Depression is dangerous when we can’t see that we are not unique in our hardships, everyone struggles, and that there is comfort in this knowledge. No matter how much we have to endure there are people who have gone through depressions of their own with varying degrees of isolation, sadness, anxiety, and pain. I hope this project acts as a reminder that wherever you are in dealing with depression, take comfort in the fact that You Are Not Alone.
DEATH OF AN AMERICAN
O say can you see
My bombs bursting in air
My leather jacket where
My tiny white gravestone
On a hillside
To discard my anorexia, at one point in my life, would have seemed as impossible as changing the color of my skin. My anorexia was a part of me. The desire to be beautiful exhausted me. I remember nights when I felt close to death. "Make me light. Make me light, this heaviness is too much to bear," I would think, hovering over a ceramic basin while waiting on the diuretic effects of vodka, gin, adderall, Everclear, or whatever else was at hand. During these bouts of sickness, I would feel utterly disconnected from the people in my life and utterly tethered to the anchor of my physical form. The exhaustion and intoxication served to keep my mind in a haze.
After six years of seeking this mindlessness, I had a moment of lucidity. I saw, I can’t say for the first time, but perhaps more clearly than before, that my habits had the real potential to destroy me. In the clearing I saw a stark impasse, I could continue to chase an ideal of perfection that would never arrive or preserve my body for the sake of my mind.
This was not a fact I simply arrived at one day while washing the dishes. I had my head stuffed half way into a trashcan. I was too dizzy to walk the twenty feet from my bed to the Cleveland Hall’s bathroom, and my tears and yellow bile were comingling, inches from my nose, with the dried remnants of the three things I grudgingly consumed: apples, coffee, and bananas. It was then that I decided that I had to help myself out of this one.
That year I started taking care of myself. I would trade one illusion for another.
Full disclosure—I am not fully recovered and even in the process of writing this I have seen my old rehearsed thoughts creep onto the page.
Friends are hard to come by. If you have one friend, you are a prince among men. People think that differences are bad or swell but being different is just that. Different. My journey is one of self-abandonment. I think that I’ve let society tell me who I am and subsequently felt a drought in my existence. As a result, I have had an identity crisis for as long as I can remember. No one knows me. No one. Loneliness is the sunrise on my face in the morning.
I honestly wish someone taught me how to be black or how to fit in or how to be, but as it stands I am empty. I am a shape shifter- an anomaly. One step away from the far end of the anti-social scale. But dammit if I don’t exist. And dammit if you don’t either. Never let anyone tell you who you are or how to be. Exist. Fuck who’s watching.
Tonight, I smoked my cigarette to the moon and dreamt that the sound cars make when they pass was you rushing to me.
I didn’t know the force with which I could knock myself down I tried to get up but I couldn’t so I lay still and listened to myself closely to see if I was breathing but I wasn’t.
It scared me for a minute but you can’t breathe life back into yourself so I didn’t try.
I went to thirteen schools before I graduated from High School and have lived in six different states. I believe I've become quite adept at talking to people, being friendly, and forming healthy relationships very quickly. In that sense my growing up was fortuitous to say the least.
On the flip side of that, it is the small bits that I notice far more than the loud and easily seen parts. I always have this undertow-ing sense of being alone, a sordid bitterness at everything around me–that at any moment, for all my commitment and care, I'd be gone. That at any moment I'd stop caring as much about the people I care about. I even have problems with this when I'm in the same room with people.
"I don't want to move again. I don't want to move on again."
I've said that a lot. I don't want the parts of me I've given people to be wasted by me never being there. It's a great and a terrible part of me.
About five years ago I used to have panic attacks whenever I met someone new or traveled too far apart from a loved one. I was convinced that they, or I, would die suddenly and just disappear. This fear started small, like an ache, when it felt like death was a plague dancing around my life randomly plucking people up right in front of me. The fear gradually grew to the point that it leaked in and out of my pores, infected my dreams, and made it impossible for me to feel normal. It was as if this fear took a match to the wicks of other smaller fears laying dormant inside of me, and before I knew it I was totally enveloped and completely out of control.
I decided the only way to regain that control was to escape. I had to do something completely foreign and prove that I wasn’t as tiny and fragile as this sadness was making me feel. So I moved to the Czech Republic and told myself that if I went away I could grow taller than the fear and I could walk away from it. I know how classic it is to go abroad and have some inexplicable life changing “a-ha” moment, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t exactly what happened. I found strength (and weakness) in myself that I never knew existed. I mixed myself up with this town and allowed myself to feel, and feel fully. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world, but unfortunately running away from a problem doesn’t solve anything.
