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The infinite sadness of girl, 17
Until recently, I felt as if I was somewhat qualified to diagnose or classify teenage depression. In the very least I must have been able to, to some extent understand and feel the weight and density of the situation. Ever since I was thirteen, a legitimate teenager, I thought that surely I had undergone a profound change, mentally and emotionally. I would now understand the bleak absurdity of existence. I would have heightened receptors that would enable me to be emotionally superior to persons under the age of twelve and over the age of twenty-five. I felt like I was self-aware and aware of everything around me.
We teenagers must feel as if we are doomed into a clichéd and unextraordinary existence. Adults don’t â€˜understand’, but this is precisely because we have no desire for them do. In fact, we’d rather they didn’t. This gives us some leeway. We simply believe that our age is premises for our awkward depression. However, adults are not blind to this, and though our accelerated culture has played some role (the importance of which is vague at best) in the collected cynicism and pessimism of our minds, maybe we are just too negative.
Our parents have realised that we are not all in unknown emotional depths of turmoil; we are just a bit whiny. Thus, we get no special attention. Instead, there is a lot of bad feeling towards the younger generation for today, from ourselves. We are all self-proclaimed self-important drama queens, and they know it. Of course we resent our elders for figuring this out. Enough with the scoffing at the efforts of mothers and fathers trying to â€˜connect’, they’ve done it. They’ve deciphered us. We are not as complicated as we thought.
It almost seems that our lack of sophistication, or â€˜adult problems’ renders us impotent. Somehow we are not fulfilling our social requirements as troubled and jaded teenagers. It sounds laughable, but can our secret (or not so secret) jealously of the exclusive group of teens that actually have â€˜real’ problems be projected as skepticism? If not us, then why them? I’m â€˜of age’ too, what are they so uptight or moody about? However, one can never really grasp a mental illness such as severe depression unless it is through a perspective that is in some way personal (i.e. through yourself or someone close to you). Otherwise, it just seems exaggerated, self-indulgent and unlikely.
It turns out that my insight is biased and that my understanding is limited, not to mention flawed. Simply being â€˜at that age’ of default conscious conflict and confusion is no ground for default understanding. We can try to relate, but can we really comprehend? Everyday life is difficult and tiresome, but it should in no way, unless paired with some other weight prompt a response as dramatic as depression. There is always something else, and sometimes we forget that. Maybe it is because that â€˜something’ is rarely definable and always different for each person. Never the less, there is more to depression than the very act of being an extra sensitive teenager.
Teens who genuinely suffer from serious depression have it doubly hard. Not only do they face a long struggle that is both mentally and physically exhausting for themselves and their loved ones, but they also face us. We taunt them and we shake our heads. The social stigma attached with depression in the â€˜hipper than thou’ teenage collective conscious is damaging and depressing in itself. We laugh at when we should be laughing with. Instead of believing and embracing, we are ignoring. Until we truly feel the weight of depression from a personal perspective, we have no right to undermine the teenagers going through this period of their life. We can only hope to realise the true extent of the impact it has had on their lives and offer empathy rather than sympathy.
My good friend in England has helped me to understand that depression isn’t just â€˜a state of mind’, it is more of a seemingly unchangeable mindset, and it consumes whole lives. She has been very discrete about her battle with depression, and I was not aware of it for almost a year until she told me recently. The reason? She didn’t want me to 'feel sorry' for her, and most importantly, she wanted â€˜a normal friend to talk to about school and exams and everything else that teenagers complain about’.
Rachell: Do you antidepressants?
Friend: Citalopram. My doctor made me get off it after I attempted suicide though and I was too scared to go back to him for an alternative antidepressant. Citalopram is never given to under 18’s. I was 15.
Rachell: Do think it actually made it worse? Or was it just not working for you?
Friend: I attempted suicide around three months later.
Rachell: If you were only 15, did the doctor feel as if the depression was quite severe?
Yeah it was really bad back then. I did absolutely nothing but just cut myself all day. The only person I talked to was my deputy head teacher.
Rachell: It must have been pretty bad, living with depression at such a young age and with the social stigma around it. Was it hard for you because you felt people did not respect your condition?
Yeah, when the doctor saw a few of my scars, that I'd made he just got all shocked and actually told me he'd never seen anyone in his entire career cut that bad. You don't care about what everyone else around you think about it. Your pain is just so intense it's the only thing you can focus on. I wish I could worry about other people instead; it would have been such a relief.
Rachell: Did you ever get angry or frustrated because you couldn't?
That I couldn't distract myself from the pain and I always lived in it? Yeah, it made it all worse. I cut to get rid of it. I just had to cut so badly. Never really felt it. I had to hack bits of skin out of my body before I could think of having physical pain as a distraction.
Rachell: The cutting sounds really intense, was it like an instinct, like something you had to do, or did you do it on purpose?
Both. I needed to do it because I had to get the pain away. And I cut myself so it was deliberate. I did it for other reasons.
Rachell: So it was a distraction? Did you ever worry what you were doing to your body?
No I never worried. Yeah it was a distraction. It was also a punishment for me.
Rachell: Why did you need to punish yourself? Because I have always thought that if I was that angry or that miserable, I would have turned on other people.
Because when I was younger I was raped and molested. And I let them do it to me. So I punish myself for it. I was angry because my dad was dead, because of what had happened to me, because mum is so horrible. I was angry with my mum for being a cow, but no one else. I didn't have the energy to really bother with anyone.
