My Secret Life With Depression
Written by Sophia
I suppose I’ve always had depression, and by always I mean I remember being depressed as early as age 4. Though it’s been triggered by different things and has manifested itself in different ways over the years, depression has always been a companion of mine.
Growing up, I was raised under the strict traditions of Islam by my father. My mother has always been agnostic but chose never to challenge my dad on the issue. Thus, from an early age I was well acquainted with the concepts of Heaven and Hell and Satan and Allah. That’s some heavy shit for a 3-4 year old to wrap their head around...especially the Satan part. In Islam, it is often said that every bad thought you have is from Satan himself. They say that he literally comes to you and whispers negativity into your ear, and if you act on it, you are doing his dirty work.
For years, whenever I had a depressing thought, I blamed Satan. Whenever I thought about running away because I was tired of my parent’s pre-divorce fights, I knew it was because he was whispering those thoughts into ear. By the time I was five years old I became so overwhelmed by these thoughts that I began routinely beating my head up against walls. Of course, this would alarm my parents greatly and my dad’s “solution” was always to have me pray the feelings of frustration away. The prayers never worked and as I grew older I realized Satan had a new name: depression.
In early elementary school, I had a tough time managing my negative emotions. My parents were going through a divorce and I learned to bottle my feelings inside so I wouldn’t be a burden. At school, I was mostly withdrawn and I didn’t have many friends. The only things I had going for me were that I was pretty above-average in intelligence and that teachers loved me because I was quiet and well-behaved. This came with an ugly side, though. Since being smart and behaving correctly became my “thing,” failing to meet those standards would cause me to become unhinged.
Once, in the second grade, I recall being asked to solve a math question in front of the entire class. I remember actually putting a lot of thought into the equation so when my teacher informed me that my final answer was incorrect, I felt as though I was going to pass out. I promptly asked to go to the bathroom and once I had locked myself into a stall, deep feelings of self-hatred began to consume me. In a haze, I pulled a sharp plastic clip from my hair and began raking my scalp with it. I chose to target my scalp because no one would be able to see what I’d done to myself. Once I’d decided that my punishment was over, I placed the clip neatly back into my hair and returned to class.
Toward the end of elementary school, I’d had enough of sulking around and being ostracized by my peers. As a result, I began to learn the art of self-deprecation. I realized that the only way to be openly depressed and self-loathing and STILL be popular was to simply own those traits and turn them into jokes. By the time I reached the fifth grade, I was 5”4 and 128 pounds (AKA I was freakin’ huge for that age). I hated my body so much but rather than sit around and allow myself to be bullied by my classmates over it, I became my own bully and it was a hit! I was known for doing things like putting random objects into my belly button and projectiling them across the classroom using my excess fat as propulsion or volunteering to play the role of “ox who pulls the covered wagon” in Oregon Trail reenactments.
Stuff like this didn’t change the way I saw myself, but it did help me a lot in the social realm and that made me feel pretty good.
In middle school, I continued to wrestle with my depression and still tried to make light of it. At least by then I no longer struggled with loneliness. I had my core group of girlfriends who I became close to back in the fourth grade and who have stuck with me to this day, 11 years later. In the seventh grade (back in 2007!!), I met a wonderful boy named Scott and we have since fallen madly in love and plan to get married in the coming years. I mention these people because I think it’s important for others to understand that a person can be surrounded by amazing individuals who love them and would do anything for them and, despite it all, face crippling sadness.
My adolescent years were wrought with body image issues. I grew to about 5”9 but also weighed about 145 pounds. I was never obese, but I felt disgusting nevertheless. I think a lot of it stemmed from the fact that I believed I had potential to be attractive if I could lose just twenty pounds. I was tired of being the biggest girl in my friend group or not being able to comfortably wear swimsuits or being told I had “a really pretty face.”
