The goal of this post is to simply immerse my readers into how depression manifested in my life during my teenage years. This is not fiction, it was my life. Not everyone’s experience of depression is the same, but this was mine. I hope you can relate to it and that it helps you relate to someone you know who struggles with depression.
Somewhere off in the distance I hear an obnoxious beeping. Can somebody shut that thing up? I keep my eyes shut and fall asleep again, too exhausted to even register the obnoxious noise as my alarm clock.
As if in another world, I feel my shoulder shaking. “Sweetie, sweetie it’s time to get up. You’re going to be late for school!” I’m so tired and so heavy. Is there something on me? No. No, there’s nothing there but I still feel weighed down. I groan, squint my eyes open and see the clock. 7:05am. My ride to school will be here in 15 minutes. I have to move.
I’m up, grabbing clothes from here and there. Fortunately my “style” is more or less jeans and a nice shirt so I don’t even have to match anything. Splash some water on my face, pin my too-long bangs back, and I’m good to go. I dash downstairs, eat three bites of the wonderful pancakes my mother made, hardly even appreciating them, and quickly swallow down my meds. I look out the window. My ride is here and I’m late. Again. I can’t believe it. The one thing I need to do is be on time for these people and I can’t even do that right. I was more on top of life when I was 12.
What can I do but get in the car and go to school. I’ve got my backpack and gym bag. On the eight minute drive to school I almost fall asleep again. I just can’t keep my eyes open. I remember feeling like this last year and I wonder vaguely if Mono can come back. But this is different somehow. Last year even when I had Mono I still knew what I wanted. I wanted to get better so I could play volleyball again. Now, I don’t know. I’m just exhausted. I can’t even remember why I like volleyball and school. I used to like to learn. Now I just want to stay in bed.
We arrive at school and I make my way to my locker. People are all around me. The air is practically buzzing with their gossip and jokes. It’s so loud in the hallway. No one talks to me. No one says good morning. I’m not friends with the people who have their lockers near mine. I am completely surrounded by people, yet completely alone.
Hurt by the loneliness, I go straight to first period. I don’t bother seeking anyone out. It’s not like they would want to talk to me anyway. I go the long way to avoid going by the special needs classroom because my mentor (a youth group leader who teaches in the classroom), would ask me how I am and right now I can’t even muster a smile to fake it.
When I get to first period, choir, I see the student teacher is in charge again. I’m happy about this although most of my classmates are not. He has us doing more difficult music and is teaching us sight-singing. Right now we’re working on Bohemian Rhapsody. When I really think about the lyrics I wonder if I should like it as much as I do, but it just speaks to my soul right now. Or at least, it’s better than that happy bouncy crap we were doing last month.
I drag myself through World History, at the end of which I still have no idea what we were talking about. On to Spanish. I know at some point I actually liked Spanish but I can’t remember why now. The teacher is so incredibly bubbly: it’s exhausting just looking at her. At least I have a friend in that class, although that just means I have to fake being happy, which is even more exhausting than just getting through the day.
Now I’m off to AP Physics. We get our Electricity and Magnetism quizzes back today. I love this class and I start to perk up a little bit as I’m surrounded by interesting and hilarious people. But when I get a quiz back I see a three on it. I double check. Yep, that’s three out of ten, not five. I failed. I failed a quiz and we don’t even have tests in this class. I’m not even smart enough to be in this class. I only just barely made it in the gifted program. Everyone else thought this section was easy. I guess they’re all just smarter than me. I vaguely remember getting a nine out of ten on Energy. That was only because Dad helped me. I’m not really good at science on my own. I try to focus in class during the lab, but my lab partners clearly know so much more and by the time I figure it out they’re on to the next step. I get why. I hate when people hold me up too, but I wish we could slow down a little. My limbs feel heavy and yet they seem to be moving at lightning speed.
