I’ve just had a pretty shocking-not-shocking realization. Shocked that it took me this long to realize, and not shocked at how true it feels.
In short/not so short, I think I have been depressed since I was 12 years old. I specifically remember sitting at my grandparent computer on Libra.com playing girly dress up games thinking about how sad and confused I was that we were moving to America and that my Nana was dead and I thinking ‘Hey! I could always kill myself.’
I saw statistics a few weeks ago about New Zealand suicide and I burst into tears at the number attached to the age bracket of 10-13, thinking holy shit those kids aren’t aware enough of themselves and the world to make that decision, and my heart broke at the ghost of them 10 years in the future thinking why did I give up so soon, there was so much I didn’t know. And thats when it hit me thats that is the age I was the first time I considered suicide.
That little girl on cutesy pink websites quickly spiralled into self harm, black clothes, angry music, aggressive defensiveness, and a furiously dark rage that lashed out and also kept me sealed shut.
I’ve always known that this era of my life has shaped who I am now, but I didn’t quite realise the extent of the effect it’s had, mainly the way I express my depression.
When I was in America, I hurt myself daily, often a few times a day. I wiped my blood on the shower walls and on paper and dripped it on poems and piled up tissues soaked red and set them on fire, stashed them in my room and in boxes, buried them in the bin, flushed down the toilet. I even remember writing HELP on the bathroom wall in middle school, mostly to scare someone as a joke but that’s actually pretty messed up and I wish someone really had helped me.
My parents ignored the whole thing. A few years ago, my mum and I were talking and she said ‘We were worried, but you really had nothing to actually be that sad about so we knew you’d grow out of it.’ Jesus christ. If I ever think of a moment when my smile was stapled on my face as I swallowed my real feelings like knives it was that moment.
How could she be so dismissive of my pain? I contemplated suicide almost daily for years. I cut myself every few hours. I starved myself or smashed my head into walls or held my wrists and fingers over candles, and the most painful thing now is that I never said a word, and no one ever asked.
And thats the way its been for the last 16 years. I keep my mouth shut and endure the pain and wait for it to pass over.
I was very aggressive. I yelled and screamed and ignored other people. I made no effort to engage with others. I didn’t try in school, I didn’t lift a goddamn finger to attempt anything, I existed in my suffering and I let it float me through the days. I did enough to get by and I let all the things I’d enjoyed before drift away into nothing. If confronted, I was a destroyer, at least I had the confidence to tell the world to get fucked. I was regularly bullied, but I really truely didn’t give a shit at the time and I still don’t. I am grateful for that, but I also now realize that is because I was my own worst bully and nothing they said or did could ever hold a flame to the sadness and anger I already felt.
One day in P.E, maybe 13 nearly 14, I was play fighting with a friend, and I hurt them, wrist burn I think. My aggression came out and I twisted too hard and they pulled back in shock, looked me right in the face and said, ‘That hurt me. You hurt your friends and I don’t like it.’ And I was absolutely floored. So far, for 2 years, cutting myself on a daily basis, no one, not one person, had ever said in such uncertain terms that my behaviour was not okay and I was hurting people. They turned and walked off and I stood there stunned and I can still feel my mouth dropped and frozen in shock.
This could have been a good thing. My parents could have been the ones to say this to me and I could have been spared years and years of more unhealthy behaviour. They could have sat me down with no anger in their voices and said ‘Stephanie, what you are doing is not okay and it’s hurting us and the people around you and more importantly it’s hurting yourself.’ but I wouldn’t hear that for a very long time, and still not from them.
So what did I do with this shattering realization? I buried my pain deeper of course. My parents where fighting all the time, and my mum once said to me in the mall food court ‘If we ever get a divorce it will be your fault’ and I knew it was true because I was awful. I WAS awful, I was horrible and angry and violent and what was the point in being me if I was such an ugly and awful and horrible person. Maybe I should kill myself after all. But I couldn’t now, because that would hurt people, my brother and my grandparents and my friends back home. And they wouldn’t know why, because these real feelings I had where such a secret, in hindsight it was so obvious that I have no idea how I lasted so long with no one acknowledging what was happening. Maybe it was how aggressive I was. The effort to break through the barrier I had built around me was too much. Maybe people tried and I pushed them away by being even more difficult and horrible.
Anyway, suddenly my brain was wired that the mere truth of being my miserable self made others unhappy. And I wasn’t really so much a monster that I didn’t care about that, so, I began to no longer be myself. I kept the goth clothes and I definitely kept cutting myself, but I now understood that my actions had consequences. This was the beginning of my secret self.
Once we moved back to New Zealand, I made a subconscious pact with myself. I would be picture perfect, I would never embarrass my parents in front of their friends, I would be as absolutely polite as I could be in front of my family. I would show up and be charming and well dressed and make other parents say ‘Oh your daughter is so sweet, I wish mine would be so well mannered.’ I would make up for every time I was awful and I would never yell or scream or break things ever again. I would laugh at the stories my family would tell at christmas dinner, about the time I had to be dragged to Disney World, or how horrid I was at that sports game, ha ha ha, what a time, I am so sorry, goodness me.
