When I was 17 years old, I was sexually assaulted at work. I’m not calling for a pity party here. This is no woe-is-me declaration. This was just a distinct moment in which I realized something was wrong, and a hollowness began to form inside me. A few weeks later, my boyfriend cheated on me, and that empty feeling in my gut began to grow. It was a small and nagging feeling back then. It was only mildly crippling. As a result, I unintentionally formed an idea of what relationships were to look like and what men actually wanted from women. I cried and slept a lot, too, but mostly I put men into a sleazy box. My dad had always told me men wanted one thing from women, and I had finally understood. There was a part of me that assumed this was how all girls reacted to a breakup. I have seen it in movies, where a scorned woman declares all men to be big, fat jerks. But there was another part of me that knew what I was feeling was heavier than just some boys who broke my heart. There was a weight to it that I didn’t recognize immediately.
There is probably some really good science stuff that talks about depression and where it stems from, but I don’t have the desire to research it. I’m in the midst of a pretty sweet historical fiction novel and I would rather read that (feel free to discuss with your friends how “cool” I am). I don’t believe that these experiences caused my depression. I think it was always in me; these occurrences just spurred cracks in my facade. I wasn’t happy with who I was, and now that unhappiness threatened to show itself to the world. I swallowed it down, though. School became less important to me. I fake-smiled to my friends and family. I looked forward to nothing. I found comfort in alcohol and throwing up on fences in strangers’ backyards. I became numb for the rest of my senior year. I envied those around me for having their lives together. My friends were cool and confident having both boyfriends and life goals. I ate family-size bags of Doritos while rocking the same sweatpants all week. Granted, to do the same thing now would be luxurious, but back then it felt slothful. I felt lost, and not in the normal teenage hormonal what-is-my-purpose-here kind of way, but rather in an I-have-no-purpose-anywhere kind of way.
After graduating high school, my mother administered a rule in our house. This rule was solely for me. My brother was the golden child with a good head on his shoulders. I don’t say this with bitterness; I say this with complete understanding. I called the rule The Three Es. In order for me to live in my parents’ home, I was to be one of the three Es: Enrolled, Employed, or Enlisted. That first year out of high school, I blew through the first two Es. I hated school. It was a lot of the same faces, same anxieties, same inadequacies, just in a different location. My job as an Assistant Manager at a movie theater did not pay for much. Plus, I got yelled at a lot by disgruntled customers who claimed the popcorn was too salty. Oddly, they didn’t notice said saltiness until the bag was almost empty. Handing out free stuff to people who threw tantrums was the majority of my job description, and I hated it. So, I jumped on board that last E and enlisted in the United States Navy.
It came as a surprise to almost everyone, myself included. I saw a commercial on TV, jumped off the couch, and went to see a recruiter. I signed papers shortly after. I wasn’t trying to be a hero or some gung-ho patriot. I joined the Navy because I literally had nothing better to do. I didn’t even think twice about it. I just left. Bootcamp turned out to be a much-needed distraction. It was hard and I gained 30 pounds (it was not muscle and I do not know how I did it), but I also met some really great people. People who were refreshingly open about their lives and all the drama they had lived through.
My military final destination happened to be Fort Worth, TX. Jesus made a funny when He stationed me that low on the map. It would take a lot of expletives to explain how much I hate hot weather and sweating. Fort Worth didn’t even have a body of water big enough to house an aircraft carrier. Ending up in Texas made little sense to me. Again, Jesus had jokes. It was in Texas that my alcohol consumption became my sole method of coping. I developed a taste for booze and boys. Mostly in that order. I did other things as well. I worked. I got my Associate’s Degree while I was there, and I made some really great friendships with some really cool people. But mainly, I spent a lot of time drinking and chasing after boys.
It wasn’t long before I got involved in a childish, semi-committed relationship. We started out pretty smitten for each other. We shared laughs over cheap tacos and horror movies. Quickly things made a turn. He would cheat. I would leave. I would come back. He would cheat. I would cheat. I would leave again. I would come back again. This happened for over four years. I convinced myself to stay using juvenile excuses about how my parents loved him and he was the first guy I could see myself marrying. Really, I stayed because finding someone else required effort and a certain level of vulnerability I just wasn’t capable of. I stayed because I was lazy and guarded.
This was just another stop on my descent. I couldn’t recognize that I was in an unhealthy relationship and that it was contributing only to my lack of love for myself. I spent many weekends locked in my apartment watching entire seasons of House with a case of beer curled up next to me. I wouldn’t answer the door for my friends. I wouldn’t answer the phone. I shut people out. Again, I chalked this up to normal behavior. I was an introvert. I figured that was what introverts did.
After leaving the military, I enrolled at Missouri State University. I had hopes of becoming an x-ray technician. I had a roommate who had been a great friend of mine since high school. We were both very excited about starting this new chapter of life. Only difference being, she was legitimately excited. I was terrified. Everything about Springfield, Missouri freaked me out. There was an abundance of white people. Like, too many white people. I craved the diversity of home, both the home where I grew up and the home I had in Texas. There were a lot of people who donned pink bookbags. I hate pink. There were a lot of younger people. There wasn’t a Quick Trip close enough to my apartment. There wasn’t covered parking. These excuses became my crutch, and I used them frequently. “I don’t wanna go to class because it’s raining.” “My eyes can’t handle seeing an ocean of pink, so I will stay home today.” “There are way too many people rocking popped collars and ripped-up jeans. I’m just gonna take a nap.”
