They Call Them the Depths of Despair for a Reason

The lowest point in my life so far was when I called the free student mental health clinic at my university. It was the culmination of years of mental and emotional barrages from abuse to the deaths of more and more people I care about. My sense of confidence and self-worth was picked apart and eroded on a daily basis, and at the same time my basic understanding of how the world worked was constantly challenged and destroyed.

I kept trying to build back up. I tried to tell myself that they were wrong. I tried to put it aside. I tried to prove that I had worth. Every time I tried, it would start out well which only made the final failure harsher. No matter what I did, something else happened. Something else went wrong. Finally, I shattered. I was so broken. I didn’t know what to do. So I called. I called and I got a pre-recorded answering service and hold music.

The only thing that kept me on the line was the fact that hanging up took energy I didn’t have.

When I got through the wait and recording, I was told that they didn’t have an opening for two weeks to a month. Hearing that, it was like a shockwave went through me, and the last thread of hope went numb. I remember thinking By then I’ll either be dead, or I’ll be ok. One way or the other, it wouldn’t matter.

The thought didn’t scare me then. It was a fact I accepted without question. The girl on the phone asked if I wanted to schedule. I politely said that wasn’t necessary, thanked her, and hung up.

I stayed that way for 2 years. Feeling numb and thinking that it wouldn’t matter if I was dead one minute, trembling with rage the next, fighting a panic attack the one after that, and falling to the floor crying the one after that. If I had stayed in that situation with those people, I believe with all my heart that I wouldn’t have made it.

I couldn’t handle them. I couldn’t handle the stress of facing that failure and criticism day after day after day. Even thinking about it now is hard.

So I got out. I cut everything that was hurting me out of my life – everything that I could control. I got the easiest job I could (What else could I possibly do ok at? Who else would want such a failure?). And started building back up. With the basics. Every time I succeeded at something, no matter how simple, it helped. Each day that went by with more successes than failures starting filling the cracks. Each week. Each month. I got stronger. I got more stable.

One piece of idle criticism from people I cared about could undo weeks, months of work.

But I kept going. I started trying bigger things. What was one more failure? I took shelter in apathy. In anger. I went to a therapist. I kept a journal. I kept moving forward. I still don’t know why. All I could do was focus on the pain and getting through it. Until I started therapy, I didn’t consciously know where those thoughts were leading me. I knew I had depression, but that was it. I didn’t recognize suicidal thoughts until the therapist told me what to watch for.

It didn’t strike me how low I’d been until I had a moment when I was happy. Actually happy. And I realized how long it’d been since I felt that way. And that it was measured in years.

Now, looking back, I see how far I’ve come. I’m not done. I haven’t beaten it completely. I’m not even close. At best, I’m on the lower slope of the mountain instead of the hole at the bottom. It’s taken me years to climb that far, and things still happen that send me sliding back.

That’s what ropes are for. And climbing axes. People who listen without judging. Small accomplishments. Therapists. Meds. Books with little, incremental steps to try. Whatever it takes – because I will do everything in my power to keep from falling back in that hole. I know the signs, and I know where I can get help before I go too far. I will fight that slide no matter what.

I’m gonna keep climbing. Even if I never make it to the top, I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. That’s something.

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