telling the story: a beginning {day 2}

2 Oct

{This post, like others to follow, relates to mental illness and suicide. If these things are a trigger for you, please read with care.}

Sometimes, I have tried to find the beginning. To trace the sadness back like a tangled thread. To try to find the knot, the tangle, and tear it out, but I can’t. I can’t find a beginning. And if I try to pull it out, this sadness, then all the rest unravels with it. The laughter and the love and the grace and the adventure. I can’t find the beginning. So I will begin here.

It is a cold night, and I am walking next to my friend Jenn when I tell her that I wish I could die.

It is Ash Wednesday, almost. Or, if you prefer: the Thursday before spring break week of my last semester in grad school. Or better still: two days before the second Duke-Carolina game. Six days before my friends and I would check in to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can have your pick.

This is the first thing I want you to know: I didn’t want to die. Not really. I was just so tired of being in pain, in a way that was irrational and unnoticeable. This is what I would have told Jenn if I had the words.

But that March night, I don’t. As a bus full of undergrads with their painted faces passes us on the way to the parking lot, I say, “Sometimes I just wish I could walk out into traffic.”

I can feel her tense beside me, try to act natural. “Why do you say that?”

As the words leave my mouth, I know that she will not believe me. But I have practiced them in my mind so many times, and they feel like the truest things in the world. “Because I disappoint the people around me. Because I mess up everything I do. Because everyone would be happier if I wasn’t around.”

I begin to cry, and I look up at Jenn, and I know that now something will change. “Why don’t you sleep at our house tonight,” she says, and I nod. For all my big words, there is no fight in me.

Depression is a funny kind of cruelty. After I began to find my way out, I would laugh at it sometimes. I had seen people in poverty, people risking their lives to cross the U.S. border, people dying in the ICU.

I was none of these. I was a person in her last semester of a graduate degree. I had just been chosen to give a chapel talk at my seminary, which made people laugh and cry. I had a husband, who brought me Coke Zeros when I need to pull all nighters and Canada Dry ginger ales when I needed something to settle my stomach. I planned parties. I cooked: bacon quiche, wilted greens, pumpkin bisque.

But depression, the trickster, can take someone with enough money to live on, with a bright mind, with resources and talent, and make them sad, nonetheless. You can write a book or a sermon or a fifty-page paper, and the trickster will make it all seem a small thing, not worth mentioning, like taking the trash to the dumpster or brushing your teeth. It can take a happy life and conjure it into something that seems worthless, gray. It sends a person with a healthy body to bed because you cannot bear to be awake. When someone cries with you out of love, it turns it into something else to feel bad about, another line in the litany of failure.

When we arrive at the wood-paneled house that my friends have dubbed “the Lodge,” there is tea, and there are whispered conferences in the upstairs room, and blonde Bonnie comes downstairs in her robe.

Over my tea, I lecture them like they are children. I cry, and I recite the cliches that I have practiced, the things that feel absolutely true, and I am frustrated with them for not believing. “I’ve messed things up too bad,” I tell them. “I just disappoint everyone. Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around.”

I look up when I hear the muffled sound, fist hitting couch. “I just can’t listen to this any longer,” she says. “I just can’t sit here while you do this to yourself.”

Sometimes love looks like fury, like Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. As Bonnie raises her voice, I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever heard her do it.

I remember my husband, as I criticize myself, my appearance, my writing, my worth, speaking too with this furious love, saying that I can talk about anything, but he will not listen to me say this. I look at Jenn beside me with her hand on my shoulder, with her concerned eyes and her hot tea.

And I know that I am worth it. I know that I will be fought for.

Stories deserve to be told. I was afraid to tell this one, still am. But I am writing through the fear. Writing my way to the other side. Writing what I needed to know, what I needed to hear and didn’t. Writing until I can see it clear.

If you are afraid to tell the story, just begin. Begin in the black Moleskine notebook, begin on the laptop, begin in the forgotten and half-used journal. Don’t tell it out of obligation or guilt. Don’t tell the whole world right now. Tell the ones who have earned it, who deserve it, who will fight for you. Write what you needed to know, what you needed to hear but didn’t. Write until you can see it clear.

This is not the end of the story. There will be more. But it is a beginning.

This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader. And thank you so much for reading!

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2 Responses to “telling the story: a beginning {day 2}”

  1. Morgan Guyton October 21, 2012 at 4:30 am #

    I too have battled the trickster. The irrationality of it is what is so oppressive. I hated myself for hating myself for no reason. And I hated that disgusting feeling of privilege and I hated being envious of people who had real struggles in their lives and being told you know just because they’re poor and face real challenges doesn’t mean they don’t get depressed too. I found a word in the Bible that I have owned as the sense of divine election that my depression bestowed on me. Exouthenemenos. Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 1:28: “He has chosen those who are despised and nothing to bring to nothing the things that are.” Only nobodies can bring to nothing the things that are. Everyone else is too invested.

    • Christina October 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      Morgan,
      I can relate to everything you’re saying. A sense of divine election–this is a fascinating prism to view depression through. Thanks for sharing this.

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