Others posted of even further extremes. I recently told a (newer) friend of mine, who hadn’t realized I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety, that there are many times where I find I have to convince myself daily that I don’t actually want to die. Sometimes, I get welcome breaks from those days – breaks that will even give me weeks of a reprieve from my mind telling me it’s all gotten to be too much, it’s too big of a rut, I just don’t care, I just don’t want to be here anymore.
I’ve seen 2 friends post things on Facebook in the past few weeks that had me worried they might hurt themselves. One has been helping her mother (her lifelong rock) as she nears the end of her life. The other is a divorced single mother who, though she’s found her own peace in some ways, understandably finds it all to be too much at times. Family drama never helps in the depression department.
I’ve never shied away from talking about mental illness, so most people know I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety at age 17. In reality, I’d dealt with it longer, but the trigger of an (at the time) earth-shattering break-up in my junior year made it manifest in the most extreme way. I tried to keep myself surrounded by my friends for a while and stay busy, but soon collapsed under the weight of my own depression. I left my mom a note one morning, saying I wouldn’t be going to school.
A lot of people will read that and say,
“No way would my mom have let me dictate whether I was going to school.”
That’s true. Had the situation been different, she might have told me to suck it up. Fortunately, I have a mom who understands depression, because she’s dealt with it herself most of her life; although, like me, it took her years to put a name to the nagging feelings that so often plagued her.
She understood the blow I’d been dealt. I’d had the rug ripped out from under me by a guy who my naïve teenage mind thought was “the one.” The days spent daydreaming in high school classes, surrounded by immature, annoying high schoolers were draining me, and reinforcing the idea that I’d really “lost something” in that break-up. I couldn’t take it anymore. If I was going to save my sanity (and my life), I needed a break from school.
I stayed home for 2 weeks, sitting on the oversized chaise in my room – “the Princess Suite.” Seriously, if you saw the life I lived in those years, you’d wonder what I could’ve possibly had to depress me. But I’ve been rich, then poor, then richer, and now poorer, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that money doesn’t buy you happiness. Life is most definitely easier when you have money, and therefore less to stress about, but a person with depression will still feel depressed in a million-dollar house unless they find ways to cope with it.
So, I would sit on that blue chaise, watching Lifetime for a reason I don’t know. Those movies will hook you in, and if you weren’t depressed to begin with, you probably will be when you’re done! I’d watch movie after dramatic movie, eating Parmesan Goldfish crackers and drinking bottled water, tossing the empties behind me. I have an off-white beanie that I kept on my head the whole time, until I think Mom finally made me let her wash it. It comforted me for some reason, and I wouldn’t take it off. I stayed on that chaise, with a blanket over me, my beanie on, and Mom’s cat Phoebe sitting on me, trying to make me feel better.
I wasn’t showering, because I was afraid of what I’d do to myself alone with a razor. I’d started “cutting” at 15, and knew it wouldn’t take much for my young mind to make the leap from cutting to ease emotional pain to doing it as a more permanent release. Fortunately, I have a tiny little fire somewhere deep inside me, that’s hard to extinguish – a will to live – that has kept me from going over that edge many times.
Mom finally spoke to her psychiatrist, and made me an appointment to speak with the psychologist next door. I’d been “walking around like a zombie” for long enough, she said, and she wanted me to talk to someone and get help.
I felt comfortable with the psychologist. She had experience working with younger people, and I found it was easy to open up to her. When we were done, she sent me next door with her recommendation for medication. They put me on Lexapro, and slowly I started to feel better and come back to life.
The psychologist soon brought my mom in and made 2 recommendations: The first was that we find a way for me to finish up high school. I’d learned what I needed from there, and I was too mature to deal with all the bullshit that goes along with it. Being there was draining and killing me, so she suggested I finish up high school. Secondly, she suggested my parents allow me to date older guys. High school boys were just not at the same level as me, and she saw me getting my heart broken more by immaturity if I kept dating teenagers worried about superficial shit.
Conveniently, my parents had recently had that discussion together. They were fine with me dating someone a few years older than me, considering I was only a few months shy of 18 anyway.
They spoke to my principal, with whom they’d been in contact since I’d been out of class for 2 weeks. They discovered I was 1 of 3 girls who’d had emotional breakdowns that semester. They also discovered I COULD finish up my classes and graduate early. All those racing schools would be signed off on and counted as my remaining PE credits. I took government via correspondence course through Texas Tech, they put me in a banking class that had already started, but I hadn’t missed much, and I took economics through an online course. My final class was an English class that I took in summer school. My friend Robin was in the class with me, and also graduated early. It was the best feeling to finish up that last class, shake the teacher’s hand, and have him say,
“Congratulations, you just finished high school!”