These issues led my descent into the darkest parts of my mind. I didn’t even know it was possible to become so debilitated by an invisible mental illness. I stopped wearing makeup and doing my hair; I began binge-eating, and I started taking long naps to help make the days go by faster. I felt as though life had no meaning and it was at this point that I was convinced that I had no real reason to be alive. I never attempted suicide or even came close; I felt okay as an empty husk of a human being and recognized that my loved ones would be devastated if something happened to me. This low-point in my life lasted from the beginning of my Sophomore year to the end of my Junior year. There were high points of course, like being voted by my peers onto Homecoming Court each year or getting back my report cards filled with straight A’s, but they only made me feel like more of an unappreciative asshole when the happiness faded away.
I felt like I had everyone fooled. I was so popular amongst my classmates even though I was fat and cynical. I was achieving perfect grades effortlessly in every class despite the fact that I traded studying for napping my life away. I was in a healthy and beautiful relationship with an amazing boy who loved me, despite my hatred for myself. I had strong relationships with my parents and new stepparents and became best friends with my younger brother, so I couldn’t even use “shitty home life” as a scapegoat.
I was depressed and I felt I had no right to be depressed, which made me feel like a terrible human being, which made me feel even more depressed. By the end of my junior year, my particular dissatisfaction with my weight became too much to bear and I began scratching insults like “fatty” or “EW” into my stomach and thighs. I had reached 157 pounds and at that point it was as though something had snapped inside of me.
The following summer I began a strict diet of 700 calories a day and an exercise regimen consisting of excessive treadmill-ing. In three months, I had lost 30 pounds and began my senior year feeling the most beautiful I had ever felt in my life. Everyone took immediate notice of my new, thin frame and when they asked me what my “secret” was, I lied and said I followed a healthy diet and exercise plan.
The craziest thing about the weight loss was that after it happened, I didn’t feel depressed at all for a solid eight months. That was the longest I’d ever gone and I was almost convinced that the secret to defeating my depression was weight loss, though deep down I knew it wasn’t true.
During the last month of my senior year, my stresses began to overwhelm me again. Even though I had already been accepted into college and was on track to graduate with a 6.2 GPA and rank 9th overall out of 450 peers, I had this odd feeling that my life was crumbling around me. The biggest reason I could think of was that for years I had been lying to my strict, Muslim father about my secret American life. Having a boyfriend, showing my skin by wearing shorts or tank tops, and going to school dances were all things that I had kept hidden from him out of fear of being disowned, and I had a strange feeling that the charade was coming to an end.
After being depression-free for months, the dark feelings hit me once again with full force. I caved, and I began scratching myself once more. This time, I was careful to avoid scratching any skin that wouldn’t be covered by my prom dress, since I didn’t want to deal with any “what happened to your arms??” questions.
By the time prom night rolled around, I was still in a slump. I spent much of the dance eating cupcakes by the snack bar, talking to teachers and playing Bejeweled on my phone. When it was time to announce Prom Queen & King, I headed to the stage along with my fellow candidates and waited for the verdict.
“And your 2013 BHS Prom Queen is….SOPHIA!!”
I remember being crowned as celebratory music began playing. Scott embraced me and we began to slow dance on stage in front of everyone.
I remember thinking, “these people voted for me as their Prom Queen, and they have no idea that under this dress exist multiple scratches...my peers like me and I don’t even like me.”
The transition to college has been a positive one, I think. I decided to double-major in Psychology and Behavioral Healthcare (how fitting) and plan to become a marriage & family therapist.
I also made the decision to ditch religion altogether, and it’s done wonders for me personally. While most people find meaning in the belief that there is a God watching over them and a rewarding afterlife, all it ever did for me was make me feel as though my life was pretty disposable and that I’d end up in Hell no matter what. Now that I no longer believe in that, I value my current life more than I ever have because it’s the only one I’ve got.
As of now, I’d like to say that I have more control over my life than ever before. I still experience bouts of depression, but I’ve learned to open up about it more freely and now all of my loved ones know when I’m feeling that way, and what to do to help me feel better. I remain cynical, but I kind of like that about myself. In a weird way, I look at my depression as something that’s given me a my unique perspective on life, and it makes me happy to know that I can handle the lows alright at the end of the day.
I’m also proud to say that as of this October it will have been 2 years since I’ve last self-harmed.