Content warning: Mentions of suicide, depression and drug use follow.
I have a small tattoo on my right wrist. People usually don’t notice it — or, if they do, they think it is a birth mark. It is actually a semi-colon. This semi-colon represents the times in my life that I have considered killing myself or putting a period on my life sentence but have instead chosen to continue the story (as a semi-colon continues a sentence).
My official diagnosis is Major Depressive Disorder, and I have been in therapy and taking prescription psychiatric medication for nearly 20 years. The medication and therapy help, but I still struggle with depression every day. I have a great life and I know it, but sometimes my brain will not let me feel it. There are good days, weeks and months, but I know there are bad days, weeks and months to come. On bad days, I am exhausted. I feel like I am simultaneously being sucked into quicksand while also pushing a boulder up a mountain. I am the coyote who has run off the cliff and keeps spinning her legs as long as she can before falling. I am the coyote at the bottom of the cliff, battered and exhausted. I am the worst.
Since beginning treatment at 13, I’ve been suicidal on five occasions: one at 13, one in college, two in graduate school and one since moving to San Antonio. Each time, the trigger was different: I felt alone; I was overwhelmed with work; I watched a movie that resonated with my experience; a friend overdosed on pills; I switched medications. Each time the feeling is the same. I am alone. There is no point. I can’t feel anything or care about anyone. This was a dark place to be at 13, and it is still a very dark place at 33. But, at 33, I am still here.
I read somewhere that the biggest and hardest decision that someone who struggles with depression makes every day is the decision to keep living. This resonates with me. Each morning, I decide to keep living. I decide to keep working at a job that I love, to keep engaging with wonderful friends and family, to keep taking care of my adorable pup. These things have saved my life. On days when the decision to keep living is particularly hard, I rub the small semi-colon on my right wrist to remind myself that that although I might think about putting an end to the sentence of my life, I choose to continue the story; I keep the sentence going.
Over time, I have learned to manage my depression (to the degree that is possible) and to be compassionate toward myself and my misfiring neurons. There are days when I wake up and I just cannot face the world outside my apartment. On those days, I think about my students and usually drag myself out of bed and in to work … or I cancel class. But usually, I go to work. I try to forgive myself for needing to spend a day watching the Great British Baking Show or for my imperfect lesson plans. I reach out to friends and family who are familiar with my diagnosis and the ways in which my depression manifests. I ask for support, whether it is coming to sit on my couch with me or taking the pain killers from an old surgery out of my apartment. I also find friends who will offer support even when I don’t ask and who will check in on me if I start to cocoon or spiral. I share my struggles and I celebrate small victories and moments of joy. I take time for myself and I do not apologize for a disease over which I have minimal control. I find people, places and things that I love, and I love them unreservedly; I keep the sentence, my story, going. So can you.
When I’m in need of some uplifting, I turn to Allie Brosh, the author behind Hyperbole and a Half, an online collection of comics mixing playful anecdotes with honest descriptions of the author’s own experience with depression. But for more concrete resources, I recommend exploring Project Semicolon, an organization that dedicates itself to raising awareness and educating about suicide prevention. If you are experiencing depression, know that you are not alone. You can always turn to Trinity’s resources, the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or to a mental health professional. Finally, it would never hurt to simply ask a professional on our very own campus. You can always turn to Trinity’s resources for help in any situation.