Photo by Ellen Swanson
August: Two years ago
Brown sticker-less wall, a clear box of shots on the wall, the familiar pungent smell of hand sanitizer – I’ve come to Dr. Woody’s office ever since I can remember.
She won’t notice the red lines, the scars I know sit beneath the thick layer of Origins concealer on my thigh. It blends right in, I tell myself. Do I sound too nervous? Is my voice shaking? She finally leaves the room. Whew. It’s over.
Woody returns with my mom, the woman I was convinced could never understand that I was locked in a dark room and was fumbling for a way out.
“So Maya, at your age kids can start getting depressed. How many times a week do you cry?”
“Once or twice a week.”
I didn’t tell her about screaming fits I had in my head, pulling at the roots of my hair in frustration for stumbling in an English presentation. She didn’t know that I could no longer order my own food because I was far too self-conscious. I didn’t mention the fact I popped a blood vessel on my knuckle because I punched the wall in an emotional outburst. She didn’t ask. Nobody did.
Boy, this is a bitch of a life.
When you’re hungry, all you know how to do is eat. When I was sad, all I knew to do was hurt. No one blames you for eating when you’re hungry, but oh – do people beat you down for how you hurt.
I didn’t deal with my “sad” in the way I should have. But to be blamed, looked down on, punished by those seeing you hurt… that never filled a hungry person.
That’s something I wish they’d understand.
Somehow, I was still surprised when I was diagnosed with depression.
Shortly after, I started going to therapy. Anything was better than panicking everytime I had to stand in front of a ballet class. Than saving my breakdown for my nightly shower where I know the running water would drown out the crying sounds.
Maybe it would stop the urge I felt to pick at the skin around my nails. To calm me down so my leg wouldn’t bounce uncontrollably. To take away my need to sit on my hands in order to keep my body from fumbling around.
But therapy didn’t fix those things for me – at least not in the way I thought it would.
At my therapy session every two weeks, it was always the same conversation – my therapist would suggest I make new friends but couldn’t understand that it’s physically impossible for me to muster up the courage to talk to someone new.
Therapy was supposed to take the weight off of me. Instead, I left with my head down knowing it was another wasted trip. When was it going to start working?
I’m not sure what I expected when I could never even answer the first question:
“Have you ever tried to hurt yourself or others?”
“No.” I always said no.
I wasn’t ready to admit that to a stranger, let alone myself. My mom teared up at the question but never corrected. My parents – these moral people – were letting me lie. I’m not sure if they were embarrassed or didn’t want to call me out on it.
It was easier to blame my mom because she’s the one who took away my phone and yelled at me when she saw my wrist. It was fair to say I hated her at the time… but in the real scope of things it didn’t matter because I hated everything. But I couldn’t blame my dad.
One night after getting my phone taken away for the second time I was sitting outside loathing the world.
He came out and sat in the chair next to me lifting my legs to lay across his. And he didn’t yell. He never yelled. He asked what was wrong, why I did what I did, and how he could help. He genuinely wanted to know why. He was willing to work with me on getting my phone back. He just sat and listened quietly. But I still never knew what to say.
Over time this all built up. The therapy appointments with no progress and the hurt of knowing how I had caused my generally strong hearted mother to come to tears. This fueled my desire to change.
I threw myself into the things I used to look forward to. I started dusting off books that lined my shelves. I think I lost my love of reading when I lost my love for living. I stopped writing down all of the loneliness I was feeling in that butterfly journal – which ironically are a symbol for self harm survivors – and instead faced them, the problems.
I started ordering my own food when I felt I could. I went out on family excursions and found joy in those. I talked to the people who only cared about me getting better – they gave me a reason to come out of my room.
I found love for making my mom laugh with one of our many inside jokes, “your lap dances were so good dad just haaaddd to wife you up.”
A year earlier my room was a cage keeping me from my parents who I hated. The mom I knew then was some strict, dull, judgmental, unforgiving soul that scared the crap out of me.
I can’t believe I wasted two years of my life not talking to the free-spirited, bubbly, understanding and compassionate woman laughing beside me in the car. I think about that a lot.
Now I see blue walls with toy story stickers I still can’t relate to, the same clear box of discarded needles on the wall, the familiar smell of hand sanitizer—I come here every year.
I shift my weight back and forth on that diaper-like square of paper. I’m much too old to be wiggling around like I am.
I look down at the form and read aloud, “Do you vape?”
I look over at my mom, sitting three arms-lengths away on a chair much lower than I am. ‘Well, Mom, this is awkward… I’m gonna have to ask you to leave…” Laughter fills the small baby-blue room.
This is how it should be. Joking around with my mom while I fill out some silly health form.
But I will always have the permanent reminders of not being able to get out of bed and those pointless therapy sessions along my skin—white tiny scars high enough on my thigh for shorts to cover. And not to mention the almost invisible lines going across my wrist.
At first glance, they blend right into the wrinkles of my skin, but after studying further one can see how precise and sharp the lines are that don’t follow the same path.
My new cheerleader-esque doctor comes in and traces her plump hands over my chart. “It says here you were diagnosed with depression last year.”
“I’m good now! I’m happy!” I say it without hesitation.
No more picking at the skin around my nails. No more uncontrollable bouncing of my leg. No more sitting on my hands to keep my body from fumbling around. No more.
She reminds me these things don’t just go away. “It will most likely come back throughout your life, okay sweetie?”
I know, my therapist has told me it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain. But I’m okay for now. I know what to do.
I didn’t see God, I didn’t talk to some wise old woman, I didn’t read an insightful quote. I got tired. Of being sad. Of feeling worthless. Of tearing up my own body.
I talk to my mom about my favorite books. I send pictures to my dad every time I start a fire on my own, he’s the one who taught me. I go to every art show with them that I can make. I focus on loving sunrises on the way to school, any rainy day I can get, and the sweet gooey lyrics of country songs. Little things.
It made it easier.
It made me better.
Boy, this is a good life.