June 1, 2020

When I decided not to kill myself

When I was 14, I carried a suicide note around with me in my book bag. I remember writing it one night after eating dinner with my family. My dad wasn’t there because he was working one of his three jobs, and my mom was upset for one reason or another. I grew up in a household full of unacknowledged mental illness, and by age 14, it had grasped onto me like the bite of Great White, crushing into my bones and wrecking havoc on every part of me that I thought was worth anything.

The note read, “Mom, I love you. Dad, I love you more. [Brothers] even more than that. The problem is, though, that I don’t love myself, and I’m so so sorry.” Those words will forever be engraved in my memory, and I still think about them sometimes when I begin to feel hopeless and depressed, which happens often as a result of my major depressive disorder. My parents never knew about the note and probably never will; being strong enough to write about it is different than facing head-on some of the causal factors in my situation, and right now, my life needs to be about me.

So there I was, 14 and depressed with no hope for the future and a lot of bitterness about the past. There were many mornings growing up that I remember having to miss my bus to get my brother(s) ready for school because my mom was too depressed and weak to get out of bed. I never questioned why I did these things, either – I just knew that I had to do what was right for my brothers.

The relationship we have now is so strong because of these moments when we were young, and that is part of the silver lining in this entire story. We will always be inseparable, because we’re all each other has. This isn’t to say that my relationships with my parents – my mom in particular – haven’t gotten better, because they have. At one point or another, I guess we all have to try and learn to put the past behind us.

My depression didn’t get pulled to the surface just by instances at home, though. I was bullied a lot in elementary and middle school for so many reasons. I was too fat, too smart, too loud, too good at things the other kids couldn’t do right. I was made to feel bad about my advanced skills in reading and writing, because being smart wasn’t “cool” unless you were also an athlete, and I was never good enough to make any of the teams I tried out for.

I remember a specific instance that burned me to my very core. It was during a math test in 7th grade. I got up to sharpen my pencil and heard someone walk up behind me. I continued sharpening until I heard the sound of something drop on the ground, causing me to turn around and meet the gray, beady eyes of one of my male classmates. There was a Ticonderoga #2 lying there between his feet on the cold, dirty tiles of our classroom floor, and I knew that for whatever reason, he was expecting me to pick it up for him. I bent down, and as I did, he made a roaring fart noise by blowing on the crease of his elbow; everyone began howling with laughter, and I was mortified.

Some students had seen what had happened, and some thought that I had really cut one; at 13 years old, I was much more concerned with the opinions of the latter group. That instance prompted me to want to try a little harder when it came to fitting in. I was being targeted, so that meant that there was obviously something wrong with me.

I began wearing clothes that were a little more “fashionable” after this, trying to make myself blend in with the people that were considered normal. I was no longer interested in playing Yu-Gi-Oh with my brother; instead, I wanted to read Seventeen magazine and paint my nails.

This was an interesting transformation, as I had grown up very much a tom-boy, always the first chosen to play football with the neighborhood boys, and almost always being on the winning team.

I only ever played sports with the kids in my neighborhood, though, so when I tried bringing my skills to my school district’s teams, I was not chosen for the simple reason that I had not grown up playing in sports leagues with the kids I went to school with. These kids weren’t bad, nor are they now, and me not being accepted wasn’t necessarily their fault, but at the time it felt like they were leading the fight against me.

I realize that I probably sound like a rambling 20-something who never coped with her childhood that probably wasn’t that different from other people’s, aside from having to grow up incredibly quickly to make sure our house didn’t fall apart. I’ll say, though, that up until a year ago when I lost my grandmother, I agreed with this ideal.

“Oh you’re being dramatic,” I would tell myself. “People are right about you, you’re too dramatic and loud and ridiculous. Why can’t you just move on from things?”

The thing is, folks, that that’s just not how depression works a lot of the time. Little things that trigger you can creep up at any moment and attack, sneaky like an assassin. Their goal? To destroy you and stilt any progress that you could have possibly been making, and it’s absolutely terrifying to feel powerless.

After a few more instances of bullying at the end of seventh grade, I chose my wardrobe that I would wear for the entirety of 8th grade: an XXL sweatshirt, flared leg jeans, and my beat-up black Converse. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes the would shirt would change, although I tended to bounce back and forth between a Duke University one and an old, torn up Pittsburgh Steelers one.

This would be the year I wrote out my suicide note, tucked it away in the front zipper pocket of my black JanSport back pack, ad prayed to whatever god there was that I’d never actually find the will to need to show it to anyone. I was convinced, though, deep down, that the day would come, because I was an insignificant blip in the history of the world and people could do better than me.

My friends deserved a better friend, someone who was less into her grades and a tad less crazy. My parents deserved a better daughter, one who wouldn’t complain about feeling sad for no reason at all. My brothers deserved a better sister; even though I did everything I could to care for them, I still never felt like it was enough, because I wasn’t. I hated myself so much, and thinking about it now is hard, because in reality I’ve always been kind of a badass.

On the last day of eighth grade, and after some very careful deliberation with myself and my eldest younger brother, I decided to wear a Nirvana t-shirt, no sweatshirt, a pair of skinny jeans, and my hair in a ponytail; I hadn’t had my hair in a ponytail since 7th grade. I used my mane to hide the face that I so desperately wished looked like someone else’s.

My classmates were baffled, a few of them asking, “Who’s the new girl?” Honestly, I felt like a new girl. It wasn’t a monumental change by any means, but wearing that outfit gave me the feeling that I had some kind of control over my life.

I could decide what I looked like, what I felt like, and how others made me feel. I began to realize that some people just suck, that’s never going to change, there’s no way to control how other people feel about you, and that just has to be okay.

This is still something that I struggle with now, but when I feel down and my depression takes over, I think back to that young girl sitting in the last desk in the first row of classroom number 203, smirking silently to herself while thinking, “That’s right, you bitches, I don’t need your permission or your acceptance or your anything, because I have me, and that’s enough.”

My point is this: I wanted to die. I wanted so badly for the pain to be gone, for people to be free of me, and for me to be free of myself. I wanted to leave the world behind, a world that I felt had failed me; but on that day almost 10 years ago, something inside me changed.

My illness didn’t go away, and neither did my memories. I still have trouble coping with being a mother to my brothers at such a young age, and with watching my dad work himself to the bone to try and keep a house that ended up getting foreclosed on.

I learned, though, that this life, no matter how inconvenient and hectic it can be, is so beautiful. It’s a miracle that any of us are here, and we have to spend each day that we’re given as a mission to try and better ourselves: for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world. It still gets hard – trust me, I understand that – but dammit, I want to live. And I, the loud, obnoxious, assertive woman that I am, came to live out loud.

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