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To Feel Awake When My Eyes Are Open

TW: Mentions of depression and suicidal ideation



Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?


Little interest or pleasure in doing things

Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless

Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much

Feeling tired or having little energy

Poor appetite or overeating

Feeling bad about yourself - or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down

Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television

Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed. Or the opposite - being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual

Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way


If you checked off any problems, how difficult have those problems made it for you to do your work, take care of things at home, or get along with other people?


I can’t count how many times I’ve come across this bad boy. I never seem to get a good score. Even so, I take the time to fill it out. A few minutes later, the nurse calls me. She takes the usual vitals, then leads me to a separate room. There, she asks me a couple of questions regarding my physical health, then touches upon the results of the survey with an odd kind of sensitivity, as if she’s walking on eggshells. She seems concerned. They always do.


After a moment, she steps outside, then returns with a thick packet. At the top of the front page, in bold words, reads “Behavioral Health Clinic Intake Form.”


My mind sinks into a dull resignation. I’m getting referred again.


“Depression is cyclical.” At least, that’s what my therapists and psychiatrists always tell me. It’s supposed to be like a roller coaster, but it feels more like a snake eating its own tail. Not up and down, but round and round. A circle has no beginning. What they don’t tell you is that it also has no end.


How many times have I found myself in this exact same spot? Thinking to myself, I thought I was getting better, so why am I like this again? Fast forward. Rewind. Why am I like this again? Fast forward. Rewind. Why am I like this again? Fast forward. Rewind.


When the doctor comes in, the first thing out of her mouth is: “So it says here you’re super depressed. What’s going on, mama?”


“I don’t know.” I’m a non-playable character with a default dialogue. The words sound almost rehearsed. Mindless, even. Then I add, “I’ve kinda just… always been like this.”


It’s a half-truth. I was never a troubled kid. I remember being a child and feeling the wind like it was supposed to feel—sometimes zephyr, something squall, either a caressing warmth or a biting cold. These days, it just feels numb.


When did it start? Was there ever a definite beginning? Was it headfirst, like jumping into the deep end of the pool? Or was it gradual, like bleeding out?


I remember being seventeen and hearing,


“I think you should go see the counselor.”


“It’s to the point where I need to know what you’re doing all the time.”


“We’re going to have to call your parents.”


“Look at her! She’s depressed!”


“Why would you do that? Don’t you know that we love you?”


Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?


My memories from those days are like scar tissue. Some of them are faded lines, some of them are blackened scabs. They knit themselves together at their own pace, some fast, some slow. Sometimes they reopen. Sometimes they bleed. Fast forward. Rewind.


I remember being seventeen and asking myself, What do you want?


I remember being seventeen and answering, To feel okay.


Not to be okay. Not to feel better. Not even to be happy. To ask for more was to ask for too much. I knew better than to set myself up for disappointment.


Maybe I was comfortable, too. Sit with blood in your mouth for too long and you learn to love the taste. Or however the quote goes. Lie down for a little longer. There’s no need to get up. (You’d just fall down anyway.)


The doctor prescribes some medication and sets up an appointment with the psychiatrist. She tells me to take care of myself, then sees me out. A few weeks later, I’m back in the waiting room, staring at an echo.


Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?


I can’t count how many times I’ve come across this bad boy. I never seem to get a good score. Even so, I take the time to fill it out. A few minutes later, the nurse calls me. She takes the usual vitals, then leads me to a separate room. There, the psychiatrist asks me a couple of questions regarding my mental health, then touches upon the results of the survey.


She doesn’t seem concerned. She seems… irritated, in a way.


We talk about my job. I’m working as a substitute teacher for private and public charter schools. It’s admittedly a source of stress for me. I’ve never liked kids. They’re all too bothersome. I don’t have the energy to keep up with the elementary kids, or the patience to tolerate the middle school kids. I can handle the high school kids—they’re self-sufficient, but not having much to do for eight hours straight gets boring.


“Why don’t you like your job?”


