time. I am not a slave to myself or anyone else. I am free and I am forgiven. If I weren’t either of those things I am not sure that I would be here to write you this.
So, you’re probably wondering, why am I telling you all of this now? That is a great question. A question I am still trying to figure out the answer to myself. I think up until now I have been holding onto this vase of my past. I think I have held onto it for so long that I wasn’t quite sure how to let it go. I have moved on, and I feel like a new person from the person I was then, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully let the pieces of my past go. I’ve been too afraid to share my darkest parts for fear of being too open. Fear of being too vulnerable, too raw, too exposed. It’s easy to share the picture perfect snapshots of our lives, but much harder to share the ugly, naked truths about our past and present struggles. What if we were always honest and real with every person that took the time to really ask us, “How are you today?” and rather than replying with, “Oh I’m fine, you?” but with an in-depth version of what we are experiencing in that moment, what kinds of connections with people would we have then? It sounds terrifying right? That’s because it is. It’s not easy to share the hard bits, but so much easier to share the surface things that we are quickly to forget. But the shallow bits don’t create connections. The shallow bits don’t allow tears to be shed only to be met with compassion and understanding from others that too have experienced a similar kind of pain. The shallow bits don’t reveal the real truths about who you are and what you go through. As humans we struggle and fall short daily. We hold too tightly to our vases we are too afraid of breaking that we stop allowing people in on even those shallow bits, until we are so completely consumed with figuring out how to balance the vase that we can no longer see where we are walking anymore.
Today, I want to break off a piece of my vase. I’ll be honest, I’m not ready to completely throw down my vase and celebrate the pieces that I don’t have to carry around anymore. But I am ready to break a piece off and share that piece with you. Maybe it’s two pieces, maybe it’s a little more. Maybe if I continue to chip away at my vase daily, someday I won’t be carrying a vase anymore, and maybe it will simply be a small piece of dirt that once lined the bottom. I hope to get there some day, and I hope that you will too. So here is my piece to you… do whatever you wish with it, and I encourage you to do the same with your vase. It’s not easy. It’s messy. It can be painful and may cause some tears. But I do believe in the end it will be worth it. For your sake, and the sake of others lives you will reach through your story.
Breathe. Love. Survive. Hope. Live.