From there, I got ready for my trip to the U.K. For my 18th birthday, my boyfriend (a 23-year-old, British friend of my brother’s who I started dating that February) had planned a 2-week trip to Scotland and England. It was an amazing trip, and I was so moved by the historical places I’d visited that I came home wanting to move there when I got older. My parents talked me out of it by explaining the taxes over there. Ohhh yeah…that was part of the reason our ancestors hopped on The Mayflower and said “peace” …or something like that.
Anyway, when I returned from that 2-week trip to the UK, I moved into my first apartment and got ready for my first semester at the University of Houston. It was an exciting time, but also a reckless time.
As I got used to my newfound independence, I made increasingly bad decisions. With no one to hide it from, I started smoking much more often, which would ultimately lead to the chain-smoking habit that had such dire effects on my brain’s health. I also found myself going out to get drunk at any opportunity that presented itself. If an opportunity didn’t arise, I’d call my brother and friends until I’d made one happen. This, and an excitement at the new ability to choose whether I wanted to go to class or not, led to me making terrible grades my freshman year.
After I got hurt, I’d look back on those times with such remorse for the opportunities I’d squandered. Half the reason I couldn’t make it at Tulane was that I spent every night I could at the bars, getting drunk. That was due to the other half of the reason why I didn’t make it there: I was horribly depressed.
I felt anxious and uncomfortable there, like I didn’t belong. Aside from my friend Jessica (if you were a Jessica born in the 80’s, you have MANY friends with your name over the years! Going by J.P. has its perks), I had no support system there, and only grew increasingly depressed, until ultimately deciding to come home.
My parents tried to make me feel better, telling me I would’ve had to come home anyway, as we couldn’t afford it anymore. I was so happy to see the Welcome to Texas sign, as my brother and I crossed back into our home state, but I would feel like a failure for years.
My dad had been so proud to discover I had gotten into Tulane, a top university. After I got hurt, I would get so depressed, thinking I’d let him down. Finally, Mom convinced me that he would be proud no matter what school I went to; he was just happy I was going to college! Plus, the University of Houston finally cemented its status as a Tier 1 research school…and there’s research in Religious Studies…so yeah, super-duper smarty pants here, LOL!
Still, when you’re depressed, those thoughts of inadequacy will worm their way into your mind at any opportunity. Drop something by accident, or trip, and your mind will pipe up with thoughts like, You’re such a failure. You can’t even walk right. That’s why you failed at ___. Do you think___ ever trips like that?
Next time, tell your mind to fuck off, because, YES, that person DOES trip and drop things! You just have to develop the confidence to let it slide off your shoulders. Believe me, I understand as well as any anxious, clinically depressed person that that confidence is hard to come by if you aren’t born with it. It takes a lot of self-reaffirmation, something I’m trying to get better at, instead of tearing myself down all the time.
I’ve become an expert at laughing at myself – it helps to not take yourself so seriously. You screw up, you learn from it, and you move on with life. The past has passed, and no one can see when or where the future ends.
I can also vouch for how important it is to have a strong support system when the proverbial shit happens, and your mind tries to fuck with you. I can always call my mom when I’m sitting there, reliving a night of socializing, questioning everything I did and said. “I think I take too long to respond sometimes, people must think I’m weird. I can’t believe I said that – ugh! I’m such an idiot!”
Mom and my husband always remind me that everyone dissects their behavior, and that I likely thought I was more awkward than anyone else did. And I can always call Jaena to laugh about my awkwardness until I feel better. We’ve been providing that service to each other for the past 16 years. Back in our teens, when she modeled, she would worry about tripping while she was walking (I’m sure that’s the fear of many models), but I always told her not to worry. If it ever happened, I would be standing there at the end of the catwalk, pointing and loudly declaring,
“DO-OVER! WE NEED A DO-OVER DOWN HERE!”
To this day, that’s our “get out of jail free” card – we just need a do-over! Having friends and family always available to rescue me from a self-loathing session is an important “must” for my mental health.
I also look to my high school friend, Stevie, for inspiration, because that’s exactly what she is to me. Having gone through her own version of hell, she had been heavily medicated for ten years. Then, eight years ago, she decided she was done with just “numbing” the problem – she was getting off her meds. Her doctor did her a huge favor by telling her it was impossible, because, in defiance she put her mind to it and made it happen. She recently shared on Facebook some of the tools that have helped her to live medication-free, as that’s a question she frequently gets:
- Silent meditation and chanting
- Learn how the mind works and have techniques to use in the moment
- Understand sensations in the body
- Be present for all that’s going on
- Self-love practices
- Know how food biochemically works with your system
- Surround yourself with an unconditional, loving support system of friends
All I know is, I’ve been battling suicidal thoughts since that breakdown in high school, and they’ve only gotten louder since I got hurt. The later chapters of Hope Alive detail how death, and the ease with which I could leave this pain-filled world, preoccupied my mind. There’s a part of me that’s terrified of not being medicated: I know how badly my emotional pain hurts, and how loud those thoughts can get, when I AM medicated. How much worse would it be if I weren’t on antidepressants? Then I remember that one of the major warnings and side effects of antidepressants is suicidal thoughts – maybe the thoughts wouldn’t be so prevalent, or readily there, if I weren’t taking the antidepressants? There’s only one way to find out! What I CAN assure you, is that once I’ve started the journey of getting off my meds with a doctor’s guidance, I will chronicle it here, to give you a firsthand account.