Next I’m off to Brit Lit (otherwise known as British Literature) for the long period before lunch. Maybe Mr. A will play guitar for us with his extra time. Unlikely. Besides, I have to do homework in every spare second I get anyway. Today we’re discussing Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. No one else seems to have any insights or to have even thought about it at all. I’m frustrated that no one even seems to care, as though they don’t know anyone who has died. I think about the people I know, some of them did rage and struggle, some of them just committed suicide. Is it wrong to give up? Is it wrong to want to stop living? We do get some time at the end to ourselves and I quickly do my Spanish worksheet before attempting Physics. I think I’m doing it right, but I’m probably not.
Now it’s lunch time. I quickly navigate the line, using all my upper-classmen skills to do so. Today it’s pizza with a fruit cup and chocolate milk. It’s never enough food and today is no different. I used to be a slow eater but since we only get 30 minutes to go to our lockers, go to the bathroom, navigate the lunch line, and eat, I’ve discovered that now I just wolf my food down without even enjoying it or thinking of it as food. Just another thing to do to get through the day. Most of my friends have B lunch but I sit with the few people I know in C. I don’t say much though. What could I possibly add to the conversation that would even be interesting?
After lunch is gym. I hate it and I contemplate skipping momentarily but I can’t do that. I arrive, change my clothes, and just sit on the bench, waiting to go out. The atmosphere in the locker room is similar to the hallways and it’s giving me a headache. I don’t know anyone in the class which means that I always get picked last, even though I’m an athlete. It’s because I’m an athlete that I can’t skip since my volleyball coach also happens to be my gym teacher. Right now we’re doing mech weights which means not only do I have to find a partner, but I also actually have to try because my coach will be peering over my shoulder to see how much I’m lifting.
I’m in good shape. Last time I measured I can jump and touch 9’10”. I try to remember my goal of 10’ while I’m lifting in this stinky gym. Coach comes up behind me. “We need you to get stronger, faster, quicker, lighter. You can’t hit hard because you’re not strong enough.” “I know Coach, I’m working on it.” I’m never good enough. She’s told me before I wasn’t good enough for college. She’s always talking about the middle hitter before me: how she got more kills, made less mistakes. I know I’m not very good. I know I need to work harder. I’m such a wimp. I should be fitter, thinner, faster.
After gym is Trigonometry (also known as Pre-Calculus). My attention is completely shot. I have a headache and all the numbers are swimming in front of my eyes. Suddenly Trig is over. That means I “get” to stay for study hall. I break out my homework, trying to get something done. I realize that I will, as usual, have to truck myself over to my Physics teacher for help, who fortunately also has a study hall the last period of the day.
When I arrive he’s busy with another student so I just sit and try for the millionth time to solve this problem. It has two unknowns and I just have no idea how I’m supposed to do this when I don’t have enough information. All I really want is a nap, but I have to work on this now or it won’t get done. When Mr. G. does have time for me, I explain how I don’t know how to do it because I don’t have enough information. “Elizabeth, you just solve using a two variable equation.” “But I don’t know how to do that.” “That’s just Algebra! How do you not know that?” Looks like now I’ve finally discovered why math is so hard: I’m actually behind. Mr. G. was kind enough to teach it to me, but I was just catching up, I didn’t get any real homework done. I’m overwhelmed. I have so much to do. I wish I could just stop. I can’t keep up. I’m such a failure. And this day isn’t even over yet.
After school I have volleyball open gym. These are supposedly “non-mandatory” practices, but everyone knows that you’d better have a dang good excuse if you’re not coming. Today we have enough to scrimmage, which should be fun. I’m coming in to hit, but the play is all wrong and I miss. “Get UP Liz! Come on, hit it!” “Hit it HARD!” “That should’ve been your ball!” Now that I’m an upcoming senior, I feel a lot of pressure to not make any mistakes. Everything must be done perfectly. If there was a mistake, it was my fault. I feel so much stress and pressure. But I can’t cry. Emotions are not to be shown. Emotions are weak. Without even knowing it, my fingers glide up to the hair behind my ear and pull out a strand. It’s a small release that passes quickly, but at least it’s something.
