I am beginning to believe there is no way out of this labyrinth. In the maze of affliction, I am a sliver of a fragment, a lost cause the world is desperately trying to rescue. To be young and depressed in this era of good vibrations and photoshopped social media portraits, it is surprising (even to myself) that I have found comfort in isolation. I am content in my manic-pixie wonderland, though I do not recognize the Alice in my mirror’s reflection. I am often afraid that I have fallen too far down the rabbit hole, past all of the whimsical beings—and straight into the belly of the beast.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus once asked, “How can you hide from what never goes away?” and I believe I have a simple answer to his question. Inside of my body lives an ecosystem of wondrous yet frightening creatures. Large, built men with daggers for teeth lure the mystic women hiding in the crevices of my heart and hold them hostage in the darkest corners of my ribcage. In my stomach there are only booze-thirsty sharks and in my lungs—wasps. The wasps only breathe clearly through smoke, and if I choose to deprive them of such, they will pierce my body until I give in. It seems to do more harm than good, giving up my pack of cigarettes and endless bottles of liquor. I will be aching regardless, so it is in my best interest to give the demons what they want. You cannot hide from what never goes away, dearest Heraclitus. But you can intoxicate yourself enough to drown out the noise.
The ages between thirteen and seventeen are mostly vague. The timeline of my depression is a scattered, yet consistent one. I cannot recall the moment I realized I was depressed; there was no single incident that changed my neurotic chemicals. Depression isn’t a sudden, catastrophic injury. It is a slow, infuriating death. Most level-headed people believe that depression is painful. And in some ways it is because it pains me every day to know that my family is aching for my recovery. But I, myself, am not in pain. I wish that I was because then I would at least be feeling something. There is a very specific kind of numbness that follows me around. I do not laugh or cry, even. Oh, how I miss hurting and the sweet release tears streaming down my face could bring.
Upon my psychiatrist’s orders, I have been a guinea pig for nearly every antidepressant in the pharmaceutical industry. Prozac, Zoloft, Cymbalta, Clonazepam for anxiety, Lamictal for mood stabilization. When I was approaching my sixteenth birthday, I was admitted to an inpatient facility (which, might I add, was a chaotic hellhole), and I was placed on Carbamazepine. Aside from this being an anti-seizure medication, I was given an unlawfully high dosage. When I was released from inpatient care, I did not recognize my own behaviors. I had a different voice, different laugh, and I was finding myself on a manic rampage. There is almost nothing that I can remember from that month on Carbamazepine, aside from doing far too many recreational drugs and being arrested.
Not a single part of me regretted my actions, but the real me, deep down, felt sorry for my mother and the way I was causing her suffering. I could tell she missed her happy-go-lucky daughter by the way she was so hesitant to say my name in conversations with relatives. Her eyes would well with tears when asked about how I’m doing, as if I had already died, and she was withholding that information for herself. “She’s doing much better these days,” she would say, holding back the hurricanes behind her eyelids. There is very little that shifts this numbness I feel, but my dear mother’s cracking voice truly, solemnly, breaks my heart into pieces.
Lauren, my therapist, was a short blonde woman who wore (at least) five scrunchies on her wrist at all times. She had kind eyes and far too many wrinkles for her age. I presumed that listening to the horrendous lives of young, mentally unstable kids aged her prematurely. Lauren would tell me plausible explanations for my actions and how they were reflections of my polarized brain bouncing between deeply depressed and intensely manic. Talking to Lauren made me feel normal, which is ironic considering my weekly appointments are quite the opposite of the plans of my peers. But Lauren listened to my feelings and helped me to decipher what are naturally occurring feelings and what are mental-illness triggered. Most of the sessions I spend talking to Lauren consist of how my medication is treating me or what few specific moments of my day make me happy. Occasionally, she will connect my suppressed emotions to my relationship with my father, which makes me queasy every time she mentions his name. She likes to say that ignoring reoccurring feelings is damaging to my mental health, though I think my brain has far surpassed the ability to mend.
I used to idolize my father. When I was young, he was like a superhero to me. I had a fairly normal life (as far as I was concerned) until I was about seven. Up until that point, my father was my best friend. He would drive my cousin Kelsey and I to elementary school on his motorcycle, which the other children’s parents frowned upon, but we thought it was the best way to ride anywhere. I had my own little black helmet with butterfly stickers, and I would ride on the back with my arms gripping tightly around my father’s waist. There was no man greater than my father; he was tough—like he had lived through things other people hadn’t.
But more than anything my father was imaginative. He would sit Kelsey and I down on the couch and tell us stories about his days living as a pirate, sailing the ocean in search of the greatest treasure to mankind. There would be tales of ghouls and mermaids that had sought after the same prize as him and following that would be the miraculous battles between himself and the supernatural. My father never did find that treasure, he said. But he won a perfect daughter, and that was more than enough for his heart to abandon his days sailing the sea. The funny thing is, I always believed my father. I know, as a child it’s normal to go with whatever delusional stories are being fed to us. But in my eyes, he was a real hero. There was nothing that could bring my dad down from the pedestal that I had built for him.
