The Dream That Woke Me Up
! TW: Depression, Suicide !
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with life. When I was little, I didn’t think I deserved it. I was convinced that I was a burden and believed that my inability to be perfect meant that my birth was a mistake, some cruel joke by whatever force sent me down to earth. When I got older, I didn’t want it. Life was hard and it hurt, when I could feel anything at all. I couldn’t trace this feeling back to anything, which almost made it worse. I felt guilty for being ungrateful for the life that I was given. I couldn’t figure out why spoiled little me, with a comfortable home and lively family, just couldn’t be content (turns out that’s kind of how untreated mental illness works).
It started when my “friend” dumped me freshman year of high school. It was a very toxic relationship, to say the least, based almost solely on our mutual depression. She often referred to me as her personal therapist and made sure I knew that I was the only person stopping her from killing herself. I had lost all sense of control and self-esteem, and when I was finally so emotionally spent to the point of losing my motivation to speak, she told me she wanted time apart so I could get over whatever “funk” I was in because it was really bringing her down— that I wasn’t supporting her like I should have been, and we could be friends again when I got over myself.
I was free. Well, honestly, I was really angry at first, but once the initial shock lifted, I felt lighter than I had in months. I decided to look at this break-up as a chance to start surrounding myself with healthier, more positive people. I started hanging out with my other friends in marching band and even joined the winter drumline as a synth player. I unfollowed all the Tumblr and Instagram accounts dedicated to depression and spent hours surfing hashtags along the lines of #happiness #positivity #selflove and #feminism. I followed every account I could find that was even remotely related to these topics, trying to flush out all the negativity I had surrounded myself with for the past couple years. I was having fun with my drumline friends and making an effort to participate in life more.
The only problem was, I never addressed the common issue that had brought us together as friends in the first place: depression. Eventually, winter drumline ended, freshman year ended, my senior friends graduated, and I had to start all over once I entered my sophomore year of high school. I made new friends in my theatre class, who I loved and cherished dearly, but I could never reach out to them and talk about the empty weight in my chest that never seemed to lift. Even though I was no longer surrounding myself with depression-related content or hanging out with people who wore mental illness as part of their identity, I still lacked the resolution it took to be “happy.” I was still thinking in terms of “while I’m here” instead of making any real long-term commitment to bettering my mental wellbeing.
Eventually, I got tired of feeling like this. I got tired of walking down the halls of school, wondering if I would even be there tomorrow. I got tired of skipping school to lay in bed and watch TV all day, telling my mom that I was sick because I couldn’t muster up the energy to leave the house. I was unlearning the romanticism of depression that populated Tumblr at the time.
The truth was, I did want to live. I just didn’t want to keep feeling that suffocating emptiness where I knew my heart should be.
While this was something I knew in my head, it wasn’t a truth that I could fully feel with my heart yet. My depression had become a safety blanket and I was Linus, too afraid of facing the world without my closest companion.
Then I had a dream.
All the people I loved and who loved me were gathered together on a field. At the field’s edge was a sort of diving board, below which was nothing but emptiness. As we stood around, some force explained to us that one of us had to die so that the rest could live. I knew it had to be me. After all, I’d spent so long wishing away this life, it only made sense that I would be the one to go. When I volunteered, I was met with only half-hearted objections, as if everyone knew deep down that I was the best choice, that I was finally getting what I had always wanted.
As I sat on the edge of the diving board, preparing myself to finally let go, I saw the reactions of my loved ones as they waited for me to take the plunge. My mom was so heartbroken she couldn’t even approach me. I watched her cry from a distance, unable to say goodbye but unable to leave me either. My sister said only a few words to me before she retreated to stand with my mom in silence. My best friend sat by me for a little while, trying to reassure me that she’d be okay, but I could hear the tremor in her voice and see the shaking of her hands. My uncle sat with me the longest, asking me questions about why I wanted to go, and sometimes just letting the silence run.
Eventually, he left and I was all alone, sitting on the edge of that diving board with my feet dangling over the void. And I realized, I don’t want to die.
For the first time in my life, I could feel that truth all the way to my core. Even if life was hard, even if it hurt to wake up some mornings, I didn’t want to leave everyone behind. I didn’t want to be alone.
When I woke up, there were tears running down my cheeks. I had done it. I could feel the hole in my chest closing, just a little, and I knew I was ready to let go of my safety blanket. All the work I had done up until that point had finally paid off as my soul caught up to my mind.
I went downstairs and ate breakfast with my family that morning. Pancakes had never tasted so sweet.
Life After the Decision
Once I made the decision to live, it was so much easier for me to continue on my self-love journey. I was here to stay, and I’d be damned if I lived the rest of my life in the mindless haze I had clung to for so long. I decided to go vegetarian for a while, and the healthier shift in my diet created an even healthier shift in my mood. I felt alert and had a huge increase in my energy level throughout the day. Times I had previously spent in bed turned to dance sessions in the kitchen as I experimented with new recipes. During my senior year of high school, I made a pact with myself to say yes to every plan I could to make up for all the missed experiences of my youth. I was constantly busy, but I made more memories that year than I had in my entire life.
I can’t say it’s been all sunshine and rainbows since then. Deciding to live gave me the opportunity to grow, but it didn’t cure my depression overnight. There are still days where my chest hurts from that unexplainable emptiness and all I can do is lay on the ground and hold myself. I will have weeks where the only times I get out of bed are for work and to feed my cats. Sometimes I pick up my safety blanket for a little while to revisit that old comfort, but I always know I will put it down again.
As I write this, my cat is sleeping pressed up against my leg while I watch the kitten play with her favorite string-toy. I know when I wake up tomorrow I will head to a job where my boss always makes sure I am fed, and to coworkers who I call my family. I have a friend and a mom who will drive across town to help clean my home during moments when I get so overwhelmed that I forget to take care of myself. I have a sister who sends me frog memes and puts up with my horrible singing voice and a dad who is always down to beat me at Mario Kart.
My life is beautiful and rich with love and experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Life can be hard and sometimes it seems easier to just give up, but doing so robs you of the chance to build something better. I was the only one who could make me want to live, who could decide to take control of my life and of my growth. It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so happy that I had the courage to set down my safety blanket and I’m so thankful for the dream that woke me up.
If you are struggling with the things I talked about in this post, please reach out to a trusted source, whether that’s a friend, family member, mental health professional, or even us here at the LYF. Everyone deserves the chance to live and grow their own happiness no matter how difficult that may seem at the moment. Know that you are loved and you are needed.
About the Author
Currently a student at UNLV, Perri is pursuing her bachelor’s in English while working as a content writing intern for the Love Yourself Foundation. She spends most of her time writing, crocheting, sewing, and playing with her two cats. After graduation, Perri hopes to expand her freelancing business for writing and editing while she travels around the country.