During my time in Prague I laughed with my whole body, I took pieces of my heart and planted them throughout the city, I fell deeply in love with life and a boy that kept me dizzy for a year and a half; but I held on to the sadness. It was smaller, like a little trinket from an overpriced gift shop. I kept it in a little drawer so I could pull it out and reminisce about our time together. The fucked up thing about depression is that it becomes a friend. It’s a little tchotchke that sucks to pack up and move from house to house, but you do it anyway because you just can’t seem to throw it away. After a while it began to grow again. It started with little things like bottles of wine and sad movies. Then it moved to screening all calls and text messages from loved ones because I just didn’t have the energy. This then slipped seamlessly into, for almost no reason at all, feeling totally alone and like everyone either didn’t care, or didn’t want to deal with the helpless little puddle I had melted myself into. It’s a perfect cycle of pushing people away and then wondering why no one is there to wipe your tears.
In the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly describes this enigma as the “mean reds”. They’re worse than the blues, she says, because the blues are when “you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible, suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of”. Holly puts this feeling at ease with trips to Tiffany’s, whereas I stuck with the more classic routine of laying restlessly thinking about every terrible thing I’ve ever done or said to another human being. Or, my personal favorite, how the future is so terribly unpredictable that there really doesn’t seem to be a point in trying to steer this careening vehicle of destruction back to some sort of legitimate path. I would go on tirelessly playing out these scenarios until I eventually drifted off to sleep in bed, where I would remain until around two or three in the afternoon. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
For me, this didn’t happen all at once. It was always an ebb and flow of depression and “normalcy”. It remained something I could keep relatively private, slowly pushing friends and loved ones to an acceptable distance so I could wallow in peace. Last year I found myself alone in an empty house, in a town I hated, feeling like I was a character in a story someone else was writing for me. Every once in a while I would be laying in bed and a small pressure would wrap itself around me, like a hug that grew a little too tight and trapped me on my back. I would stare up and try and focus on a crack in the ceiling, halfway hoping/wondering when it would just open me up and take me away. I was living my life bouncing between hopeful and terrified that I would disappear in to thin air. In March I took a trip alone that empowered me and encouraged me to take ownership and control over my life.
Ever since I made that decision so many things have changed. I wish I could say I don’t have that trinket anymore, but I do and I think I always will. I can’t deny that part of myself because to deny it is to give it power. I acknowledge it, I accept it, and I have it out where I can see it. I still get anxious when I meet new people, but I push through it. I journal. I made new amazing friends, and I get out of bed when they call. I think about the future with hopeful anticipation. I don’t obsess over the “what if's" and “great unknowns" as much. I look at my boyfriend and I see someone who loves the person I am, who trusts me, and will be there without judgment when the mean reds have me laid out on the couch watching my tenth episode of Gray’s Anatomy in a row sobbing for no real reason at all. Most importantly I get up every morning and I see me. I see a strong and vulnerable woman with a purpose and a voice capable of writing her own story. It may be messy and filled with wrong turns and awkward first impressions, but it’s mine and I finally feel like I have the power to delight in it; which I didn’t realize is what was missing all along.
You told me everything is fine.
You told me it would soon be over.
You told me time will heal us
You told me
Not to cry
Keep my chin up
A score later and
I can't cry anymore.
My neck aches
My mind races
My body is tired.
We aren't that different you and I.
I wish we were.
You went to Auburn. It was the farthest apart we had ever lived, yet this is when I saw you the most. Darkness started to slip through the necks of Early Times and the blue started to leave your eyes. You called me from the shadows of your dorm crying, “I just feel so alone.”
The image flashes every time someone asks me if I knew you were depressed. If you were hurt. If I was surprised.
Does it matter?
- - - - - - - - -
Father Breen talked about butterflies; how they die as caterpillars and are reborn as butterflies or some shit like that. Joe would have laughed. There were tables lining the entrance piled with his things. A stethoscope, a lab coat, Fighting Irish memorabilia, and an array of pictures that outlined the short years of his life. I didn’t recognize him in the pictures from the last year. I found myself staring at the top of his head. I thought about the exit wound.
No one knew my Joe.
I felt abandoned. He left me. I wanted to say goodbye. Instead I am staring at a body I don’t recognize in a room full of people that didn’t know us. My Joe. My Joe had light and torment, love and terror that plagued him.
I just want to hear his voice.
- - - - - - - - -
I saw him as a parallel universe. When we were together we stepped outside of our timelines and snuck into the hollowed spaces where we could be alone.
- - - - - - - - -
My protection: a diving bell, which encases me, manipulates pressure, and seals me from the outside. You had one of your own. You let me see it, but you never released the pressure to let me in. I only fogged the plates of glass as I marveled around you. The brevity of our visits throughout the years made it feel like we only had minutes to drink each other in before the next drought. We could only love each other when the string between our two tin cans was taut.
