I’ve been thinking about how far we’ve come as a society when it comes to mental illness. We still have a long, long way to go, but I’ve observed how much better youth today seem to have it than when I was a teenager.
Or maybe it was just me. Maybe it was just my circumstance. I’ve just noticed how much more love, acknowledgment and support teens today get than I did when I was that age, twenty years ago.
I feel like there are more people letting teens know it’s okay that they have mental illness—because there are more of us acknowledging that it is real. We offer sympathy because we have experienced the same. We show them how much we care and love them and want to help them. I didn’t have that.
Twenty years ago, when I was first diagnosed with depression and going through absolute hell and darkness, most adults ignored the scars on my arms, the tears in my eyes, my hanging head, my choice to be sad—because that’s what they thought it was. They thought it was my own fault that I was depressed and that I could just choose to be happy if I wanted to. Other adults, like some of my church youth leaders, treated me like crap instead of lifting me up and offering support. The only adult who actually showed that they cared about me and sympathized with what I was going through was my high school band teacher. Years after the fact, my mom told me that my dad cried every day for two weeks after I told them I was depressed and had been cutting myself. Unfortunately, it was years too late. He never cried in front of me, he never told me how sad it made him because of how much he loved me—because you just didn’t do things like that back then. I didn’t have adults who had been through what I had sharing their experiences the way I have shared my experiences with young people now. I just had a few other people my own age, struggling like I was.
Mental illness is a devastating, discouraging illness to live with. In a way, I’m jealous of how much love and support youth these days are getting compared to when I was their age. But more than that, it’s encouraging and hopeful to see how far we have come, to see that we are making strides to improve awareness and resources. That is definitely something to be grateful for.
To build a brick wall, a foundation is needed. The foundation laid out, the wall built brick by brick. Emotional walls are similar. Mine was founded and built because of her.
“Can I help you with the dishes?” my best friend asks. ‘Do I have to do the dishes now?’ I complain. “Why can’t you be more like Safaa?”
Clink — The first brick
Violin at school, I can’t practice. “This is why no one in our house has musical talent”
Clink — Another brick
‘My photography teacher wants two of my pieces in the art show!’ Proud of myself, a rarity. Maybe I’m good at photography? The monotonous response: “How many does everyone else get?” ‘Two’
Clink Clink — A few bricks
Hiding in my room. Facing away from the door. Hide my shame. Blood trickles from self-inflicted wounds. She barges in. Seeing and crying. Apologizing. Promises to treat me better flow. She doesn’t.
Clink Clink — Two bricks
Heavy dresser blocks the door. Fingers against scalp, pulling at roots. Pain a distraction. She forces her way in, ignores my state. “Spoiled. Bad example. Problem child. Bully. Weak.”
Clink — Another brick
I buy my own kitten – Damian. My pride and joy, my child and my pet. Tiny body curled next to me, all warmth and purr. ‘I’ll come by and take care of him’ Banned from going. “He keeps peeing in my plants.” Kitten sold, no goodbye, no explanation.
Clink Clink — Multiple bricks
I try to leave the heartless manipulation of a mother. Silent screams, anguished mind. Tears mix with rain. Legs move involuntarily without drive, without destination. Obedient and mindless like she wants me to be. Sobs cut through the night. Fickle love I wished was true crumbles.
Clink Clink Clink — Many bricks
‘Why can’t we hang out with Tacy on Sunday?’ “Check email.” Demeaning intro. Father is the victim. She is the bully. I’m siding with him? “Good for you, Kelsey”. People should earn what they want? “Don’t care or hate your own mother, I still love you and hope that you choose the right things.”
Clink Clink Clink Clink — Countless bricks
She lets a lie slide. I pry for truth. A text to dad follows confession. She finds out. “Let me decide to communicate when can get to it, at your dad house I never hear anything, at my house your dad know everything.” ‘You do ask. You never answer emails’ “Things are between Mark and I, you need to stay out of it, understand?”
Clink — Another brick
Stressed and depressed. She notices that I am not myself and asks. Her fault. Tell her? I’m afraid of how she’ll react. Will she scream insults? Deny? Or will she listen and understand? Scream or deny, she will be angry. Listen, she won’t change. I tell her. She listens, promises to not do it anymore. She does.
