The goal of this post is to immerse my readers into how depression manifested in my life. This is not fiction, it was my life. This was my experience of depression in college, during some of the darkest moments of my life. I hope you can relate to it and that it helps you understand someone you know who struggles with depression (or self-harm). College is an especially important time to be aware of mental illness since that is when most mental illness manifests.
WARNING: This post talks about self-harm and is NOT trigger-free. While I tried to be mindful to those who currently struggle, I ultimately decided to value being real to the experience over being trigger-free in the hope that people who don’t struggle would gain greater understanding. If right now you’re looking for trigger-free hope for recovery from self-harm, then check out the interview I sat for a friend and other related videos that she has made.
*Names in this post have been changed to protect everyone’s privacy.
My alarm goes off and I know I have to get out of bed since I set it for 9:45am and I have a 10am class. My body is screaming at me, saying that I’m exhausted and I have no business even thinking about getting up. I muster the energy from somewhere outside of me to go to class. I have to go because I am a good student. That’s who I am. Plus, to skip would be a blaring signal to everyone that I’m not myself and I just don’t want to deal with the questions. So I drag myself up and run to the cafeteria for a bagel to take with me.
Three classes later and it’s time for lunch. I feel…not sad, more just, down, as though my heart and stomach have settled somewhere below my belly button. On my way to the cafeteria, I see construction sites, tall buildings, balconies, and creeks. Suddenly I’m taking note of places around campus I could kill myself and methods I could use. None of them are likely to be successful, but I still imagine myself doing it. I’m not really suicidal and I’m not trying to have these thoughts, they’re just there, like my brain is processing them on its own.
I have a few friends I normally eat with on Wednesdays so I grab some food and join them. I feel awful, on the verge of tears and I have no idea why. I don’t join in the conversation and as soon as I’m done eating I go up to my room. I have an hour and a half before my next class, which seems like so much extra time now that I don’t stay after lunch and hang out with people like I used to.
I pull my hoodie on, put my hood up, and wrap myself in my blanket, as though trying to hide from life. I have some reading to do for class so I start in on that. After finishing that reading, I know I should start working on an essay. I open my laptop and stare at the screen. And stare at it. And stare at it some more. I can’t think or focus. I don’t mean that my brain is thinking of other things. It’s just not thinking of anything at all.
I glance at the clock and realize it’s time for class. I force myself up because, again, I don’t want anyone to know that something might be wrong. After class I go back to my room, avoiding the student union where so many happy people are gathered.
Why hasn’t anyone asked me how I am? No one even cares. No one even notices that I’m hurting. I’m not worth it. Even my boyfriend hasn’t talked to me. The logical brain speaks and reminds me that he has been in class and is probably busy with homework. But then a voice whispers, “No, he just doesn’t even think about you during the day. If you didn’t initiate contact he would never talk to you.”
I crawl back into bed, hiding under the covers. I lay there, not thinking, not caring, and too exhausted to even think about doing homework. Images of my knife are constantly in the forefront of my mind. I can’t avoid them or stop thinking about them. I try to do a little reading, but all I can think about is that knife. And how much I hate myself. I’m so worthless. I don’t even matter. I’m so depressed. I can’t go on like this. I can’t cry. I wish I could. My emotions are just bundled up inside me. There is so much tension.
I don’t want the shame of cutting, the shame of having to admit to someone that I cut. But I can’t take this tension anymore. So I grab a needle that is next to my bed. I start poking and scratching myself. It helps. Sort of. My heart is pounding, racing. I can’t think. I can’t focus. Maybe I can distract myself with music. But the only thing I want to listen to is the hard rock and metal from my middle school years, which just makes me more depressed.
I realize I’ve been lying in bed, covers over my head, for the last several hours. It’s dinner time. I have no one to eat with. The thought of trying to scan the cafeteria to find people to eat with is overwhelming. Plus, I’m not really hungry, my stomach feels sick. I get up and go down to the cafeteria, grab an apple and some cheese and bring it back to my room.
Back in my room, the logical brain overcomes and I realize I have to do something to try to get my focus off that damn knife. I break out my paints and start painting. I know this is just one more sign that I’m depressed. I’m only artistic when I’m depressed. I like to write poetry, paint, write music, but I can only do it when I’m sad. The rest of the time I’m a writer and an athlete.
It doesn’t last long.