One early morning I awoke to a slamming door, and with my teddy bear in my arms I ran down the stairs in search of the robber my father was assumedly punishing for breaking into his home. Instead, I found my mother sitting on the cool, tile floor by the front door. Her head was buried between her hands as she sobbed, and I stood still. I had never seen my mother cry like that, and I was too young to understand what it felt like for your chest to break. I ran back up the stairs and into my little sister’s bedroom, where out of her window I could see into the street outside of our home. I saw my father with a backpack larger than him as he secured it tightly on my motorcycle seat, and before I could process anything, his bike roared into the sunrise.
I went back into my room and sat on my bed, waiting for my mother to open my door and feed me the answers I was craving. An entire day passed, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard in my house. When I walked downstairs to investigate, I realized my mother’s door was locked shut, and through the thin wood I could hear—as I would learn—what heartbreak sounded like. I didn’t ask any questions. I suppose I didn’t want to know the answer anyway. I knew what had happened to a certain extent, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why my father would leave my mother, when I thought they were soulmates. I didn’t understand why he would leave me.
When I was thirteen, he came back and pretended everything was normal. He acted as though nothing had changed, and I hadn’t grown up at all. His stories continued, though I realized they had just been lies wrapped in a bow of fairy tales. That’s when I learned my father wasn’t the man he said he was. He returned, and he was different; he had bruises and holes in his arms that I eventually found out were from heroin. His mind was completely altered. My sister and I, as required by law, were forced to see my father every weekend, or he would threaten to sue my mother, who was already financially unstable from their divorce. Often times during our visits we would sit on his couch for hours while Fox News played on the television. We hardly spoke to each other, and eventually my father would fall asleep for the duration of our visits. My sister and I didn’t mind too much though, for when we did leave the house with him—there would almost certainly be a manic episode accommodating us.
One time at Walmart when my father took us shopping for craft supplies there was an incident. As we reached the cashier, my father was displeased with the cost of the materials and took it out on the young man at the register. He jumped over the counter and began beating the man and screaming. People pulled out their phones and began recording the violent outburst. The police arrived and arrested my dad for assault in front of my little sister and I, and we called our mom to pick us up. I was thirteen and ashamed of my blood because it ran the same DNA as his. I knew that a small part of me was connected to him, and it made me feel rotten to my core. From that day forward, I never saw him the same way, and I completely dissociated him from my emotional being. The abuse, the embarrassment, it exhausted me entirely. I knew it was his mental health that had gone downhill, and it is the same diagnosis that was placed on me at sixteen. Every day I am forced to remember that he is in my blood, whether I choose to identify as his daughter or not. I have been ashamed of who I am since I can remember.
During the holidays at family gatherings my father still tries to pretend that everything is normal because the most important thing in his life is his image. He continues to break me apart every day, and it doesn’t faze him as long as he gets a photo of us together looking like any other normal, happy family. He spent all of my money for college on a mansion for just one person, and I’ve found out recently that he’s planning to sell the house and move somewhere smaller. I have so much pent up rage towards him, and at the same time his cause for disaster is the only thing we share other than a last name. My father was the very first man to break me into pieces and leave the mess in my hands, shattered glass and blood. And every morning I look in the mirror and see half of him, and it leaves me nauseous. He is the root of all of my emotional problems.
When he left, I had to remain strong and be there for my sister while my mother went clubbing and drinking to ease her sorrows. I learned how to cook and clean as soon as I was able to, not as a hobby but for survival. I saw therapists to try to cope, but they just told me not to let my feelings get the best of me. I have always been the shoulder to cry on and never been held. And now, now that I do have someone willing to embark on all of this darkness within me, I don’t know how to release myself from the emotional chamber I have locked myself away in. I work, and I study, and I do everything possible to distract myself from the way my life has fallen apart. I am trying to learn how to be open while still holding myself together, though it seems I cannot do both of those things at once. I don’t know how to let myself go. I simply find escapes from my problems as I always have. I’m working on it, I really am. But I spent nearly two decades trying to build my bricks back up securely, and I have somehow forgotten to build a door to let people in. I am a gated community with no passcode. I am a locked cage with no remembrance of where I placed the key. I am lost in this eternal labyrinth of affliction.
I find myself wandering the halls of the labyrinth floors in search of the girl I used to be. The clocks move backwards here, there are no windows or light to be let in when I am this far into the abyss. The vibrant butterflies that decorated my old biker helmet are alive and well down here, and I am following them in the infinite maze within this infinite labyrinth. They lead me to narrow doorframes that I cannot shrink myself enough to fit inside of. I am a blackhole inside of a blackhole inside of a void of a body. I do not see myself in any of the mirrors here; only shattered reflections of a ghost with hollow green eyes. My body is not my body anymore. There is no use in crying for help. Some depths are so deep that sound is nonexistent. There is nothing to talk about anymore, anyways. The only thing to do—is go.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there’s a quote that reads, “There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” I sincerely hope I find that light one day.