Clink — Another brick
I root out another lie. She turns on me. A blizzard of accusatory words. Every possible flaw exploited. I can’t do this anymore. Unbuckled seat belt. Car door opens. She stops. Door alarm goes off. Sitting in stunned silence. Adrenaline of near death surges. We stop. My chance for peace gone.
Clink Clink Clink — Thousands of bricks
It scared her that I tried to jump? You care about me? Hope inflates like a balloon. Pop! Needle of insults deflates my balloon. “Spoiled. Bad example. Siblings will treat people horribly. Respect me. ‘A normal family listens’ I don’t have to listen. I’m the mother, you’re the child.”
Clink Clink Clink Clink — An endless waterfall
‘Clean up your mess, Khai’ He angers, mumbling. Throws a napkin. She chastises me for ‘provoking’ him. ‘He hits or throws something at me every day’ “Is it true?” A quiet yes. He asks if he can go to a friend’s house. Why would she let you? “Just clean your room first.” I can’t say anything. She’s the mother and I am not the favorite.
Clink Clink Clink — More bricks
For almost 18 years, I accepted the things she told me. Now, I am unable to feel emotion like a normal person. Extremely low self-esteem. Uncomfortable with affection. I worry about my future family. Who would want to marry me? Will I be like my mom? Will I have kids who trust me like a best friend? Will I be unconsciously abusive? For almost 18 years, I grew up with a mostly absent father who wasn’t there enough to give me the comfort that I needed. To give me the affection that every child needs. “I love you” my friends tell me. Well that makes one of us. My sister hugs me, I tickle her to get out. My friends hold my hand, I slip it out. “I really care for you” my friends tell me. Can’t say I feel the same.
For almost 18 years, I went through her abuse, the divorce, and my mental health issues without comfort. Without a hand to hold when I was afraid. Without a soothing voice to tell me that I am worth something. Without arms that wrap me in a warm hug while I shake with sobs that never come. Without someone to lower the gun that I’ve raised to my temple on multiple occasions.
But now, my brick wall has been built. It has curled around me and swaddled me like a newborn baby on cold nights. It has protected me from her, it has protected me from the storms that rage. My brick wall is the comfort I have lacked all of my life.
is usually what gets me these days. It is the demon I live with on a
daily basis. Depression does rear its ugly head in the winter as SAD
takes effect, and every once in awhile I’ll get down for a little
while, but for the most part I don’t get depressed a whole lot.
Until recently, anyway.
last couple of weeks depression has attacked me. I have been
painfully stumbling through life in that dark place, and I don’t
know why. That’s the thing about mental illness—there doesn’t
have to be a reason. It just is. It just happens. And I hate it! I
hate feeling this way. I don’t want to feel like I’m worthless. I
don’t want to feel like I’m inadequate. I don’t want to feel
like I’m not enough. I don’t want to feel like I’m a terrible
person. I try. I try hard to do what I’m supposed to. I try to feel
good. I try to feel happy. But I don’t. And I wish there was a
reason. If there was a reason I could fix it, or at least have a
starting point to work with. But there’s no starting point. And
there’s no ending point. It’s just a circle that sometimes,
luckily, is in the light, and sometimes, inexplicably, rolls on in
I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be a good mom. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to be stable. I’m supposed to do what’s right for my kids; what’s best for them. I’m supposed to serve. I’m supposed to help. I’m supposed to teach my kids. I’m supposed to be a good example to the world. I’m supposed to always know. I’m supposed to put aside my own issues. I’m supposed to pretend everything is fine. I’m supposed to be happy. I’m supposed to be more. Sometimes . . . sometimes I am some of those things, when I’m feeling really good and strong and confident. Most of the time I am none of them. I am weak. I am scared. I’m unstable. I do what I can to simply survive moment to moment. I don’t do enough for my kids. I am anxious. I am depressed. I can’t stop my mind from turning, from obsessing. I am selfish. I cry at work in front of my boss. I hurt people I love. I make mistakes. I’m unsure. I am not enough. I am alone. And I hate how I don’t know what to do. So much of the time, I feel stuck, and I don’t know how to get out of it.
Walking through that door makes the blue a little lighter. She holds space as I gently spill. We sit, we talk - we water, dig and bury. Nurturing a shoot. Aiding it in light - to find its path through thorns - Malan Wilkinson