“It’s not what I want to be doing.”


“Then why are you working there?”


“Because I need money.”


The psychiatrist scoffs like it’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard. “What’s the point of all that if you’re unhappy?”


I don’t respond right away, because it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. She’s working in the medical field, most likely making six digits annually, with years of experience under her belt. Meanwhile, I’m an English graduate trying to make a career in a field that’s slowly being taken over by artificial intelligence. Quit my job? Find a new one? I’d been searching for a job since January. I finally got this gig as a substitute teacher in September. Even if it’s not what I want to be doing, it’s what I need to be doing. Having some money is better than having no money at all.


I don’t say any of this. I nod my head like a pigeon and keep the conversation moving.


At one point, she asks me, “What do you want to be doing?”


“I want to write. I want to edit.”


“Then look for a job where you can do that.”


What do you think I’ve been doing?


I’m disappointed. When I leave the clinic, I take a mental note to call a different clinic, then get in my car and pull up directions to a ramen place.


She wasn’t the most helpful, but I let her words stew like the noodles in my ramen bowl. What’s the point? Money. What’s the point? Food, clothes, shelter. What’s the point? To survive. What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point?


What’s the point of all that if you’re unhappy? What’s the point of all that if you want to die?


Fast forward. Rewind.


What do you want?


I want the Japanese sweet potato brûlée. I order it for dessert. It’s sweet. Feeling satisfied, I head home. Somehow, it’s easier to breathe.


What do you want?


I don’t want to miss out on these little things. Trying new foods. Seeing new places. I don’t have any grand purpose in life. When I was younger, I told myself that I would die once I was bored with life. When there was nothing else to do, nothing else to see. That isn’t the case right now.


What do you want?


I want to see the upcoming Percy Jackson show. I want to see Luffy become Pirate King. I want to read more books. I want to edit books. I want to finish writing my book. I want to move out and live on my own. I want to decorate my own space, my own apartment. I want to get a Samoyed and name him Riceball.


But I can’t do the things that I want without doing the things that I need. Fast forward. Rewind. Rewind. Rewind.


I remember being seventeen and reading, “What do you want, Adam?”


To feel awake when my eyes are open.”

(The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater)


What do you want?


“Depression is cyclical.” So break the cycle. Do something different. Do something that makes living worthwhile.


A bit later, I type up a message:


Hi Monica! I’m interested in returning to the LYF…

Epilogue


Rewind.


I left LYF in November of last year. My mental state at the time was deteriorating at a pace I could no longer cope with, and something had to give. Luckily, Monica was understanding when I brought up the issue. I wasn’t able to bring out my best that semester, and I do feel sad for the things I had to leave behind. But I needed to take that time for myself, and so I stepped down.


I graduated the following semester. I thought I’d finally be able to get back on track, but I only continued to fall further and further behind. I applied for jobs. I failed interviews. I thought I would never make something of myself, and I fell back into that rut. My end goal of becoming a book editor felt so far away. I didn’t know what to do.


We always ask ourselves, What do you want? We never ask, What can you do?


Fast forward.


I cannot say I’ve completely recovered from that rut, but I have started taking steps to pull myself out of it. The first step was returning to LYF. Since then, I’ve gotten back into the things I want to do, and it’s helped ease my mind immensely. Even though it’s the first step, it’s given me the courage to take another, and another, until I finally reach that last step.


That last step isn’t going anywhere. It will be there, waiting for you. It’s a given that you will reach it, so long as you have the courage to take that first step.




About the Author

Charlize Colle Fernandez is LYF’s Managing Editor. She recently graduated from UNLV with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Concentration in Creative Writing. An aspiring novelist and book editor, her work has been published in The Love Yourself Foundation, Beyond Thought Creative Arts Journal, Unpopular Culture: Las Vegas Writers on Obscure Entertainment, The Jar Gets Bigger, and Kindergarten Mag. Charlize has always enjoyed the arts, and continues to find solace in stories, music, and photography.

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