A daughter of parents that both take antidepressants with a family history of depression to boot, genes were never on my side of that consuming cloud. Anger has always been a foreign creature to me but sadness is that stray cat that usually hangs on the outskirts and sporadically finds its way to my stoop, bearing fleas and a strange comfort nestled in my lap when he chooses.
A few months shy of a year ago I chose to leave a job and relationship simultaneously. The job resignation was planned; the girlfriend resignation was an extemporaneous act.
My time working in wilderness therapy with teenagers had run its course. It taught me an unpayable amount in being a leader, and it taught me when I need to step back to take care of myself, when I’m using "being needed” as a crutch. I’m thankful for every firefly light night and chaos filled day I spent with those smelly rascals that were while exhausting, inspiring with how passionately they could learn and grow.
Before my last shift with my job, I went through a breakup with someone I once loved very much. They didn’t know how to love me and my pining to finally cut the chord came to the surface.
It was time to start a new chapter and I knew it. There were a few months I was in a meaningless limbo though. This turned into voluntary isolation blanketed with liquid comfort that left my tongue and outlook sour. I remember nights soaked in anxiety, feeling like one of those pathetic Chihuahuas that spends most of its life trembling and pissing itself. Too much time was spent trying to hold back tears in public and trying convince myself to eat something, anything to replace this ball and chain that had taken an unwelcome residence in the pit of my stomach.
Time passed, circumstances evolved, and that girl and that pain is a memory to me now but still a part of me. Sadness isn’t weakness. You need the shadows to perceive the depth of the landscape. With this knowledge I feel the freedom to dive in, and feel every ember when it’s time to drift in the hurt for its earned time. To know I can feel such panic because I had things worth that anxiety of losing and the capacity to care about something and someone that deeply – that's goddamn beautiful.
“Chase, Chase, it’s your dad.” Jon Paul shoved the phone in my face as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
“Hello,” I said groggily.
“I don’t know who you are, but you’re not my son. Get out of Memphis and don’t come back here,” he screamed.
My step-brothers all piled on the same bed gave me timid looks after they heard the static roar burst through the phone. I looked at them and for all I know they might have seen lifeless eyes because at that moment in time I felt nothing. It must have been easy for my dad to relinquish his duties as a father, leaving me to feel abandoned and more confused. I called my mother. She cried out in rage and worry.
“This is unbelievable. How could that man say something like that to his only son?”
“I dunno, mom.”
“Well, I’m gonna have to figure out a way to get you home. I’m gonna call Crissy. See if you can find a ride to your grandmothers, ok?”
“Chase, I’ll get you home. Just stay calm. I love you.”
I hung up and walked down stairs to ask my Stepmother Sabine for a ride to my grandmother’s. I didn’t tell her why.
In the middle of my Grandmother’s living room I haphazardly packed my clothes when the phone rang again. And again. And again. And again. I finally answered only to hear ignorant screams on the other end. Click. Anxiety began to hatch from the dormant state of apathy I had felt all morning. He calls again. I become frantic. Disconnect.
My Godmother Crissy was on her way to pick me up and take me to the airport but I was still in disarray. I needed to be showered, collected, and calm for her, for my departure into exile. The sound of the phone stirs the silence and I became disillusioned. Despondent. My grandmother eventually answered, “Eugene, what are you doing? Be a man. Be a father. This is your son.” I heard the phone click, the rustling of newspaper, and the scratch of her pencil on the crossword.
Whether it was out of shame or fear I didn’t speak to her while I sat in the living room. More time had passed allowing for anxiety to mature and apathy to die off. I found the stillness and the sound of her pencil safer- it was the illusion of normalcy. The phone was ringing again and the shrill sound made my stomach churn and clench. A stampede of hooves and feet and metal shook the earth. I felt the ground begin to tremble Shit. I answered. Uncle Mike sighed on the other end.
“You have to understand how this is for your dad, Chase. What a shock it is to not only us, but him. You need to talk to him. Listen and respect him- he is your father.” “NO,” I yelled as the stamped splintered the ground beneath me. “He doesn’t deserve anything from me.” My hand shook as I hung up the phone and tears pooled in the corners of my eyes. A slight relief came from my outburst, because I wanted time and regret to swallow my father. I decided he needed to live with this abandonment for the rest of his life. The anxiety rose up again without warning and I wanted to scream and hammer out the windows, take a knife to the upholstery and smash the grandfather clock against the ground. Instead, I blinked. I hear a knock at the door. Crissy.
The sun blinded me as it melted into the horizon of the rear view mirror. Everything felt ablaze, yet calm. In the corner of my eye Crissy turned to me every few minutes attempting to find words to extinguish the fire, but opted for a slight, sad smile and a hand gently squeezing my arm. I will always be grateful for the silence between us on that car ride. We pulled up to the terminal and got out to sounds of feet pattering the ground and metal shaking and roaring in the air above. She hugs me.