Soon I’m back in bed again, this time with a textbook. I try to read, but again all I can think about is cutting myself. Before I know it I have my knife in hand, open, blade resting on skin. Just resting, scratching. I’m thinking about the temptation to actually do it. I know I need to keep my hands busy so I don’t give in. I should text someone, anyone, who might remotely care. I scroll through my 129 contacts and can’t find anyone to text. I’m staring at all these people whose numbers I have, but I hear that voice again, “None of them are really your friends. None of them would care.
Finally I force myself to pick three. Two respond and we start talking. With one I’m just shooting the breeze, trying to distract myself. With the other I admit that I’m depressed. “Want me to come over?” “Yeah, if it’s not a bother.” “Ok. I’ll bring some work. See you soon.”
When Anna* arrives she turns on the lights, sits on my floor, and breaks out her homework. “Why were you in the dark?” “It got dark. I never got up to turn the lights on.” “Are you ok?” “Yeah.” “Did you hurt yourself?” “No.” Anna gives me a funny look, like she knows I might be bending the truth a bit. “So what’s going on with you?” I know she wants me to explain how I’m feeling. And I want to. I’m so lonely. I’m so glad she’s here. But now that she is here, I can’t explain myself. I can’t articulate all the emotions that are wrapped up in how I feel right now. It just feels like one giant mess. “I don’t know. I’m just depressed. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
With Anna there, I force myself to sit up and at least open a textbook and my laptop. I’m still not getting anything done. I’m still not able to focus. But at least with her there I’m not going to act on my impulse to cut myself. Unfortunately she probably doesn’t even know that she’s helping. She probably thinks she’s wasting her time since I don’t want to talk.
Eventually I can’t keep it up. The depression is overwhelming. The weight on my shoulders is so strong. I lie back down and pull the covers up. Anna looks up, “If you’re going to take a nap I need to get going.” “I’m not taking a nap. Can you stay?” “You want me to stay?? You ask me to come over and then you won’t talk and I just sit here! What, do you want me to just sit here and babysit you all day?” Yes, that is what I want, actually. But I can’t say that. “I didn’t ask you to come.” “Yeah, you’re just manipulating me. I can’t sit here with you like this all day, every day! I have other friends and things to do.”
I feel anger flare inside me as she says this and I remember last year when I was afraid she would kill herself. I remember making her sleep in my room, in my bed, so I could sleep across the doorway so I would know if she tried to sneak out. In fact, I did something similar for her just a few months ago, earlier this year. I remember frequently interrupting date night with my boyfriend because she needed me. I gave up so much time for her when she was struggling and now she doesn’t want to give up time for me?? “Yeah, like I’ve never done anything for you. Fine! Leave if you want. Whatever.”
So she does. She leaves. And instantly I regret it.
Why can’t I seem to communicate what I actually feel? Why can’t I tell her how much it means to me that she’s there? Why am I such a terrible friend? Why is she pushing me away? I’m such a burden. No one cares about me. I curl up in a ball on the floor, feeling totally miserable.
Just then, Ashley* texts me: “Are you coming to swing dance tonight?” Swing club. Oh yeah. Will that make me feel better or worse? Walking across the campus to get there would take so much effort. “I dunno. I’m tired.” Ashley knows what’s going on and she can see right through me. “You need to get out of your room. Come over. Don’t make me come get you.” “Ok fine I’m coming.” I vocally groan and pull on my coat to leave.
When I arrive people are already dancing. I take off my coat and street shoes. I stand by the side of the dance floor, waiting for the song to end so I can join in. I stand around and chat for a little and then someone asks me to dance. I enjoy it and it’s like the world starts to take on a little color, but then the dance is over and I’m back on the side of the dance floor, in a black and grey world again. Everyone else is so lively. So happy. It’s depressing realizing that I’m the only one who feels this way. I see couples dancing who are a million times better than me and clearly have no desire to dance with me. I see friends laughing and chatting about some inside joke that I don’t understand. I see all the happiness and feel only isolation and sadness.
My phone buzzes. It’s my boyfriend. “How’s your day? Want to meet up?” “I’m at swing. How about you meet me for a dance and then we can go somewhere else?” As much as I want him to be a dancer, I know it’s not his main love. He does it for me. “Sounds good. Be there in a minute.” I keep dancing. And being depressed at everyone else’s happiness. He lives in the building next door, but 15 minutes later he still hasn’t shown up. “Where are you???” “Sorry, I got distracted. I’m coming.” What the heck? He’s my boyfriend and even he doesn’t care enough to want to see me. I’m so worthless.