As the days passed on, I sank deeper and deeper into myself. I drank cheap beer alone and watched reruns of 7th Heaven. Everyone on that show was grown up and had their life together. It made me cry a lot, and not for the reasons the producers intended. I was unhappy with the life I had built for myself. My roommate was rarely home. She was exploring her new freedom and happiness and I was proud of her for doing so, but I also ached for companionship. Companionship is hard to find when you don’t want to exit your apartment. Leaving the house became harder and harder. When I would get the courage to leave, I would find myself struggling for air, with my head between my knees in the driver’s seat of my car. It took this happening several times before I decided to seek help.
I found myself at the mercy of a doctor. I begged her for clarity. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I needed her to fix it. Several sessions in, she had a diagnosis. I was told I had clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. She prescribed me some medicine to help me calm down and also some medicine to help me sleep. I left her office that day feeling hopeful. My actions had a root, and now I could dig it up and get rid of it. Praise the Lord!
I praised the Lord for only a couple of weeks. The meds made me feel funny. I didn’t eat much, and I chose to mix my sleeping pills with alcohol for a better effect. I was really good at taking care of myself, I know. On weekends I would drive to Texas and party with my old friends. I would mix up a Lunesta cocktail and black out for hours at a time. It was good stuff. I was an adult.
One night, before bed, I took one sleeping pill. I sat on my bed and read the label on the bottle, rereading the warnings over and over. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about what it would be like to not have to do it anymore. What would it be like to just quit? I lacked the capability to function normally. I lacked the capability to live. In my hand, I held an opportunity to stop trying. It would be a cowardly act, no doubt, but it would also be way easier than living the way I had been. Instead of opening the bottle, I got down on the ground in front of my bed. I lied down on my face, and for the first time in years, I prayed. It was a selfish and demanding prayer. Like those customers demanding new popcorn, I was boldly praying for something I didn’t deserve, new life. The life I had been given was way too salty and I could no longer stomach it. I TOLD God He needed to give me a reason to keep going. I felt as if I had nothing, and if He wanted me on this earth, He needed to show me. That night, I prayed for so long, I fell asleep right there on my floor.
I woke up the next morning with the pill bottle right next to me. Hours later, I called my parents and told them I could no longer live in Springfield. I asked to move home. I didn’t trust myself anymore. I knew my thoughts were genuine the night before, and I became fearful of what I was capable of. My parents, being the loving and generous people they are, agreed to let their full-grown daughter move back in with them. No questions asked.
Within weeks they had a moving day scheduled and a truck readied to come pick up me and my junk. Just like in my teenage years, I went through all of my things before I boxed them up, in search of anything their parental eyes might find disappointing. For example, the random pregnancy test I found under my bathroom sink. That definitely wouldn’t be cool to bring home to Mom and Dad. I threw it in the trash several times, only to dig it right back out. I kept thinking, “These are not cheap.” I couldn’t just throw it away. So, for fun, I peed on it. I regretted it when I saw two pink lines pop up. While I had taken numerous tests before (feel free to judge me), I had never received this kind of result.
I stood in my bathroom dumbfounded. I didn’t even remember having sex. How in the world could I be pregnant? Digging the box from the trash, I called the 1-800 number the manufacturer put on the side for people with questions. I definitely had questions. The woman who answered repeatedly told me that if the test had two lines, then it was positive and I was pregnant. I absolutely would not agree with this. She can’t see the test. How would she know what I was looking at? I asked for her supervisor. Clearly, she had not been trained properly. Her supervisor agreed that I was pregnant. I then asked for the supervisor’s supervisor. This went on for about 15 minutes before I finally gave in. I was pregnant. Like, for real. I had a baby in me. I then called my parents and asked if I and my unborn child could move in. My mother was upset for maybe 30 seconds. Then she wanted to talk baby names, because she really likes babies.
I am not writing all of this to say that depression can be cured by a baby. While it is hard to hold a baby and be depressed at the same time, babies are not a cure-all. To this day, I still suffer from depression, and I have had two babies. They didn’t cure nothin’. I am saying that I believe I was given a gift. Not only the gift of motherhood, but a gift of purpose. I never dreamed of becoming a mom. I was not that girl. I knew that I lacked the capability to care for myself, and there was no way I could take care of a kid, unless it came out full-grown and looking for employment. Getting pregnant didn’t solve my problems, but it did force me to become less selfish. I gave up drinking, stopped watching 7th Heaven, and gained 60 pounds, some of which was baby weight. The rest of the weight was hot dogs.
I’m writing this because I want people to know. I want you all to know that this disease or disorder or whatever you want to deem it is real and palpable. And for the person going through it, it is hard to name. Throughout my depression struggles, I could not see clearly. I felt lazy. I felt empty and unlovable. I was disgusted with the person I had been and where I was headed. I had pushed Jesus away a long time ago. I pushed Him away thinking He also thought I was lazy. I pushed Him away thinking He saw me as empty and unlovable. I thought He was disgusted with who I had been and where I was headed. In my mind, I was unusable. That night on the floor of my apartment I wanted nothing more than to be completely useless and nonexistent. God had another agenda. I didn’t wake up cured and ready to take on the world. I woke up tired and weary from the way I had been living. I woke up wanting something, anything to change. I woke up terrified, but that terror propelled me to do something about it.
My depression came hand in hand with anxiety. For the most part, I can combat my depression with diet and exercise, but the anxiety, that’s a beast of a different breed. That fool only gets in his cage with medicine or frantic texts to my friends requesting prayer. Depression does not look the same for everyone. Some will require counseling. Some will require medicine. But everyone requires community. Dealing with depression is a slippery slope. One that requires the help of others. No one can battle it on their own. I could have avoided so much hurt and drama had I just said, “Sometimes life isn’t cool and I want to give up.” Don’t be scared to speak up.