I suffered my first major depressive episode at age fifteen, high up in the Rocky Mountains, hours away from a hospital. A storm had been brewing inside of me for months. It was on the first day of Youth Symphony camp when the panic hit too hard and fast, inspiring a botched, but sincere attempt by me to end my life for good. Looking back at that day and trying to pinpoint a definitive catalyst for this event of self-harm feels like grasping at straws. Perhaps I’d auditioned late and was unprepared for camp. The boy that I had very strong, yet basically metaphysical feelings for, seemed to think that my name was Carol. Despite the fact that I’d spent most of that summer reading the dictionary, I thought for certain that I would fail the SAT’s and probably destroy my chances of going to a good college.
But honestly, I know enough now about the illness of depression to see that I was struggling with something far more abstract. That I’d actually fantasized about removing myself and the weight of my sadness from the universe for months prior to that day, going so far as to write an unofficial advanced directive and instructions for my little siblings about how to approach Nirvana’s discography. The thing is, I’m really glad I’m still around to listen to music with them in person. I say this not because my life went entirely uphill from there. After that summer, I spent the rest of high school listening to Elliott Smith’s beautiful, but ultimately tragic songs about self-loathing. I wrote scary poetry that I was too shy to submit to the student magazine. I ate my lunch in the library on more than one occasion. But the fact is that I kept going and I’m glad for that.
One thing that I wish I understood at the time was that even though I hadn’t had more life experience, no real boyfriend who knew my actual name to have actual heartbreak over, no seemingly great excuses for wanting to give up the ghost, my feelings were very real, not petty or irrelevant. Emotions legitimate themselves, and we don’t have much agency over our brain chemistry. Fortunately, there are resources for adolescents experiencing depression and other mental illnesses, people who understand what a red flag looks like and are willing to help. They are there if you look for them. The other thing that I’ve gotten better at accepting is that life is not designed to get progressively better.
For me, it’s been a journey with plenty of ups and downs. I was depressed in high school, and I struggle with depression now. But the texture of my sadness has changed over the years, as has my openness to the plethora of resources available to people with this illness. I’m so glad to be here. Nothing compares to watching my nephew eat his first strawberry, or to actually falling in love, or to meeting a new best friend. Nothing.