In the third grade, I had my first stint with mental illness. My only real friend had just moved away, and no one wanted to play with me at recess. I was depressed, big time, and I was also working through grief at the loss of my friend. The stages were evident (retrospectively) in the narratives that went through my head as I tried to sleep. Some nights I would cry. Some nights I would invent stories in which who had abandoned me continued to wrong me; some nights I would scream my anger at her. At eight years old, I would spend some nights thinking seriously about death. But it wasn’t until the next school year that I started to understand that these thoughts were anything out of the ordinary. In the fourth grade, after she saw me hitting myself repeatedly during tests, my teacher sent me to weekly group sessions with the school counselor.
It’s gotten worse since then, but it’s also gotten better since then. My depression comes in waves. The stresses of elementary school, junior high, and high school all took their toll on me. So, too, has the unforgiving coldness of winter, as well as the unrelenting loneliness of summer. Depression is not a constant companion, but it is a consistent companion.
My anxiety, on the other hand, does not come in waves. They aren’t as bad as they could be, and I’m always learning to ways to negotiate with them, but they never leave. Ever. In fact, I’m not totally sure where my anxiety stops and my nervous personality begins. Fretting is ingrained into my very aspect.
I was born an anxious person. I was also born a sad person. That’s sort of my point, my raison d’être: to be anxious and sad. It makes me see things that other people ignore, and it allows me to be introspective. In that, mental illness is what makes me a writer. I’m only an artist because I was wired incorrectly at the factory.
Maybe I should be grateful.
I was supposed to be asleep forty minutes ago. That’s when I went to bed. And just like every night, I went to bed with heavy eyelids, eager to drown myself in darkness. But like those nights in the third grade, I started to drown in my thoughts until a nervous sadness flooded my system, overriding my nighttime program. I started worrying until it made me cry. There’s so much weighing on me and I can’t do away with all of it. I worry about my relationships, past and present, as well as the ones I want for the future. I over-analyze everything until I come to the conclusion that I am a waste and a burden. Sometimes, I still think about death the same way I did at eight years old.
I shouldn’t be grateful for that.
Every hour of every day, my inborn solitude wears me out. I’mconscious of it nonstop, the way you’re conscious of a nagging fly in your house that periodically buzzes through your room. But I can’t swat at it because it sees me coming with its infinitely intricate eyes. It lands on everything I love, tainting it with its tiny, festering paws, laden with disease. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
I shouldn’t be grateful for that.
And on nights like this one, the fly comes up to my ear. Recognizing the futility of my attempts to shoo it away, I don’t bother. It tells me things that aren’t true but that I believe anyway. Tonight, it listed things I could have done to save my toxic relationships. It told me that I was the one at fault, that I wasn’t caring and kind enough, that I could have done better and held onto them. It tells me that a close friend who slowly kills you is better than no close friend at all. It made me me feel disgusting, as it stretched its legs against my sleepy skin. I must be garbage or shit if a fly like this would land on me.
I definitely shouldn’t be grateful for that.
Besides my eye for beauty, nothing good comes out of my struggles with mental illness. And yet, if I had the choice, I would never exchange my raison d’être for something duller. Even if I were offered happiness to be an engineer, I would still retain my eternal frustration to preserve my artistry. And that doesn’t make any sense at all.
It’s past eleven at night. I have class tomorrow. But even as I lay in the white-noise darkness of my room, I cannot close my eyes. My chest is humming with an energy experienced by only the innermost layers of my body experience; all else is heavy. The cool blanket excites my toes. I imagine a person in my body pillow, and suddenly my loneliness stands up to the microphone. It is singing its song, and it has a chorus. Something is buzzing in my ear. Maybe it is my reason to go. Maybe it is my reason to go on.
Either way, I’m itching for this wave to pass.
Ciao for now,