Fake it Til You Make It and Get a Dog

This week is three months since everything happened, and it’s also Valentine’s Day, and my birthday. It’s a lot. But then, I’m a lot.

I came back from winter break and threw myself into everything with gusto. I committed myself to everything that came my way. I signed up for extra classes and extra activities. I go out when I’m invited. I avoid saying no to anything if I can help it.

I can feel myself vibrating. I don’t sleep well because I go to bed after long days of running around and my mind is still spinning. I laugh too loud and too often. I talk too much and too fast and I can’t stop myself. Everything about me is elevated. The good, the bad, the ugly.

It’s almost as if I’ve convinced myself that if I don’t stop moving, if I just keep moving and talking and going and going, I don’t have to live in my own head. I don’t have to remember the things I remember.

That would be great if it were true.

Instead, I get hit in the middle of class. Breath knocked out of me. Tears welling as I feel my entire body flush. I remember his eyes. I remember when I realized there was nothing I could do. I remember hoping I was wrong, that I had somehow missed something, and then realizing an ambulance never came and that I had been right and that I never wanted to be right again.

The grief has lessened, I think. But grief is normal and standard and I have grieved before and I will again. I watched my grandfather die in college. I noted his last breaths after we took him off the respirator. I cried and mourned and healed. This is not that.

I think, to a certain extent, the part of me that has always smiled through pain has taken over. No person in their right mind wants to see someone else suffer, and the last thing I want to do is make people feel like they are putting up with me because I am sad.

Instead, I overdo it, and now my subconscious is telling me people are putting up with me because I’m too much.

It’s similar to depression in that I’m compensating, but different because I’m not really faking it. I’m happy to be with friends, almost too happy. I’m even okay when I’m alone because I have a dog now, and she makes me laugh and smile.

But I quickly become overwhelmed and when I become overwhelmed I also become overwhelming. As my voice rises in volume so does my anxiety and I feel that everything I’m saying is wrong and that no one wants to hear me speak.

This is, as we say, sub-optimal.

Still, I know it’ll keep getting better. I’ll keep getting better. I have to. I don’t have any other choice.

I tell people my dog has helped me. She’s done more than that, I think. She’s saved me.

My friends are amazing and wonderful and they got me through the grief. But I’ve had friends my whole life, and I’ve had depression for most of it. The problem with friends is it’s easy to convince myself that they’d be better off without me.

My dog, however…

I have to get out of bed in the morning because she needs to go out. I have to go for walks and get fresh air because I want her to expend some energy and practice her leash training. I have to go to bed at a reasonable hour because she tells me when it’s time.

Even as I sit here, body aching from constantly being tense, chest tightening from all that life has thrown at me, mind racing from all that is to come and that could come, my heart is lightened by the strange magic that is my dog.

This sounds insane, I think. But it’s true. Just watching her breathe as she sleeps fills me with a giddiness that relaxes me ever so slightly. I can’t ever be mad at her. I love her completely. And I want to be here, with her.

I can’t replace the people I’ve lost. I can’t rebuild my blind trust that universe is fair. But I can love, and I do, and I am so glad to know that hasn’t gone away.

So I will keep working on myself. And try to forgive myself. And hug my dog.

Some Thoughts on Depression

There is a certain numbness that comes with depression. I find that when I am depressed, I feel nothing in the morning. I go about my routine in a complete emotional and spiritual void. And then sometime in the afternoon or evening, something changes and the darkness filters in.

In these times, I want to be alone, and yet being alone is the worst thing I can do for myself. Alone, it is easier to be overwhelmed by the depths of my depression—easy to let the tiredness sink into my bones and stop me from moving, easy to let the awful thoughts creep in and the overwhelming sadness to settle on my chest, a heavy weight, a prison I can’t escape.

I know my weariness is depression when I start wanting to hide. To get under my desk. To get in my closet and lay on the floor. To fold into nothingness and disappear until the sun comes up and I am temporarily relieved of the aching black hole in my chest.

I knew when I moved to a city where I had few friends that there would be a period of depression. And yes, it has come and gone and I deal with it when it pokes its head around a corner to mournfully stare me down.

I have many friends who know depression. I support them when they let me. And they support me, when I let them.

The reason I write today is because of a recent tragedy. A friend of mine from high school took his own life.

We weren’t that close in high school. We were friendly and had many classes together and occasionally hung out with mutual friends. But he had an easy-going spirit that drew people in, he was kind and funny and charming. We had inside jokes with one another and knowing that we had that made my life better, because to be friends with this boy felt like being accepted into a happy world where dreams could come true—he seemed endlessly optimistic and delighted with what the world had to offer.

I would never have guessed he suffered from depression. I knew some things about his personal life that might have indicated something, but my memories of him were too bright for me to even consider it.

When he went off to college, I checked in on Facebook occasionally to see how he was doing. I always imagined great things for him. He was creative and smart and I couldn’t imagine the world doing anything but raining accolades upon him.

At one point over the past year or so, I noticed he had disappeared. He had either unfriended everyone or deleted his old Facebook and gotten a new one—I could see he existed on the social network but he was no longer my “Friend”. I thought it was odd but not that odd—we hadn’t spoken in several years. I was slightly hurt but I forgot almost immediately.

This is when my heart breaks.

I think, “I should have known! I should have seen! He was cutting everyone out!”

But I must force myself to admit that I don’t really know. I don’t know anything about his life for the past several years. What I do know is pieced together from rumors and secondhand stories.

All I know for certain is that this sweet person with a twinkle in his eye felt enough overwhelming despair that he could no longer take it.

It’s no one’s fault. But it is so easy to feel like I could have done something. It’s ludicrous, I know. Grief manifests in ways that are easily dismissed logically but impossible to shake emotionally.

I’m rambling. It’s hard for me to organize my thoughts when I am so profoundly shaken. But I do have a few points that I want to get across:

  • Support each other. Never ask “why?” but always ask “what do you need?”
  • Understand that even the person who smiles the most can be hiding their own darkness.
  • Mourn the lost, but never place blame.
  • Love.
  • If you are depressed, let yourself be loved. It’s difficult and can seem impossible at times. But it helps.

To my dear friend,

It hurts me greatly to think of your last moments. My heart aches for your suffering, and for those you have left behind. I wish peace and love upon you and upon your family.

I will remember you forever for the joy you brought to my life.