To write this piece I inevitably have to go back some years and take a look at my former self. It’s like talking about a completely different person. You know when you get together with friends, have a few drinks, and reminisce on what you did and what you were like in high school? Well my story . . . my story generally blows most people's out of the water. Now, I know there are many who have more dramatic tales than mine. The stuff that happens in some people’s lives no Hollywood screen writer could ever make up. However, what I think makes mine a good one is that I came out a well-adjusted, fully-functioning, professional member of society. It could easily have gone another way. I first started thinking about suicide when I was 10 or 11. It blows my mind to write that sentence. I come from a large loving family; I wasn’t abused by my parents; nothing extraordinarily tragic happened to me; nor was there a single event that precipitated my depression. But just like some people don’t produce enough insulin and have diabetes, I have an irregulation with serotonin and suffer from depression. And it happened when I was very young.
My depression took me and my family on quite the journey of drugs, in-patient psych wards, and reckless behavior. Most nights were a real struggle not to harm myself. And of all those countless nights where I stayed up crying and wishing it would end, there were only 3 times in the span of 7 years where I gave up on all the things that usually held me back and said “Fuck it. No more.” And each time I was always saved. I recall years later my psychologist telling me that out of all the patients he’d seen throughout the years, he thought I would be one of the few to actually kill myself.
It was a struggle to keep it together. At one point, for a brief span, I was going to individual drug therapy, group drug therapy, family drug therapy, NA meetings, and seeing my individual psychologist…every week. To say the least my dance card was booked! However, counseling, the right medication, and a large helping of my parent’s unequivocal devotion to keeping my butt on this earth were huge factors of me being here today.
But there was something else.
My middle sister by 4 years had done a program while in high school where she volunteered as a health educator for the summer in South America. She did it a few times and eventually had a significant role in leadership. By the time I was old enough to consider it my parents were well familiar with the organization. Also, at that stage I had made progress with my emotional stability and general behavior, so more trust was established.
So when I was 17 for 2 months myself and another girl worked in a remote village of 800 Zapoteca Indians in Southern Mexico. Our project was to do health education and build latrines. I worked long hours doing manual labor in a skirt. I ate beans, rice, and hot coffee with virtually every meal. I slept on a cot in the post office because the families were too poor to take on two more people in any individual home. I had immersed myself in a completely different language, culture, and comfort zone, and I thrived on it.
I can remember the exact moment when I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Dusk was approaching and I sat on the hard packed mud ruins of stairs leading down to the remains of what used to be someone’s adobe home. As I sat there watching rain clouds gather over the mountain valley, I knew I would never try to take my life again. My struggle with depression hadn’t ended but I would never again have a hand in my own demise.
(To be continued...)
[image by Jenny Huang via flickr]