Northwestern, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down
There’s something wrong with me. My stomach has been knotted up like a garden hose and I don’t know why. Why isn’t my brother jumping out from behind the bushes and letting the hose go and spraying me. Why is it still in knots. I’m only five years old. It’s 9:37 pm on a Friday night. I just got out of the shower and am sitting on my bed, half dressed, for a party I don’t know if I am going to. I check my phone. Nothing. I text my friend, “When are you coming over?” Nothing. No worry, no worry, I’m sure she’s just busy. I watch an episode of The Office. I think about ordering pizza. Check the time, it’s now 10:40. Getting late. She is obviously blowing me off, right? I try to make other plans, send a few trepidatious texts out into the chummy water. Do I want to meet someone at a frat party of course not. It’s October, and cold, and at least a 25 minute walk, and I will hate all of the people there. Do I want to come over and watch a movie and drink wine of course not. It’s a Friday night, I’m 21, I should be out at a party. Crawl into bed, still wearing a skirt and no shirt for the maybe party that I’m maybe going to. My hair is drying into a frizz ball, I don’t notice. My friends don’t notice me. They hate me. Everyone hates me. It’s 11:25 pm before I hear from my friend. “Sorry I was downtown I’m on my way what’s the address meet you there” end text message. By this point I’m already halfway through my Sarpinos order. I finish and curl up inside myself on my bed, feeling atrocious. I deserve this, I had it coming, it’s all my fault. Do I want to be at home alone on a friday night of course not. But I can’t make myself go outside either and there is no one here to push me out the door and hold my hand. I am alone.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. I have clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% of Americans suffer from depression, and 18% are affected by anxiety. Antidepressants are the number one prescribed medication for adults ages 18-44. These are facts that can’t be disputed. Everyone knows about depression, whether it be from your intro to psych course or the Lifetime movie you caught the second half of last week. But understanding depression is deeper. Trying to explain depression to someone who has never been fortunate enough to be afflicted by it is like trying to get your mother to believe in the imaginary friend you had as a child. If he can’t be seen, he must not exist, right? Some people will say no, I believe that God exists and I can’t see Him. Why can’t the same logic be applied to mental disorders? You can’t see cancer, but no one would ever tell someone with breast cancer to just “get over it” or that “it’s all in your head.”
I feel physically sick from being overly emotionally distressed. It’s 3:15 am. I have to get up in 3 hours. But I can’t sleep. I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom in the hotel in Orlando, as my mom and brother sleep in the next room. I’m going to Disney World tomorrow. The happiest place on earth. Why am I not happy? I try to calm myself down enough to sleep, but my mind is racing a million miles a minute. I start counting the floor tiles, anything to distract me. It’s not enough. I notice a small bit of dust on the bottom edge of the toilet, and immediately throw all of my energy into cleaning it. Toilet, floor, shower. Nothing gets left out. At some point I fall asleep, wake up on the bathroom floor with fingernail marks cut deep into my hands. I was clenching my fists as I slept. I crawl back into bed until I have to get up and shower in 30 minutes. At least it will be clean.
There are those who try to empathize with sufferers of depression, but the most they can muster is sympathy. They want to help, but they just can’t figure out how. They try to pour what they think is water on the fire, which sometimes is just gasoline in disguise. As someone much more eloquent than myself (the wonderful Allie Brosh) once put it, depression is like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to figure out why they disappeared. Their solution is for a different problem than the one you have. The problem might not even have a solution, but you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions. You’re maybe just looking for someone to say “sorry about how dead your fish are” or “wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though.” I want to be loved because of my depression, and in spite of it. Somedays I manage to claw my way to the surface and say “let’s go hang out” and somedays I just want someone to jump into the hole to keep me company.
In today’s edition of Sick Thoughts: I am too weak and scared and stupid to call a doctor myself. The only way I can get help is to attempt suicide and they would take me to the hospital and fix me. Or else I would die which is fine too. I want a great life, not a shitty or mediocre one. I choose no life over a bad one.