After volleyball I head home for dinner. My mom made us homemade pizza, which I used to love, but today it’s tasteless. “How was your day?” How am I supposed to answer that? It was a day. It was stressful. It was lonely. It was overwhelming. It’s not even over. “It was fine.” “Fine? Don’t I get more than that?” “No. What am I supposed to say?” I grump at my mom and leave the room.
I have about an hour before small group, a Bible Study with girls from my youth group. First I take a shower and then I start working on my homework. I still have some reading to do for two classes and some math problems for two other classes. It won’t get done in an hour, but I can get some things done anyway. But I can’t focus. I keep reading the same sentence over and over. Me, the girl who could read entire books in a couple hours, is having reading comprehension problems? I don’t understand what’s happening. My fingers are at my hair, pulling it out strand by strand again. Eventually I just put it away and sit there. Mom comes over, “Why don’t you play piano?” But I don’t want to play piano. I’ve been playing since I was six but it’s just lost its appeal. I’m not interested.
Finally it’s time to go to small group. I put my coat on and grab the keys. Time to go. Mom comes over to give me a hug, but I push her away. “Don’t touch me!” Why is she so clingy? She’s obviously just faking because that’s what she’s supposed to do. She doesn’t really care about me.
I get to small group and dread going inside to all the giggly and squealy that is apparently normal for a group of high school girls. I take a deep breath. Time to put a smile on. I go inside and everyone is chattering amongst each other. “Heeeyyyy!!!” It takes so much effort to respond with even a tenth of the energy they seem to have. We chat for a bit, jabbering about tests and boys.
Then we settle down to the lesson and then prayer requests. Everyone asks for prayer for their relatives with cancer, their non-Christian friends, and big tests coming up. It’s my turn now. How can I say that my life has no purpose? That I’m exhausted? That I hate myself and everything I do? It’s too complicated. It’s too awkward to follow up prayers for cancer with something as insignificant as my own emotions. Instead I just say, “I had another fight with my mom today.” Easier. Normal. Truthful.
We wrap up the lesson and now everyone is sitting around just chatting. A couple girls start making plans to hang out, laughing, taking weird pictures. I see it now, they’re besties. I’m not. I’ve been here for three years and I’m still on the fringes. I’m still not really welcome. I’m still the outsider in everyone else’s friend circles. No one really cares about me. I can’t stand it anymore so I get up to leave. “What? You’re leaving already?” “Yeah, I’ve got some homework to finish up.” That’s a lie. I mean, I do have homework and it does seem overwhelming, but it’s not actually all due tomorrow. But the lie allows me to escape the overwhelming energy, the silly, and the pain of watching other people be friends.
I come home. It’s already late but I still have homework to do. I wrestle through my Physics homework, avoiding asking my dad for help because it always turns into a fight of frustration. It’s late, now I’m even more tired. There’s really no point to all this. I’ll never be good enough. No one loves me. I don’t have any friends. No one would even notice if I was gone. What if I just was gone. I could leave, start over again. Or just hide out in the woods.
I start packing a duffle bag. In go some shirts, sweatshirts, some pants, beef jerky, all my cash. Shoot, I’m out of underwear. I can’t do laundry now; that would look suspicious. I guess I have to wait. Might as well leave my bag packed though cause Sunday afternoon… I’m gone.
Time for bed. I haven’t had time to think, feel emotions, or figure out why I feel this way. Oh well, being busy is better. Tomorrow is jazz band and I’ll actually have time to do homework. There’s a plus. Sort of. I’ll probably screw up my solo. I can never do anything right. I close my eyes and let the darkness of sleep finally take over.
This was a typical day for me as a junior in high school. My depression lasted from about December or January until June. In this post I intentionally did not use the words “depressed”, “depression”, or “sadness” because as a teenager I was not self-aware enough or in touch with my emotions to recognize what I was experiencing as depression. There is hope. I didn’t get help at the time, because no one realized the difference between depression and teenage angst, but eventually I did and treatment has been successful. Stick around Hope and Heroism for more on mental illness and depression.