I’m hoping I can convince Stevie to do a guest follow-up post about her own experiences, but she keeps herself very busy (another way to keep your mind from driving you insane – being “present for all that’s going on” is a pretty literal thing). She’s an actress and hard at work on her own play that she’s written called “Breaking Free.” As you can imagine, it’s a story that mimics her own journey of “breaking free” from her meds and mental prison. On top of that, her mother’s house took a lot of damage in Hurricane Harvey, as well as the homes of some close friends, so she’s been back here in Houston, hard at work helping.
I can affirm that adding in just a little daily exercise can help wonders - today will be my 30th day in a row of doing Pilates (my original goal) and it's helped me a lot to have that exercise time every day.
Some of the best advice I can give from my own experience battling my demons comes from the Bible – there are many verses throughout the Bible that hit on this, including one from Romans that I included at the start of Hope Alive.”
I don’t think you have to necessarily be a Christian to relate to these passages. I will say that my spiritual and religious journey since surviving my 2 brain aneurysm hemorrhages has been a HUGE part of my persevering and never giving up. I’ve read the Bible through more than three times, and I’ve found more inspiration with every pass, and more reasons not to give up.
While some of these passages directly reference God and Jesus Christ, and may be more moving to people who are already Christians, I don’t think you need to be religious to find meaning in passages affirming that suffering through obstacles is good for you overall as a person, as you grow through them and come out better in the end.
Does it suck to go through bankruptcy, losing your home and all your major possessions TWICE in your life by the age of twenty? OF COURSE. Does it suck to be in the hospital, uncomfortable and in horrible pain, because a brain aneurysm hemorrhaged on your twentieth freakin’ birthday, stopping life in its tracks, and reversing it? WELL, DUH! Is it incredibly disheartening and confusing to wake up in the neuro ICU and be informed by your mother that you had a second brain aneurysm hemorrhage, taking away your progress and moving you further back? That REALLY SUCKS!
Does it suck when, a couple years later, after you’ve gotten back in college, you overhear an argument between your parents, revealing that the one man you thought would never hurt you has betrayed your family in the most painful way? Yes, it jerks your heart into your gut and then rips it right out.
Does it suck when, 4 years after your injuries, and 2 failed relationships later, you lie in bed plagued by thoughts of how much easier it would be to leave this world and all the pain it entails? Does it suck when you must finally conclude that some of your greatest dreams and passions were probably permanently dashed by those impossible-to-foresee injuries? Yes, it’s an incredibly painful moment, that only spurs further thoughts of taking yourself out.
But, what happens when you come out the other side of it all, when you don’t give into those alluring thoughts of suicide, is the realization that it really does “always get better.” It may not happen right away, or even this year, but it does get better, and you’ll look back proudly, seeing how much you grew through your struggles. And, seeing all you would have missed, you’ll be filled with joy because you stuck around.
Empathy, compassion, humility, awareness, character, humor, physical strength, inner strength, and the knowledge that you can handle way more than you ever thought possible: these are all things you can gain by staying strong through the countless hurdles life will throw in your way. Life is never easy for anybody, so never make the mistake of thinking it will be. There’s a meme I love that you might've seen. It says: “They say God will never give you anything you can’t handle. Apparently, God thinks I’m a badass.”
bible verses to inspire and strengthen
Another version of that passage from Romans:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:3-5 NLT
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” – Romans 8:35 NLT
- I’ve been all those things, and He still saved me from death, and continues to be there for me whenever I call. The only thing He hasn’t done, is kill me when I’ve asked Him to.
“For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:5 NLT
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT
“Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:10 NLT
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 NLT
“The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” – Psalms 34:19 NLT
“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” – Psalms 73:26 NLT
“’It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,’ Jesus answered. ‘This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.’” – John 9:3 NLT
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,” – Philippians 3:13 NLT
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:14 NLT
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” – 1 Peter 1:6 NLT
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT
“For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment.” – 1 Peter 2:19 NLT
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT
“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.” – 1 Peter 4:1 NLT
“Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” – 1 Peter 4:13 NLT
“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT
“Stand firm against him [Satan], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” – 1 Peter 5:9 NLT
“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” – 1 Peter 5:10 NLT
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” – Isiah 40:31 NLT
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isiah 41:10 NLT
“For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.” – Lamentations 3:31-33 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4 NLT