He does show up five minutes later, but I’m still thoroughly annoyed. “So what happened?” “I’m sorry, Liz, I got into a conversation with some of the guys.” I feel terrible about myself and the last thing I needed was for you to blow me off. Awkward silence. Finally he breaks it, “How was your day?” “Fine I guess. I went to class and then I laid in bed and tried to get work done.” “Wait, you laid in bed all day???” “Ummm yeah I guess.” “How is that possible? Don’t you get tired of it and get bored? Who does that?” “I just… couldn’t get up.” He’s right. I’m such a failure. My turn now: “How was your day?” “It was pretty good. I got caught up in this project I’m working on and worked on it for six hours straight but I think I figured out how to do it!” “That’s great.”
We talk about random stuff for a little bit more and then he admits he still has more work to do so we start to say goodbye. “Promise me you won’t lay in bed again. Either go to bed or do work.” “I’ll try.” “It’s going to get better. You’re going to get through this.” “It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like it will always be like this.” “It won’t. Try to believe that. Good night.” “Night.”
I go back to my room. I’m not going to curl up on the couch. I’m going to sit up and get some of this done. But when I get back, the exhaustion and confusion sets in again. Maybe I’ll just go to bed. But in the cruelest form of depression irony, I also have insomnia and am alone late at night, exhausted but unable to sleep.
What do I feel? Resentment? Anger? Betrayal? Sadness? Self-hatred? Disgust? Failure? Worthlessness? To be honest, I don’t even know. It’s all such a tangled mess. I don’t know how to sort through it. All I feel is tension. I’m a terrible person. I hate myself. There’s no way out of this. There is no hope to feel better. I want to cry, but I can’t. I can’t even cry, of all things. I hate my life. No one loves me. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. No one would even care if I wasn’t. I should talk to someone. But in addition to my own voice, I hear another sardonic voice whispering in my ear, “You’re worthless. No one cares about you. You’re just a burden on everyone. No one wants to be bothered by you.”
I can’t see any hope for my life. I can’t feel anything. I just want to feel something. Anything. I just want to get rid of this tension. I’m shaking from the stress of trying to resist giving in to cutting. I don’t even have to search for my knife. It’s in my pocket from before.
I’m sitting on the floor, knife on arm. The logical brain kicks in. I don’t want people to notice. I don’t want the attention. I move the knife to a less conspicuous area. Once, twice, three times. What started as a deep scratch is now starting to bleed. I’m ashamed as I’m doing it, but the relief is immediate so I don’t care. I know it won’t last, but for now it helps. I’m not shaking anymore. I’m relaxed. The beast of emotion has been appeased, although the darkness surrounding my thoughts is still there and in reality I’m immersed even further into it.
I still can’t sleep so I stay up a while longer, playing with my knife, and watching YouTube videos. Eventually I’m so overly exhausted that my body overrules my mind and in relief I finally fall asleep.
This post was extremely difficult for me to write. I would really rather forget that these days ever happened, and especially that they were ever normal. This was one of the worst days for me, but sometimes I had days like this for several weeks in a row. Most days I was actually able to do homework, so unlike most people with depression my GPA stayed high. In fact, despite my lack of ability to focus and my constant running late to class, I got some of my best grades when I was the most depressed because I didn’t do anything except schoolwork. I do regret what I put my college friends through, but I am thankful for them too. I know now they only did the best they knew how.
I wrote this from my perspective at the time, which is not a reflection of the truth. I thought I was alone and that no one else felt this way. I wasn’t. I thought I didn’t have any friends and that no one cared about me. That wasn’t true. I pushed people away and then felt lonely. I hid my problems, but wanted people to ask about them. I wanted people to talk to, but I couldn’t communicate how I was feeling. These were all lies that I only believed because I was depressed, and I could write an entire post on each one. Truthfully, there were (and are) people that loved me. People did want to help me, but they didn’t know how when I was pushing them away.
For those of you that are struggling now, I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is hope. The darkness will pass. The voice telling you that no one cares is lying to you. You are so important to many people around you. People really would miss you if you were gone. Most importantly, I did get better and so will you. I stopped the addiction to cutting. I did discover happiness. I had fun again. The world has color now and I am lighter. I hope that reading this has reminded fellow sufferers that you are not alone and that someday this night will end. If you’ve never experienced depression, I also hope that this post has sunk you deep enough into my world to know what it feels like to live in the darkness of depression.
If you ignored my warning and reading this triggered you to self-harm, please immediately call a friend or call the National Suicide Prevention helpline: 1 (800) 273-8255 or text 741741. You don’t have to give in today.