by Karlee Steffanni
I sit across from her in the dark.
Her face illuminated by the glow of a single flame.
Her eyes burn into mine
As the light dances across her face.
They are begging me to feel something; anything.
I inhale, taking in her silhouette
And try to remember a time when those eyes felt like home
But when I exhale, they are still hollow
And so am I.
Reading between the lines…
I wrote this poem last November, the day before I tried to kill myself. When I was writing it, I don’t think I even really fully understood what was happening to me. I knew that I was in a lot of pain. I was tired. But that was my reality. It’s what I had always known. I believed that was how things would always be.
I guess there are probably a lot of factors that play into why I felt doomed to a life of misery. But the first thing that comes to mind is when my parents took me to see a psychologist when I was a teenager. I got in trouble at home a lot, due to the fact that my parents and I did not see eye to eye on what I should and should not be allowed to do in terms of my social life. They would set rules about who I could hang out with, where I could go, etc. I would sneak around and break those rules, get caught, and well… you get the idea.
So at some point, I began seeing a doctor who diagnosed me with “severe major depression.” That was that. It all made sense. I was fucked up. No one ever said anything in particular that would have made me feel like this was a bad thing. My parents loved me and were just doing the best they could to find a solution for the way things were. It was complicated and messy, but I know that no one wanted me to feel like having depression was simply a major character flaw.
Ultimately, that is how I felt though. I was always getting in trouble and messing everything up. Now we knew why. Because I was broken. It felt like a death sentence. Even before my diagnosis, I always knew that there was something different about me. I was forced to grow up at a very young age and I just always remember being affected by things very strongly. It seemed to me like I felt the same things that other people felt, but on a much larger scale. It was overwhelming and confusing. So when I got this diagnosis, it didn’t surprise me. I knew it was coming before anyone confirmed it. What I didn’t know was what to do with that information.
For me, not much changed. I started taking anti-depressants which made me feel weird and tired and stupid. I hated it. And that was basically the end of it. I continued seeing my doctor and talking about things that were bothering me. But I never really understood what all of it meant for me and my life on a larger scale. It seemed like everyone was happy to have an answer to why I was the way that I was. And that was where it stopped.
Very quickly, I developed the mindset that I was just fucked. I would never be normal. I would always be sad. I would always have to fight harder to just be alive and not wish I could die. I thought that if I went on antidepressants I would be a different person, but without them I would be miserable. So some ten odd years later, when my life began crumbling around me, I guess I just decided that enough was enough. I was exhausted. I honestly believed that I had no other option. I was on the edge of a cliff and a fire was closing in on me from behind. Either way, I lost. This is how it would always be.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder whether or not I would have swallowed those pills last year if I had had a different understanding of mental illness in general. If there had been someone to tell me that I wasn’t broken, and that there was another option. All I knew was that I was miserable, and that it was because of me. If someone had told me that they understood and that it wasn’t something to hide or be ashamed of, would I still have chosen death? I can’t say for sure, but my gut says ‘no.’
As I sit here writing these words, it is with that thought in mind. I don’t want to be quiet about what I went through. The more we treat mental illness as taboo, the more it reinforces the idea that it’s something to be embarrassed about. But it isn’t. If you had any other type of illness, you wouldn’t be ashamed to go to the doctor to get help. For some reason, if we feel like killing ourselves, we think it’s a good idea to just weather the storm alone. We don’t ask for help. We put on a brave face and accept it because it’s just the way it is. It’s life, life sucks. Get over it.
Actually, no. That’s not the way it is. You can’t just get over it. And the only way to fight it is to acknowledge it. You don’t just get a life sentence, that’s not how it works. If you get diagnosed with cancer you don’t just go home and live with it. You try to fight it. This should be no different. We have to be open and honest and we have to support each other. We have to know what it is we’re up against so that we know when to ask for help.
I don’t know if anyone will read what I have to say, but I’m choosing to share my story anyway. Because if there’s one person out there who needs to hear what I have to say, then it’s worth it. So if you’re out there and you find yourself relating to the words on this page, then you have felt what I felt. So there is one person who understands. You’re not alone. You make perfect sense to me. We speak the same language, and so my heart is connected to yours and always will be.
I want you to know that just because your mind has convinced you that there is something wrong with you does not make it true. Reality is so much more than the lies our minds tell us in order to control us. So don’t give up. The world needs people who feel things as deep as we do. It seems like a curse right now, but I promise it is a gift. Your mind is beautiful, and you are loved. You are enough. We both are.