I remember the day before I tried to kill myself. I was lying on the sofa, I couldn’t move. And I was just staring, my eyes were filling up. My mum came in and she was shocked to see me there, she'd never seen me out of my room for ages. I'm still always in my room. I looked at her after she’d been there for ages.
And said "I'm really sad."
She said "Why?"
Over and over but I never told her.
And she was like "What shall I buy you to make you happy?"
I never said anything after that one statement though.
Rachell: I guess you felt as if she wasn't taking this seriously. Like she still thought you were a kid and that it was nothing serious? It seems as if that one statement made you really give up.
No, I gave up on her years ago. I don't know why I told her I was sad. I never spoke to people. I was just so desperately upset. I didn't think about it really.
Rachell: Did you ever feel like you had a chance to change, on that day?
No. I didn't. I hate my life. At least then I never cared about it. I was comfortably uncomfortable if you get me? There was some kind of comfort in the consistency of it. I knew what to expect and could deal with it. I can't deal with the shit I go through now. And I feel more alone now. It's like that was all a security blanket and I was totally blanked off from the world. I miss not being affected by anyone but myself. I was my worst enemy. No one could hurt me, not even a fraction of how much I hurt myself. They still can't.
Rachell: Does that make it feel more like a personal battle? Fighting with yourself, do you get sick of people trying to help you or poking in your business?
Right now I'm just really angry with myself. For getting like this. I so badly want to be like I was before instead of this. I never felt pain like this before. It was easier, more manageable before. No one pokes in to help me. They all ignore me. Apart from one friend who lives in Canada. Everyone else hates listening to me about anything and no one does.
Rachell: So, even if you have become somewhat used this you want out?
I want out. But I'm too scared to get out. And don't feel like I have the right support to get out. You know my teacher I used to talk to? In September she just said to me she wasn't going to talk to me anymore. I used to spend half an hour with her before school. My 15-minute break with her, my 40-minute lunch with her, and my 20-minute prayer time with her. And then we would usually talk for an hour everyday, she'd give me permission to leave lessons. That went on for about seven months. Then there were holidays in between and she just said we couldn’t talk.
Rachell: Are you angry with her for that? Do you think she 'gave up'?
And it hurt me so much. I think she got fed up with me. I cut my arm that night. I cut loads. But then I wanted to make a distinct mark for what I'd been through. Usually when I cut it's every bit of blank skin available, going over every single cut there. I'm just really hurt; I miss her and want her back.
Rachell: Have you told her this? It sounds like you and her really made a connection.
How I miss her? I really want to. It just all hurts too much. I don't want to tell her to have her to tell me to basically get lost again.
Rachell: Oh, did she ever tell you why you couldn’t talk anymore?
Friend: She just said "We're not doing this anymore." It hurt me so bad. Seriously. It wasn't only that. She used to talk to me too, about anything in her life. I learnt a fair bit about her. She was like a real friend and I'd told her more than I'd told any friend, minus the one who lives in Canada. It was like she just broke that bond. It still hurts. Today she walked past and asked, "You okay?” But before I could answer she'd walked off already. And I wanted to say something like "Don't ask me if you're not even going to wait for the answer. You clearly don't want to hear it." I didn't have the heart to say anything. She used to care about me so much. I'd give a limb for her to be my friend again.
Rachell: I see. But what can you do? So, tell me about your friend in Canada. Is it a guy?
(laughs) No, she's a girl.
Rachell: (laughs) Is she more your age?
Rachell: Is that better than an older person, do you think? Or is it harder because she is a teenager?
Friend: It's nothing to do with the age. She’s so mature. She's not like a teenager, she's really wise.
Rachell: The hardest thing for me to understand is why, teenagers in particular, have depression, but I realise a lot has happened in the past for you and that you've not had a lot of continual support. The thing is, teenagers these days almost undermine depression, using it as an excuse for themselves. Socially, depression is constantly being interpreted in ways that aren’t wholly real. 'Go cheer up emo kid’. Do you ever feel like that’s a reason for the lack of support/understanding?
I think that's why she's kind of stopped talking to me even? I think she might have seen it as phase now. But she stayed with me for nine months through it. And she saw me at my lowest. She said she'd literally pick me up if I didn't get up off the floor when I once tried to kill myself. And I told her I'd like to see her try so she was trying to unhinge the door to the toilet. And once she told me she was in bed the night before, bathes, new pjs, and warm bed. But when she got in she remembered me and what I must be doing while she was all happy and it almost made her cry. She got out of bed and had tea and just thought about me. She said if I died she'd give up her job because she couldn't save me. She's said all this stuff.
Rachell: But people get tired, don’t they?
Yes, they do. Which is why I think she just got fed up. But then… there are other people who are on a child protection register. And there's one girl. It feels like she replaced me now. And it hurts a lot. Because my head teacher is always talking to her and stuff, like she did with me. I hate it. I'm on a child protection register because of my past.
Rachell: It seems like sometimes people really want to help but they just can’t keep up.
Yes. I thought that. But then I got angry that she moved on to someone else and just replaced me. If she couldn't do it why is she straining herself to do it? Oh yeah. Why are you so curious?
Rachell: Because I feel like I never really do get to touch on 'the real thing' and it feels so fake and stupid guessing all the time. Have you ever just really wanted another perspective?
Yeah, I understand what you're saying. I wouldn't wish depression on my worst enemy though.
Rachell: I know.
So I hope no one does have to touch the real thing, but many do unfortunately. I'd wish it on the person who raped me. So he knew pain. And my cousin who molested me. That's malicious. But they destroyed me and stole parts of my mind and life.