The following makes reference to mental illness and suicide. Please exercise consideration and self care in reading.
Depression has been a companion in my life for almost as long as I can remember.
As a child, I always felt odd. On my first day of school, I remember looking at the other girls in the room, my eyes settling on a particular girl with a pretty, pink dress I would expect to see worn at a birthday party.
The other girls flocked to her, and she looked at me in a way that made me feel plainly that I didn’t belong with her or her people.
I don’t recall what I was wearing, but I remember only having male friends that year.
In finding myself odd, I found everything else a little odd, too. My first existential experience was at six years old.
I stared at my teacher. I suddenly felt like I was outside of myself. ‘What a strange thing we are doing here’, I thought.
“Why do we even exist?”
That was probably the first “why” I knowingly conjured in myself, and I’ve been questioning ever since.
Flash forward to eleven years old, and I finally had a close group of female friends. The type of friends you would find in an Ann M. Martin novel, without the babysitting.
For the first time, I didn’t fear going to school. Up till that point, I had so much anxiety about being teased and feeling different, I had been home sick more than I probably should have been.
In fact, I was taken to this new school, because I had one day refused to keep going to my previous one. I think this was after I found a note in my desk telling me about how “dumb” I was.
My parents didn’t think staying at home watching Sesame Street reruns for months was getting me anywhere in life, so I was enrolled at this tiny, rural school in Glen Huon, Tasmania.
I didn’t even want to say home if I was sick. I had my girls, and I even had a boyfriend.
I vividly remember sitting on the carpet as our principal, Ms Harvey-Latham, sat in front of us with a work of art. She asked us what we could see, and we discussed it for a good hour. This was my flourishing time.
My teachers praised my creativity and stories.
Everything was wonderful, at least for me. My family couldn’t say the same, and I soon discovered we would be moving back to our home state.
I was crushed, and I cried with my girlfriends, which we angrily told Mr Kidd was NOT about “boys,” when he asked as much.
Following moving, I slumped back into a prolonged sadness.
I didn’t make friends quite like that again. All I wanted was to be back with them.
I wanted the innocence. I wanted the stories and letters we would write to each other, and drop into crude mail boxes stuck to our desks.
A particular red flag for depression came in the form of a self-introductory assignment in my first year of High School (Middle School.)
In this assignment, I told my English teacher how sad I was, and how I felt like I was stuck in a glass case.
His reply was to tell me how impressively “deep” I was.
The following years I had had ups and downs. I often ran away to bathroom cubicles, or wherever I could be alone. I would cry, and secretly hope someone would find me and tell me everything was going to be okay.
At sixteen I attempted suicide, after months of self harming, but the hospital never followed up on me.
I finally sought treatment one year into my marriage, after I had to quit my full time job.
Since then, I have been treated for PTSD like symptoms, Anxiety, Postnatal Depression, and Depression.
This year, after a death and a big move interstate…after having to be strong for a long time, I relapsed hard, and the suicidal ideation came back.
These voices were different. They didn’t come from me. They were invasive, and completely out of the blue.
I was frightened, because I promised myself never to attempt suicide again. I had a good life, and a family. I didn’t want to give up on any of that.
I found an excellent therapist, and asked to be put on medication.
Where is that old friend gone?
A few months ago, I stood at the piano my Grandma left to us when she passed away last year, and sang along to my husband playing February Song.
I had been going to therapy for a while, and I was still getting used to my antidepressants. I was improving.
Before this, I had always loved that Josh Groban song, but singing the words this time took on new meaning.
“Where has that old friend gone
Lost in a February song?
Tell [her] it won’t be long
Till [she] opens [her] eyes, opens [her] eyes
Where is that simple day
Before colors broke into shades?
And how did I ever fade
Into this life, into this life?”
Depression has a way of robbing me of myself. I get to the point where all I am is the messy ball of anger, and pain. Even small decisions like “what will we watch tonight,” are too much for my brain to handle.
Entering recovery, I started to have hope. I longed to be the versions of myself in the past that were together, and vibrant. I wanted that old friend enough to fight for her.
My other constant companion from birth was creativity.
I may have felt different, and lonely, but I had an active imagination.
I entered a world of books, music, and acting.
That odd girl, she could sing. She could act. She could tell stories.
When people in school didn’t encourage her, she was sad. When they did, she flourished. She felt like an important human being.
Obviously things weren’t perfect for her. She needed other forms of help, too, but her education in the arts was a vital part of her journey.
As well about being creative, and imagining a world better than her own, she was able to feed off the creativity of others. She also learnt empathy, when loneliness and depression would have taught her to be bitter.
In following the work of Find Your Light, a non-profit founded by Josh Groban, and kept running mostly through volunteers who give abundantly, I have been inspired by what quality arts education is doing in American schools and communities.
It’s giving kids a reason to even ATTEND school, which someone once argued to me “wasn’t an important enough reason to promote arts education.”
It’s not important for kids to want to stay in school? Really?
This is just one reason in dozens of them, and I invite you to investigate for yourself by checking out the work of Find Your Light, and reading some of my previous blog posts.
My main objective with this supportive project was to consistently advocate for a place for my “odd tribe” to go. It has always strongly tied into mental and emotional well-being, and this post continues to promote this.
I know that my journey with depression is far from over.
I will find “her”, and I will lose her again. But I won’t be alone. I will listen to the all the songs that tell me, “she will be back soon,” and I will write some of my own words to help the next person.
If you are in crisis, please call the following relevant numbers:
US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255
Aus: Lifeline 13 11 14