Every time a feeling would rise up like YOUR FULL OF SHIT MUM or I FUCKING HATE THIS or CAN’T YOU SEE BEHIND THIS LIE, I would stand still, or sit quietly, and I would let that anger and sadness wash over me, like a layer of wax, sealing myself inside deeper ever time, and on the inside I would be melting, completely isolated and even now I can feel that sick feeling in my heart and stomach, a churning stabbing feeling. Sometimes that would lead to self harm, when it got too much I could take it out on myself, again, in a different way, and I would have to hide my arms as well as my real feelings and the spiralling cycling continued.
Eventually, at maybe 18 or 19, this routine was perfected to the point that I don’t even think I remembered what I was doing. I was now my mum saying ‘Yeah but really I had nothing to be that sad about so I can just get over it.’ I still cut myself but less often, and eventually not at all, and I still punished myself by letting my own sadness bury me deeper and further away, and I still pretended to be happy and perfect, only now I forgot why, and every now and then my real feelings would come out and no one ever responded in the way I needed them too, mostly they responded in anger, so I kept thinking it was no big deal, or I was awful to suggest this, its selfish to inflict this on others, and I picked myself back up and carried on.
I’ve never told anyone. Maybe bits, but I think now it’s important that I tell myself. Because at 2 weeks before my 28th birthday, I am happy, yet, I am miserable, and I finally understand why.
In my early 20s I made another pact with myself. Now that I had undone all the horrible damage I had done by being so awful in my early teens, I could finally possibly maybe kill myself again. But people still wouldn’t know why, so I would leave them clues. I would leave a legacy behind me of heartbreakingly beautiful works of art that incapsulated how miserable I had always felt inside all these years and no one noticed. I wasn’t angry or punishing anyone, I really honestly believed that ignoring pain was normal and I deserved it and pretending was the best way and that I was doing a really good job and that it was a good thing. Oh boy have I fucked myself up hahaha.
So I purposely channelled that into writing stories, in notebooks, on my computer, everywhere. I had paper and pen on me 24/7 and I set out to express myself and my pain this way and this way only, and when I was done, when I had perfectly subtly captured the essence of how miserable I was in beautiful poetry and paintings and photographs, I could kill myself. And there would be a gallery for it.
But this backfired, because my most favourite pieces, I couldn’t show anyone, because it revealed something my entire persona was built around pretended didn’t exist. Still to this day I struggle, maybe my last real struggle, as an Artist, because I am ashamed and afraid at what people will think of me when they read or see these things, and my joy and pride at creating falls into a space that I wish with my whole heart it didn’t.
I guess I am lucky that I was so good at this pretence though, because I never felt finished, and writing really helped me to the point that I eventually forgot I was supposed to die. I would still be reckless, I stopped cutting myself but I crossed the road without looking too closely, I grabbed knives by the blade, I left my protractor poking through my bag, I wore uncomfortable shoes, I did my belts too tight, I skipped meals, got paper cuts, left broken glass on the floor, kept sharp rocks in my pockets to grip and press into. I did anything that could hurt me without actively doing it intentionally, so that I wouldn’t get caught betraying this persona I had made. By now there were minimal ties to the miserable aggressive horrible monster that was how I had really felt, and I am only now discovering how deep that idea goes, and how unhealthy it is, and how important it is that I stand up for that child, that teenager, and young adult, that human person, as say it’s not okay! I am hurting and I care and that pain was real and it matters!
My big realization here is that this morning when I woke up feeling that twisted ache, I thought the only way to express it was to draw a picture, or write a story, or clean my studio, BUT THAT IS A COPING MECHANISM THAT I PLANNED TO LEAD TO MY OWN DEATH SO WTF DUDE. GO SEE A THERAPIST.
For years I felt the only way I can express how sad I am, is through art. I felt I couldn’t tell people to their face because I’ve tried so subtly before that the person had no idea what was riding on their response and so I never got the response I needed. I thought people will think I am lying, and that they don’t really know me, they will be angry. But I think believing that is part of the cycle of self harm. I thought I deserved to suffer in silence until i’m dead, but I don’t, no one does.
So I am writing this because I can’t hold it in anymore. I have been depressed for 16 years, violently and dangerously. And for 12-13 years I have pretended that rock hard ground never existed. I have made a career out of pretending to be the perfect picture image of politeness. I am afraid to wear gothic clothes, I hide my edge as subtly as possible, just enough so that if you really really look, you can see it. I have erased my own fire because I place it hand in hand with hurting others, and I continue to not be my self, because I feel others will be so shocked at the difference that they will believe our entire friendship has been a betrayal of trust.
But I think most of that is in my head, and that the only real difference will be in my own head too. I’ve gently and carefully laid myself the ground work for me to come out of this wax shell. I’ve quit my job and planned the next stage of my future, all I have to do now is admit to myself what has been done, what has happened, what things mean, and seperate what is okay and not okay, and stop following these automatic unhealthy behaviours. I need to talk about it. I need people to know. I need to stop waiting for death to reveal me. I should sort my shit out.
Thanks for reading.