This is a story about choice—a choice I make, sometimes daily, to take control of how I see the world. It took me a long time to realize I had, well, the choice to do this. And I’m so grateful that I did.
A few years ago, a friend of mine showed me, with glee, an Amazon.com product page for a badly translated book entitled “How To Goodbye Depression If You Constrict Anus 100 Times A Day: Malarky or Effective Method?” We laughed at this, and it became an inside joke. Rightly so, because, um…what does that even mean?
The thing is, depression and mental illness affect all of us. Everyone knows someone, if not themselves, who has been touched by depression. It’s real. It’s scary. It’s debilitating. But you can change it. I did. I’m here to tell you about my journey from darkness to light. It’s a mixture of really hard work and really good luck.
To start with, I was bullied, really badly, for any number of reasons. It was old-fashioned school terrorizing. I can’t tell you how often I’ve thanked my local gods that I went through my crucibles before the advent of Facebook. Tell ya what, if my schoolmates could have reached me at home? My story could have ended a lot differently. But suffice it to say, I was miserable and suicidal before I was 11 years old. I knew darker times than I’d ever hope any kid should know. I was a ridiculously easy target and made everything harder on myself. I take a lot of ownership of my misery. The kids were awful, some of the teachers no better, but I could have done a lot to minimize the torture.
So, first comes luck. When I was 17 years old I got the opportunity to move. I got to leave. I got to relocate all the way from Florida to Ohio. I got to start over and become whomever I wanted to be. Scary as it was to start a new school my senior year, it was the best thing ever to happen to me. Kids are primal. Kids are atavistic. And once the schoolyard lions have identified you as a slow, wounded gazelle that first day of first grade, it’s game over unless you change it. I never had the tools. But I got the chance to join a new social savannah. And it was great. I made friends. One I made that first day of senior year I’m still very close with. All these kids? They didn’t care where I’d come from or what I’d been through. They just thought I might be worth knowing. That was so different and so wonderful.
But I still wasn’t “better.” And that frustrated me to no end. I thought moving would be this magical panacea, and in some ways it was. Yet, I would go home and feel this howling wilderness inside my soul. I’d cry myself to sleep. Finally, it was too much. I knew I had to get better. And I knew no one and nothing could make me better but me.
Therapy is great, but I lied to all my therapists because I didn’t want to talk to them. I believed there was no way anyone could really understand me. A friend of mine tells me I suffer from “terminal uniqueness,” that is, assuming my pain and struggle are so apart from everyone else’s—which is probably not true. So therapy hadn’t worked for me, and I knew I had to “fix” myself myself.
The following might sound overly simplistic, and I am not necessarily advocating it as a path for anyone else to take. But I looked at myself in a mirror—literally. I stared at my reflection and said, “NO ONE CARES. GET OVER YOURSELF. GROW UP. FIX THIS.” And I said that to myself over and over and over again. I decided no one would have any patience for my issues, for my baggage. No one would want to deal with me. If I wanted to keep all of these new friends, for by now I was in college meeting some of the greatest people in my life, I was gonna have to be happy. I chose happiness. I made conscious and deliberate choices. When I felt myself take a negative view on something, I spoke out loud to myself about the bright side. I made myself see it differently.
And I still make these choices every day. When I’m upset about something I talk to myself until I feel better. My car and I have no secrets, since that’s where I do most of my self-talk. I look at it the way I think addicts must look at their recovery: There’s no “cured.” There’s no “all better.” There’s just every day. And every day you will have choices to make. In the case of the alcoholic, you have to choose over and over and over again not to take that drink. In my case, I have to choose to see things brightly. I have to choose not to let the monsters have power. They’re always there. I can feel them just behind my eyes, but I know how to keep them locked up. I know what to do when I feel them begin to slip free.
Because it happens, you know? I fall off the happiness wagon every once in awhile. Couple years back I got fired for the first time. From a job I’d had for seven years. I was terrified and broke and it was July and I didn’t have air conditioning and everything was horrible. I went from being understandably upset to beginning to slide down a really steep hill.
One night I knocked over a vase, and I sat on the floor looking at the glass shards, and I was so scared because the shards looked sharp and beautiful and so easy. Then I was scared because I could feel myself going someplace darker than I’d been in such a long time. So I called a friend. And I told him about the glass. He—he who also knows darkness, probably darker than mine—told me to sweep them up. So I did. I did, and I got off the phone, went into the bathroom, and talked to the mirror again. Then I went to bed. The next morning, the sun was shining and nothing terrible had happened. And I started over.
I want to reiterate: My “method,” if you can call it that, might not work for everyone. I think had I been honest with myself and my therapists when I was younger, I probably would have been a lot healthier, a lot sooner. But that was not to be my journey. This was my journey. This was my path.
I choose happiness every day. I choose the path less sad. And that has made all the difference.