Failure, Depression, and Hospitals: My Story

If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d eventually be admitted to a mental hospital, I don’t think I would have been the least bit surprised. Suicidal thoughts had peppered my mind since age ten, self-harm had been one of my coping mechanisms on-and-off for quite a while, and I’d been a very sensitive child my whole life. Early in my freshman year, you could say that shit really hit the fan.

Because eighth grade had been such a mediocre, underachieving year, I felt that I had to make up for it by being a star in ninth grade. I wanted to get into a good college, live up to my family name, and feel a new sense of hardworking pride–something that I, as a lifelong procrastinator, had never experienced before. What began as healthy motivation very quickly deteriorated into an obsession with perfection. Seeing anything less than a hundred percent made my heart sink–so I pushed myself harder, driving myself with the whip of negative reinforcement. This began to carry into my social life as well. Whenever I felt that I’d said something stupid, I mentally destroyed myself. I raised my bar higher and higher. 97 percents were unacceptable. Making one joke that nobody laughed at was despicable, punishable by an onslaught of self-hatred. I began wearing a rubber band everywhere, snapping it every time I failed. I created a “failure log,” making one red tally for each time I failed–at anything at all. Green tallies were for successes. I averaged them at the end of the week to see how well I’d performed.

One day, I forgot to bring a project on the day it was due, making it one day late. I became terrified that my grade would drop to a B+. Fed up with all of my failures, I self-harmed for the first time in seven months and eight days. I’d thought I’d finally put self-harm behind me, but I was wrong. Even the reason for my relapse made me feel awkward and ashamed.

I was not the same again. Seven months and eight days were not something I could take lightly. I’d been proud of those months, and in punishing myself for failure, I’d only failed more. In the next few weeks, my life became sort of drizzly. Though I’d once again fallen back into self-injury (after my one relapse, I felt no motivation to restart my recovery), I didn’t feel completely hopeless. There was light, which I quite enjoyed, but it began to feel a bit dim and distant. I found myself feeling removed more often. With friends, I’d suddenly withdraw. At school, I stopped writing poetry.

However, shit really, really hit the fan on the evening of November 10th. I remember the exact date because it was so very abrupt.  I was at youth group, and we were having a picnic blanket and movie dinner (inside, of course). I was sitting with friends on our blanket, and suddenly felt a wave of apathy and exhaustion hit me with the force of a wrecking ball. To this day, I don’t understand how my life and outlook could change seemingly at the snap of a finger. When I woke up the next morning, it felt the same. I got home from school and immediately changed into my pajamas. There was no real energy in me. I’d had lethargic days before, so I figured it would just go away. It did not. The next day was the same–in fact, completely indistinguishable from the last. I was being suffocated; my life began to turn an ashen blue, deprived of the oxygen–energy and light–it required.

I’d made a commitment several months earlier that I was going to join my school’s crew team. Winter conditioning began in late November, only a week or so in to my drowning apathy. Everybody told me that exercise was a sure way to get out of “it”–whatever “it” was–but I didn’t find that to be very true. After practices, I’d feel good in my body, but not in my mind. Despite those glorious post-exercise showers, despite that sensation of my veins being brought to life, there was still an inescapable heaviness within. My practice attendance quickly plummeted. The energy to get out the door, or even to pull on leggings and a sports bra, was too much for me. There was no way I could tell my coaches what was really going on, so I invented excuse after excuse to cover it up. As I ran out of legitimate reasons to skip, crew became a constant source of shame and anxiety for me.

I made countless attempts to combat “it”–the perpetual exhaustion. It wasn’t something I liked, enjoyed, or indulged in, and I resented those who assumed the contrary. I tried to dream up images of fantastical new worlds, filled with infinite cheese curls and water slides, but no happiness came to me as a result of such reveries. Suggestions for revival and restoration were given, but they were, in all honesty, unhelpful. I could not fight my lack of motivation with more motivation. When I failed to feel happy, I blamed myself more. I thought everything was my fault, that it was my poor decision to live in misery. Love and affection seeped right through me like I was a bucket with holes in it. I started hating the fact that people loved me in the first place; if nobody loved me, I wouldn’t feel bad about killing myself. Suicidal thoughts crowded my mind constantly.

One day in December, I was laying on my floor in my room, ready to die. But I made myself a promise: I would wait until the new year to consider ending my life. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions. Maybe, I hoped, things could get better.

The holidays came and went, and things remained, as always, the same. As everyone around me felt companionship and joy, I felt absolutely nothing except hatred and guilt. Hatred for myself, for my situation, and guilt for not being filled with warm, festive gratitude. People even got mad at me because apparently I was trying to ruin their Christmas spirit. This only made me feel more hatred. Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else? Why could everyone else have all their happiness in front of me? It was like being at a guest’s house and watching people eat your favorite food, and not being offered any. But I wasn’t sad. I didn’t cry. I only felt tired, pointless, and apathetic, like a cardboard box. My life was those rainy Saturday afternoons when I was young, laying lifeless on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, having no idea what to do–but it was constant. When I tried to do something, there was no effect on me.

I woke up on January 1st, looked at the bright, gray sky, and felt exactly the same. It was both saddening and comforting. There was nothing more left for me–no hope–but at least I’d kept the promise I made to myself. Life was shaky and uncertain, while death was guaranteed. I was done living for an ethereal tomorrow, done trying to find the “somewhere over the rainbow” while blindfolded and handcuffed. I chose a day to die, wrote a note of solace to leave for my loved ones, and waited for my end to come.

It was only three days later, however, that I was lying awake in bed illuminated by the bright glow of my phone screen, toying yet again between life and death. I’d stumbled upon an article about suicidal thoughts and depression. If you’re considering suicide, it read, you need to get your mentally ill ass to some professional help. The candid manner in which the article was written struck me, and I believe it saved my life, in a way. I wanted to die, and I was going to die, but part of me started wishing to at least let somebody know. In advance. Just one last little word to type before backspacing my entire existence.

On the 6th, it reached my parents that yes, I was going to commit suicide. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after waiting in the ER the entire evening. It was unexpected; I thought mental hospitals were only for screaming, foamy-mouthed murderers. But in reality, it was just a place full of depressed kids who hated themselves. Just like me. Nobody was crazy there. I was monitored, put on medication, and discharged after seven days. I spent another month in PHP (partial hospitalization program) before finally going back to school.

When I realized that “it” was clinical depression, that “it” was in no way my fault, that “it” was not rare and untreatable, my life started again. I was introduced to the world of self-love and self-care, which I’ve been passionate about ever since. I learned about depression and mental illnesses and began devoting myself to spreading awareness–it became one of my core values, and I still hold it dear to this day. I started embracing failure, forming different opinions on the education system, and thinking more critically about assumptions I’d made about places like mental hospitals. As peculiar as it sounds, I’m grateful for the season I was depressed. No, I’m not happy about it, but what it led to ultimately transformed my life in countless ways. Because of the hell I’ve gone through, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to change others’ lives, whether it be through awareness or simple friendship. I learned who my friends were. I learned who was. Over a year and a half later, I’m a gentler and wiser person because of it.

When I smile in the hallways, pass out lollipops with kind messages on them, and commit myself to loving others, it’s all blooming from the seeds that struggle has planted in me. I know love because I remember what it was like to feel devoid of it. I shine light because I understand how dark the world can be. Deep in my core, I understand that there is always some beauty to be harvested from suffering–after all, just look at how far I’ve come now.

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