Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. Please share this essay as I feel it is tremendously important that we begin to shatter the stigma associated with mental illness and depression. Tweet, FB it, send to a friend, Instagram it. Whatever you can do. We need to break the silence.
Trigger warning: self harm and suicidal ideation.
“It isn’t true that there’s a community of light, a bonfire of the world.
Everyone carries his own, his lonely own. My light is out. There’s nothing blacker than a wick.”
–The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
On December 13th, I blew out 24 candles with one simple wish—to die. It was the first time that I forced myself out of bed in days, as well as the first day in an even longer time that I ate. I know that people have it worse than I do. I know that my life appears “perfect” from the outside. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t make my circumstances any less significant. It doesn’t change the nights spent researching how to disappear. It also didn’t stop me from fantasizing about ending my life incessantly, even on my birthday. Even the most colorful candles couldn’t compete with the all-consuming darkness. How quickly the fire diminishes.
Depression is not poetic. Depression is not a cry for attention, nor is it a perquisite to creativity. Rather, it is Sylvia Plath had it wrong when she wrote, “Dying is an art, like everything else.” There is no art to feeling desperate enough to end your own life. The real art is endurance; it’s getting out of bed; it’s rummaging up the strength to make it through the day.
This year contained far too many hospital bracelets—too much bleach, too much time spent laying on train tracks in the middle of the night and jumping in front of oncoming traffic. As I type these empty words, I hospital bracelet remains tightly wrapped around my wrist; this particular fashion accessory was placed around my wrist the day after my birthday. I consider it my present to myself, a last resort of sorts. I made a promise to myself that if I walk through these doors feeling the same way that I felt when I came in that I will indefinitely end my own life.
Here, life is sterile. Here, you have to submit a request through your doctor to use saline solution. Here, the windows are shielded with metal. The pink University of New Hampshire blanket on bed is the only hint of color that surrounds me. The doors are permanently. Days flow together like words on a page. This cocoon of fluorescent lights and fifteen-minute checks transports us to a world that is as far away from reality as possible.
Two weeks later and they tell me that I can’t go home. They call this the Short Term Unit, as though one is expected to transform from acutely at risk to “safe” in the blink of an eye. I pretend that I am better—I pretend that I don’t still salivate at the sight of sharp objects or abandoned rooftops. I smile at the doctor who has grown tired of the empty words that flow from my mouth. This purgatory is not my own.
Half of the time I long to be fierce, I long to wake up every day with the vitality and life that you swore that you’d permanently possess. The other half of the time, I’m too tired to get out of bed. I’m too paralyzed with fear to walk across the room. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months. I remember the days when I lived off of diet coke and I coddle those memories not for the sake of any outward appearance, but because those were the times when my life had a purpose. Direction. Something.
They look in from the outside and say, “you have so much to live for.” I promise that if I hear those words ever again, I’ll implode. No one teaches you that having everything is dangerously close to having nothing. No degree or G.P.A. or jean size will save me from myself. No amount of medications or shock treatments will lull the daymares of reality.
Everyday is a mental hospital masquerade, a tender seroquel-klonopin-trazadone whirlwind of unspoken words and hidden horror shows.
Two months later I see that I spent June through February and back again fantasying about what life might be like without me in it and so much of that time, I realize now, was a life without me in it, anyway. It was a silent funeral for the unalive, a celebration of unbirthing. When Lux Aeterna becomes your anthem and the hospital becomes your home, you start to wonder what life was like before all of this.
When reading and writing is all together too foreign, you start to wonder if you even really exist. But it’s always right when all your faculties seem amiss that they finally start returning to you—you’re finally able to open a book, and it’s probably the same day that you’re finally able to open a blind.
The day that things shatter, the day the silence breaks, leaves your ears ringing. Six months later you are back in space and you realize what you thought was a home was a toxic incubator, what you thought was your anthem was a misplaced swansong. The air is so much colder than you remember it, but when you’re allowed to breathe it in again you do so in fierce, greedy gulps, not knowing how much of life is yours for the taking and how much you’ll be able to save for tomorrow.
You wish that you could swallow the sea, numb your limbs, and taste the salt. When there is no place left to wander, you descend to your final destination. Coming home happens in small, unsteady steps. First, it’s convincing gravity to be on your side. This takes a while. They’ll tell you about grounding as though you were meant to find paradise amidst the earth’s soil. Then, it’s convincing yourself to stay there. This takes an eternity. But you laugh, knowing now that you always had the time.