“I love you. It’s all going to be okay.”
I take the window seat and looked at my cell phone for the first time in nearly six hours. 46 missed calls from Dad. 18 new voicemails from Dad. A lump crept in my throat but then subsided. I turned off my phone and took comfort in the ascension, feeling the vibration of metal and nothingness. The burden of the day’s events lifted and I felt small looking down on the dimly lit, hapless clouds and the glint of city lights from the place I would only refer to as being from, but no longer as my hometown.
It was dark by the time the plane landed in Chattanooga. Mom met me by baggage claim. Her cheeks were flush from either crying or anger. Her clothes looked disheveled and her eyes had large, dark bags under them from stress. She pulled me into an embrace accompanied by a kiss on the forehead. I could see in her eyes she felt pity for me, because she knew the bond with my father was lost.
“Have you spoken to him,” she asked.
I turned my phone back on. 19 new voicemails from “Dad.” I deleted them all to get to the 19th one.
“Chase, I’ve spoken to your Grandmother. She told me Crissy picked you up and took you the airport. Your phone is off, so that must mean you’re on the plane. Now that you’re gone, I realize there is a huge hole in my heart. I’m sorry. I just want you to know how sorry I am and how much I love you. Please call me back when you land safely in Chattanooga. I want to talk to you. I love you.”
I looked at his number for a moment, but never called. The voicemail had brought up memories of when I was young and my mother would pick me up at the end of my summer’s in Memphis. She would wait patiently by her Jeep while my dad would squeeze me tight, my feet dangling above the ground and hands clutching to his back. I didn’t want to leave and the imprint of my face in his shirt made of tears and snot made it clear. He would always set me back down and look into my eyes.
“I love you, son. I’ll see you in again in no time.”
We were about to go into our junior year of high school and we had known each other for a couple years. Devin Brooks was best friends with my high school sweetheart, and they had known each other for a decade. Robert Berber was the new kid, but was quickly welcomed into our quirky group of friends. Almost by fate, Devin and Robert soon became the closest of friends as they were both never ceasing rays of sunlight in the dark world of small town teenage angst. Their smiles were contagious, laughs unmistakable, and souls effervescent. You couldn’t have a bad day with them as friends. Whether it was a random hug in the hall or a crude joke at the lunch table, they’d find a way to make you smile.
In July of 2009, Devin’s stepdad, who doesn’t deserved to be named, went on an unprovoked spree of killings in two states. He murdered a coworker in Alabama, then came to his home where he murdered his wife, Devin’s mother, his brother in law, father in law, and finally Devin and Robert in their sleep. I don’t know the details and I never want to.
The sadness I have since experienced having our friends ripped from their youth and families is one that ebbs and flows. What class ring would they have gotten? Would they have gone to prom? What would they have done after high school? College? It’s these life events that I feel their absence, and I can only imagine the every day absence felt by his sisters and father.
A few weeks after the murders, we started back school. Since Devin and Robert weren’t the part of the popular kids by any means, there wasn’t a special announcement made. Their lockers weren’t painted. Since they didn’t play sports, they didn’t have a special memorial case dedicated to them. Yet everyone they ever touched wasn’t the same; we were empty. I distinctly remember feeling lost on picture day, as they would have been in the same line I was in since our last names were close. Our lunches and breaks were silent. I felt immensely guilty that I had let a silly falling out keep me from talking to Devin in the last few months of his life.
One night I had a dream. In the dream, I was arguing with my then boyfriend about something, and Devin was, well Devin. He came up to me, wiped my tears, and said “It’s going to be okay. I promise” and then he hugged me. Now this was a dream, no doubt, but I felt the warmth of his embrace and heard the quiet thump of his heart as if he held me while I slept. Then he pulled away, cracked a joke, and made me laugh. I woke up the next morning with that warmth in my heart. I smiled, and realized that Devin and Robert wouldn’t want us sad and empty; they’d want us laughing and smiling living life.
I guess during this time period I, as well as my friends, experienced bouts of depression. I’d cry every year around the time they were murdered for awhile, and I still get sad every now and then. It’s not that I’ve completely gotten over it. I don’t think I ever will. But I try to live my life the way Devin and Robert would want me to; day-by-day and finding joy everywhere I can.
Sitting, as nearly scalding water runs down my skin, I barely have the courage to release a silent scream. My heart is falling beneath me, and I truly fear I won’t be able to breathe it back to its place. Barely moments ago, I thought the next hundred years were clearly laid before me. Now I realize, those thoughts were only foolish, pillow talking daydreams.