I can no longer tell the difference between being awake and sleep. The difference between what’s real and what’s happening in my head. I don’t know how I feel about anything, anyone. Food, people, activities. I just want to sleep a dreamless sleep. I rarely eat, I talk even less, and I haven’t showered in 3 days. I’m disgusting. I hate myself. I should hate myself. Tonight I took 3 doses of Nyquil. Hours ago. Have not slept. My left hand is numb, though. I just want to sleep. Whatever that means.
It’s easy to spot the ‘textbook depressed’ kid in school. Loner, doesn’t have any friends, cut or burn marks on his arm, troubled home life, childhood abuse. “This kid has a reason to feel depressed” you say. “His life has been hard” you say. People notice, teachers notice, friends notice, and they hopefully speak up. You get that feeling of satisfaction similar to finding Waldo in under 10 seconds. You spotted him! But what about the rest of the mentally ill, the ones who may not even know something is wrong yet? I was that girl. I had friends, I went to parties, I dated. I was an upper middle class white girl going to a prestigious university. I had food on the table and clothes on my back. My life was awesome. Right? And then, slowly, I started to mess it up. I was doing something wrong, I had messed up, why was I not as smartfunnyprettycreativeambitioustalented as those around me? What was wrong with me? One negative thought after another kept snowballing downhill in my brain, until the snowball took over. My brain had frozen, it was just ice in there by then. It still maintained the basic eat-sleep-shower repeat processes, but the emotions were gone. Watching tv, I could recognize a funny joke but I wouldn’t really find it funny. I could go to a party and drink and be merry, but I wouldn’t really feel merry at all. Alone in a crowded room. I felt stupid for feeling alone, there were so many people surrounding me. Why had I chosen this. Why was I being dramatic. Stop it. Stop it.
I won’t/can’t accept the D word. I don’t believe in it. If I close my eyes and cover my ears I will wake up and this will not be real. It can’t be real.
March 23, 2013. The end is near. I am a monster. I must save those I love from myself.
Guess what I figured out after that. It is real. Depression is an illness, like any other illness. I didn’t ask for this. But the scariest part? It’s sneaky. And stealthy. You don’t see it coming, and you may not even know it’s there, until you’re sitting barefoot on a beach in April, staring at the icy water trying to work up to courage to walk in and not come back out. Some wonderful people helped me realize and accept this, and for that I will always be grateful. But what about the people who aren’t as lucky as I am? Who suffered until they sought suicide as relief? Who still suffer today? Who can’t get out of bed because they are scared to death of what’s out there waiting for them. How do we help?
We are One Northwestern. We stand together in trying times. But we are also one Northwestern. I am one, you are another one. 1+1+1+1=1. Something gets lost in the equation. Individuals. It’s easy to feel insignificant in a school this size. To feel like what you’re doing doesn’t matter, because someone else is doing it better. We are constantly competing and comparing ourselves to others, and feeling like shit in the process. I am pleading with you to stop. Stop comparing yourself to others. They think differently, they move differently, they look differently. They are different. The differences, and what we do with them, are what make humans amazing creatures. We each have something unique to share, and we each have the chance to impact others’ lives more than we know. But individuality means nothing without the support of other individuals. We need to nurture each other, to encourage, to talk. We need to not be afraid to openly and freely discuss issues. To not be afraid. We need to ask for help. To help others ask for help. We need to look out for each other.
I don’t want this to read like a sob story. I want to help others who think they’re alone. I thought I was alone. I was not, and you are not. I showed small glimpses of the storm in my heart to others, and was fortunate enough that they noticed something was off. I got help, and you can too. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was admit I had a problem, and accept help. There were tears and confusion and sickness and more tears. No one should ever have to feel that way. But it gets better. Please believe me. I am one of you. I am one Northwestern.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Evanston Hospital: 847-570-2000
Northwestern CAPS: 847-491-2151