February Guest Blogger: Heaven Hayward

I have a lovehate relationship with myself. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was twelve when I first realized there was something off with me in my brain. This was back before they talked about depression with kids in school. Before it was widely covered, and before the school counselors did any real counseling. One morning I woke up to get ready for school, and I felt like there was something dark and heavy sitting in my chest. It was a feeling I was used to, because I’d lived with it in the back of my mind everyday, but it had never been so glaringly obvious. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like the world was ending, and I was the only one who noticed. I cried under my blanket until my older sister came into the room after her shower, then I got up went downstairs, and washed my face. I pasted on a smile, I combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and I felt horribly wrong. I vibrated at school all day, I was anxious, I was nervous, I felt like I was still crying, but I kept smiling and I made it through the day. I learned my first lesson in hiding my feelings that day, I realized that if you kept smiling no one would realize you didn’t actually mean it.

Every morning I woke up and did it all over again. Sometimes I would be so sad and anxious that I couldn’t get out of bed. I would be so scared that someone would realize I wasn’t right in my head that I would physically get ill. I was scared to say anything because I didn’t know what these feelings were. I didn’t know that depression was natural, that everyone goes through periods where they’re sad. I was twelve, and I was scared that people were going to think I was a freak of nature. That I was wrong, or evil.

I started living in my head. I had no trouble focusing on school work, because it was facts. It was consistant, and real, and it took no effort. I thought if I couldn’t know myself I could atleast know what year Christopher Columbus sailed the seas. I collected random bits of knowledge, I read the dictionary, I listened to music. I was so disconnected from everything, that I would have whole conversations I couldn’t remember. I would hang out wtih friends, and I would have a hard time relating to them, and their teenage woes. I was so apathetic to everything, but I got good at pretending. (Usually my friends problems seemed small in comparison to mine anyway. I had a hard home life that I thought was normal, until I started staying over at friends houses. That was when I realized that I was being mentally and emotionally abused by my dad’s live-in girlfriend.)

As time went on I got older, and my feelings got harder to deal with. I woke up every morning choking on depression. I’ve been an insomniac since middle school, and when I did sleep I had vivid nightmares about being chased down and murdered in my dreams. It was always some variation that ended with me being the one who killed myself. I thought this was a sign that I was supposed to harm myself. So one day when I was home alone I swallowed a bunch of pills in the medicine cabinet and passed out. I woke up with a headache, and miraculously was fine otherwise. I took this as sign that I was such a failure that I couldn’t even do that right. Strangely enough, that thought was the one that stopped me from ever trying it again.

By the time I was halfway through high school I was on a pretty steady trend of being bullied, pretending the things people said didn’t bother me, and carving terrible things in my arms. At this point I’d given up trying to hide it. I didn’t smile all the time, I barely left my room, I rarely combed my hair. I couldn’t get excited for anything. I had brief days of clarity where everything was fine, but it seemed like the days when I was unhappy mostly outweighed it. I was taking xanax that I got from a kid at school, I was drinking when I could get my hands on alcohol. I cut and didn’t hide it, and no one noticed.

Around this time a few kids at my school thought it would be funny to turn me in to the counselor at school as a danger to them. They said I’d told them I had a hit list, and that I talked about shooting up the school. I would have never said anything even close to that. I was in fourth or fifth grade when the Columbine shootings happened. I remember some of the teachers cried, even though we were miles away from there. I knew that it wasn’t funny, I had never even thought of hurting someone else. The principal told me it was procedure to check, so I consented to them going through my stuff that day. They never notified my parents, and I never really talked about it with anyone. It was just one more thing that I didn’t understand about the nature of the kids I went to school with. I was a nice kid, I was friendly, and I was helpful, but I was socially awkward, and couldn’t connect with strangers. I second guessed everything that came out of my mouth, I thought everything I said was telling kids how weird I really was. I guess that made me easy to target.

I woke up one day when I was seventeen, said fuck it, and told my mom I needed to see a counselor. One that didn’t work at my school, because I was a counseling aid, and I’d heard how they gossiped about the students behind their back. I started seeing someone, and things didn’t get better, but they got easier. I graduated, went to college, and found a counselor there. I was doing fine until I found out my stepmom, who I loved dearly, had a relapse with her cancer, that it was agressive, and they weren’t sure if they could fight it. I stopped going to sessions, I stopped going to classes, I didn’t leave my dorm room, I didn’t eat. I abused my anti-depressants, and my sleeping pills, and I watched myself fail my second semester of college. I couldn’t make myself care. That terrible tight feeling in my chest was back, and that was all I cared about. I went home for the summer, I saw my stepmom, spent time with her. She told me her treatments were working and not to worry.
I returned to school newly energized, brought my grades up, and stopped taking my meds altogether, because I decided that I didn’t need them, if all I was going to do was abuse them. Due to the restraints of academic probation I was forced to sit out two semesters after everything was said and done. I was angry at myself for a while, then I got a job, and life went on. The feeling in my chest lessened.

My stepmom passed away that next fall, she didn’t tell anyone her treatments had stopped working, and it was a shock to everyone when she left us. I went nearly three weeks with minimal sleep. I dreamed about her when I closed my eyes, I woke up crying, I wrote:

I miss trusting someone with the things I’ll never own.
-read: my mistakes-
Hear the sermon. Here the sermon.

Here the religion, here your blasphemy.
Here your ability to believe.Hear my ability.
Ghosts are in our head.
Inner demons.
Inner beliefs

I’m being haunted, and it’s all my fault.” in my diary at three am, along with a lot of other word vomit from sleepless nights. I was so sure I was being punished for my past, that her death was somehow my fault. I sank back into despair, nearly able to claim insanity, and stopped caring again. I stopped doing everything again. I was really lucky to have an amazing friend who could tell that I was shaking apart from the inside out. I called her at three am when I couldn’t breathe, and I called her after three days of not sleeping, when the things I said didn’t make any sense, and I called her when I stopped feeling so numb. She grounded me, she saved me, and life moved on.

The thing I’ve realized about depression is that it’s like an old friend, it never completely goes away. You never really feel completely comfortable in your own skin, and sometimes little things will set you off when it’s been ages since you’ve had a breaking point. That doesn’t change, but what does change is how you handle it. I used to curl in on myself and carry my sadness alone, I never let anyone shoulder the weight with me. My world was ending, and it was a world of one. Now, when I have down days, I allow myself a glass of wine and an hour long pity party. I shake depressions hand, I say welcome back but you aren’t staying. I call my friend, I cry sometimes. Sometimes I breathe into the phone, and she just understands me. I deal with it, and I move on. Because life is too short to allow yourself to be unhappy, and I want to be happy.

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