Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dark Shadows: A Reflection of My Life with Depression


Darkness.

It always started with Darkness.

The darkness would then shift into the haziest of blues. All I can remember is that subdued blue tint, or rather the grayish tones. I remember the dread of my feet touching the cold floor after only a handful of hours of sleep and enough stress to last an entire college career. I remember the frazzled static that when I did bother to decipher turned out to be my friends asking me “what’s wrong,“ or “why the long face,” or “Mark, you’re spaced out. Are you even here?” Rinse, spin, repeat.

I was essentially lost in a myriad conundrum, facing fragmented portions of my life that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Sure there were slivers of happy moments that played like the sporadically placed pins on a music box cylinder, but I’d be lying if I said they outweighed the Darkness. The Darkness always prevailed.

The bleak description you just read above pretty much summed up the first two and a half years of my college career. Instead of trying to survive the dredges of higher education at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, my goal became just trying to make it to the next day without completely giving up on life. The hours blurred into the days, weeks into semesters, and suddenly I found myself in a psych ward after trying to take my life for not the first time, but the fourth. Yes, my depressive state did not start in college, it only escalated. However, once the dark shadows of my psyche peaked, they managed to dissipate almost just as quickly. That doesn’t mean I woke up one morning and decided to not partake in the Blues any longer. It was a gradual process that took counseling, medicine, and support from my loved ones to achieve my current state of being. But before I get to the happy, I must return to the desolation that was my youth.

As a kid I was always the target for someone’s cruel joke of the day. Whether it was me being a nerd, crybaby, or the unholy union of both, I always managed to find myself on the other end of someone’s well-timed jab. I couldn’t laugh at any joke with out someone using me as the punch line. Mix this with the cruel rite of passage known as acne and puberty, and you have yourself a shit storm cocktail of late in life counseling and suppressed rage. That rage eventually turned into morbid thoughts of my funeral, pondering if anyone would attend, and if so, would anyone feel any remorse for me once I was six feet into the earth. This was all before I reached high school, where my sense of being became even more screwed. I wanted an out… and there was only one-way of achieving that.

The first suicide attempt took place during my junior year of high school at a Teen Advisors retreat. I was going to leap off a bridge into a steep ravine, filled with jagged rocks, garbage, and other unmentionables. The only reason I stopped was because my cousin decided to take that same bridge on his way to the campground pool. Divine intervention at its finest. The next few times I tried to commit suicide was through overdosing on pills. A mixed cocktail of what was in the medicine cabinet only led to an extreme high and a violently upset stomach. (I also took a bowl of pills in college, which led to my short-term stay in a psych ward, but I’ll touch on that soon.) My parents had no clue about my quest for hara-kiri and when they found their pills in my pocket, they were more concerned over me doing drugs instead of me removing myself from life’s equation, period. In a sense, that’s sort of the same thing, but they never asked why their son, who was a member of D.A.R.E. and hated the concept of marijuana and cocaine to the point that he dropped friends over it, would all of a sudden take drugs to begin with. It wasn’t that they weren’t concerned; they just didn’t expect any mental behavioral problems coming from their son, because 1) he was black, and 2) black folks didn’t suffer from depression – the standard response when such an issue was brought into a black household. This further shoved me deeper into my personal hell, because it reinforced, in a family setting this time, just how different I was perceived by my loved ones. I wasn’t playing basketball like the other teens/kids on the block so I was not normal. I wasn’t dating like other boys my age so I was an anomaly. 

I was weird.

So this narrow minded perception of peculiarity traveled with me to college, where I was on my own, far away from home, and dying to breathe in a new environment not based on my past. However, I couldn’t shake the Darkness. It got worse when my sexuality was finally realized, it raged when bullying transformed into being used like stale cum rag. Then top it off with a death scare that put a serious dent in my education and college CPA, and you have the recipe for a classic nervous breakdown. This led to me attempting to take my life for one last time, and I ended up in a psychiatric ward for three days after my counselor caught wind of my lapse of judgment.

One would think this was the lowest point of my life, and they wouldn’t be alone, because I felt the same way at the time. However, I learned about a year later just how wrong I was when I was kicked out of school for academic probation with a slim chance in hell of ever getting back in. This particular moment was what jarred me into taking action and fighting all forms of oppression within my life. Why? Because the thought of never getting back into school and remaining stuck in my hometown forever terrified me. It petrified every skin cell on my person, and I had to do something instead of playing the doormat and letting life screw me royally in every turn. Being kicked out of school also magnified those slivers of light into IMAX sized screens of positive perspective, showcasing all the true friends and moments of pure happiness that I had let the darkness usurp into its misleading void. I also made the “weird” label my own. If someone described me as such, I took it with a smile and asked for another. This either shut them up and sent them on their way, or respected me for my individuality. Either way I didn’t care, just as long as I was happy at the end of the day. 

In the end, I had to fight for my happiness. First from within and then later it became an outward battle, which continues today. If you met me and somehow came across the person I used to be about nine years ago, then you would see the drastic change of self that has occurred. I’m proud of where I am today in terms of my attitude and personality. I’ve seen some pretty dark times and the fact that I’m still here stronger than ever continues to amaze me. It also tells me that with a proper foundation that starts with you wanting to battle the grayish tones, the frazzled static, and the subdued blues. You just have to want it. You might not realize it, but you’re not only fighting for yourself, but you’re fighting for others who might not have entered your life yet. They might even be in your life already, but from afar. You matter. Despite what that void in your heart and soul is telling you at the moment, you matter. In some capacity of this warped thing we call life, you serve a purpose that will affect someone in a profound way. Don’t give up before the true battle has even started.

Seek the help you need and build a support team of loved ones to back you up. Mine came around once they saw the state I was in after I left the psychiatric ward. If your friends are your family, that will work too. But most importantly, seek professional help to guide you in your journey. That is the most imperative act to take and should priority number one.

It’s been one hell of a journey for me, but by God I am here and I’m ready for the next battle headed my way. What started as “darkness’ has melted away into a beautiful arrangement of sunny happiness, and it is truly glorious.

Light comes out of black…





MARK O. ESTES
Male Media Mind