There was a time that I didn’t believe in such a thing as depression. I thought there were soft people and hard people, and I was one of the latter. Life hadn’t been great to me, but I still persevered. Little did I realise I was filling a ten foot lake around me, and soon the boat I was in would spring a leak.
I was eighteen before I realised I was drowning. I had been strong for so long, but something had finally broken me down. I’m convinced the catalyst was an autobiography I was forced to write in my senior year of high school. It was at that moment that I allowed the feelings to surface, and once they surfaced, my boat began to sink.
English class was always my favourite. Mrs Gifford was the greatest teacher I would ever have. She nurtured intelligent discussion on literature, and when she saw talent, she tried to inspire you to follow it. For one of the last assignments of her course, she requested for us all to write an autobiography – from the beginning of our life until that very year. I think I may have swallowed my tongue in a fit of coughs. If I had learned anything from living in my very traditional family home, it was that our dirty laundry was never to be hung out for all to see.
You see? My life was not so peachy outside of school, and I thought by not talking about it, it meant that no one knew. What I learned from that course was… that everybody knew.
The autobiography wasn’t given to anyone except for Mrs Gifford. She read it sombrely to herself in class, and I remember her writing on it feverishly before the bell rang.
She didn’t approach me. Not once. She knew. She knew if she approached me about it face-to-face, I would shrink away. I was really a tormented soul, without really realising it yet.
At the young age of 4, I already knew my father was what was called a drunk. When he drank, he was a completely different human being. He was awesome to be around when he didn’t drink, and I recall thinking that it would be amazing if that was the way it was all the time. He was a terrible man, though, as soon as the drink got to him.
I wrote about this, but I left out so many details in my autobiography. It was written between the lines how much I felt that this change – this Jekyll / Hyde – complex affected me greatly.
The next day, Mrs Gifford returned our autobiographies. On mine, written in big scrawling letters was, “It’s not your fault.”
I strained to keep the tears away in class. I looked her in the eyes that day, and I saw the recognition there. I saw the hurt she saw in me, and it took everything in me to not break down.
That day, I gathered the courage and asked one of my friends if she knew. If I had managed to keep it a secret well enough. It was then that I found out that it wasn’t my secret to keep. No, they had never heard me say a thing, and they often wanted to broach the subject with me. But really… he had displayed it to the town time and again. He drove around town drunk, he went to Wal-Mart drunk, he talked about my friends loudly everywhere he went – drunk (many of them gay or African American or both, so they were not discussed in praise), and if he recognised anyone, he’d fill their lungs with the stink of it too (though, that didn’t happen too often, because they wouldn’t stick around to talk).
After that, the boat was gone, and I didn’t know how to swim. I had spent so much time and effort hiding this part of my life from others that I had ignored my own feelings.
Once they surfaced, they didn’t disappear. Those notions that there are such things as soft people and hard people were gone, and I finally became aware that I was depressed. I began to start having anxiety attacks. Small ones at first, but they got bigger as time went on.
I feared confrontation the most, and I often had to step away from my job manning a box office at a movie theatre because I couldn’t handle the abuse from random strangers that I got. I went from being a hard, strong person, to a weakling.
I took Xanax to calm down, and I was convinced that life would be this way forever. When things turned really bad, I resorted to self-harm. Only I didn’t want others to think any less of me, so it was my legs that copped the most of it.
I was on a dangerous slope for years, drowning in the deep lake of my making. If it wasn’t his drinking, it was financial ruin, loss of friendships, or an uncertain future. Anything and everything consumed my thoughts, and it wouldn’t be until I was away from all of it that that vanished.
My freedom moment came when I told my partner in 2005 that I was thinking about coming out to Australia for a holiday, which evolved into moving permanently.
Once I was on the opposite side of the world, those issues couldn’t affect me as much. My rescue chopper had come. I haven’t drowned in tears since. I do have days where I start to see that darkness creep back in, but when it does, I have support now where I didn’t feel I did before.
My solumn hope is if any of you ever feel these same feelings, you’ll be braver than I was and talk about them. No sense drowning if you have a lifejacket.