by Kayla Jeswald
It happened eleven years ago…the monster finally consumed me. It preyed on me at my weakest moment. I could feel its teeth sinking in and holding on for dear life. It made sense for it to target me at this point in my life. I had just lost someone I loved. I was grieving; but eleven years later the bite marks are still fresh and the wound is still throbbing. Sure, at times, it loosened its grip and let my scar breathe. It was like it was giving me a glimpse of hope; a moment of inspiration, but just as I’d catch my breath, it would beat it back out of me again. Though overpowering and overbearing to my life, my monster is invisible. Close friends and family members can see the battle I go through on a daily basis; but new friends and acquaintances will probably not see the setbacks of my struggle. To most, it just seems like I’ve changed, possibly even become boring or sad, but what they don’t know is that I’ve lost myself. Chronic depression has taken away my childhood, my teenage years, and is slowly consuming my early 20’s. It all started the summer before entering high school, when my grandpa tragically passed away.
I remember the incident like it was yesterday. Unfortunately, these images are not something that I can shake so easily from my mind. It was August 3, 2003 around 3 A.M. when I got a gut-wrenching feeling that something wasn’t right. I was very close with my grandparents, especially my grandpa. My grandparents lived five minutes down the street from my home and I was usually over there every day after school. It was my second home, my safe place. There were so many memories that their house encompassed for me. I used to lay on the couch, with my grandpa sitting in his chair, and watch Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and old JAG re-runs. We’d eat dinner together at the table, have tickle fights on the floor, and play in the swimming pool together on those hot summer days. Besides my father, my grandpa was someone I truly admired and looked up to as my hero. I saw a lot of myself in him. He was short and husky (how I spent most of my adolescences, though I am still short) with a balding hairline and coke bottle glasses. He always loved to make people laugh and was always so giving of others (two qualities of his that I believe I possess).
When I abruptly woke in the middle of that night, I knew he needed me. Shortly after, the phone rang and my grandma stated that he had collapsed on the kitchen floor. My heart instantly sank. We rushed over there and I remember seeing 5 or 6 paramedics rushing anxiously up their front steps to him. It was all a blur after this. Colors blended together, the sirens of the ambulance went on mute. I felt the world stop spinning, just briefly. All I remember is that his body rushed past me to the ambulance, as my heart beat erupted through my ears. I knew he was already gone. His body was limp, grey, and lifeless when we arrived. He needed a miracle, but I knew that wouldn’t happen. The man I loved died alone on the kitchen floor, and I didn’t get to say good-bye to him.
As soon as they got to the hospital they pronounced him dead. My mom sat next to me, stroking my hair, but I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in. I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub, digging my nails into the ends of the tub, clutching so strongly it hurt my knuckles. The tears poured out instantaneously. Minutes went by as I fell to the ground screaming. This was my first heartbreak. My mom rushed in and pulled me up off of the ground and wrapped me in her arms. This is the day I knew I would never be the same.
The next few weeks inched by slowly. I still cried at night for his loss. I was still mending my broken heart. If only I could have warned myself for the years of heartache I now know would follow. I started high school that fall. A time when I should have been vibrant, had fun, been a kid, ended up being a waste of 4 years of my life. The first few months into school, something happened to me. My hair was falling out in chunks, I stopped eating and lost 35 pounds in two and a half month, I wasn’t sleeping, and I became quiet and isolated myself from everyone. My parents started to worry about me and had me go to a bunch of different doctors. Endless tests were run, countless appointments were made, but most of them gave one conclusion: I was experiencing depression.
This was all surreal to me. I had always been a cheerful, talkative child. What was happening to me? Before my grandpa died, I was always optimistic about things. I allowed myself to dream, to have hope in things. Now everything was covered in darkness. My hope fizzled out like a firecracker. Pessimistic and dreary thoughts consumed my every waking minute. How do I make this stop? My mom suggested I talk to a psychiatrist and be put on medication to help. I was scared. I never needed any pills to make me happy or solve my problems, especially not at 15. I thought it was normal to grieve, to miss someone, but apparently if it goes on for a while, it becomes overwhelming.
I saw a psychiatrist and began talking to a therapist. It was unpleasant and uncomfortable to talk to a complete stranger, but I knew I had to get better. They gave me a ‘magic’ pill to help ease my pain. After a few weeks, I could feel my body ease a bit, but the lingering dark thoughts never seemed to go away. I kept taking the pills though, hoping eventually things would change…but they never did. I gave up. I stopped taking them and stopped going to therapy. I thought it was something that I could handle on my own. So for a few years, I refused help and simply lived with it. I found myself craving isolation. I didn’t want to be around my parents or friends. I didn’t want to go to parties or school dances. I didn’t want my boyfriend to touch me or my parents to hug me. Someone else’s embrace on my body felt like it was burning my flesh. I hated it. I didn’t want to be close to anybody, not after the tragic lose I suffered. Depression followed me all throughout high school. It roamed the lonely hallways with me. It lurked in the dark corners of the building.
I thought I could battle it on my own, but it turns out it’s more powerful than I thought. I started to think that being unhappy was just part of my personality. Simple things didn’t bring any pleasure to my life. I walked around school with a straight face. Smiling felt odd and unfamiliar to my face. I felt myself disappearing. I tried to talk to my friends and boyfriend about it, but they couldn’t understand it. I get it, I didn’t understand it either, and I still don’t.
It’s funny and sad to think that one event in my life, losing my grandpa, can trigger this major shift in my personality and life. Even after all of these years the depression still haunts me on a daily basis. I’ve learned to deal with him not being here anymore, I’ve even learned how to hide my secrets and sadness after all this time, but the depression still envelops my personality and thoughts.
Losing my grandpa and myself in high school is only one instance of how this disease has altered my life. I do not experience joy like other people do; actually I do not experience joy at all. Sure, sometimes I smile and laugh, but only for a second and then it all disappears again. I hold myself back from doing things and finding myself. It feels like all of my dreams and ambitions are right in front of me, but a brick wall is standing in my way. Every day is a constant battle to get out of bed and get dressed. My thoughts are never consistent; I battle myself back and forth over easy decisions. I feel so numb yet so emotional at the same time. I am a walking contradiction. I just feel lost. My mind races a mile a minute. Anxiety attacks remind me it’s all too real. I’ve been on and off medications throughout the years. Some were a little helpful, some made me worse, but nothing has fully taken the sadness away. After all of these years, I’ve finally decided to go seek help again. I put myself in therapy and in front of a psychiatrist. It’s hard to admit that you’re not happy and that you need help. I’ve just had enough. I’ve lost my young years to this disease and I don’t want to lose the better years of my life to it. I’m scared to see where things are going to go, but I know I have to track through the mud to get to a better place in my life.
Some people will say that I’m a normal person, that I’m okay, but it’s only because I’ve gotten so good at hiding my illness. I don’t want to hide it anymore, it’s not something I’m ashamed of, and it’s not something that I can control. I want to start living my life as a happier person. Though depression has beaten me down over the years, I’ve still kept this thriving ambition inside me to get better and reach my goals. I know it can take months on end to find a treatment that will work for me, but I have faith in my doctors and in myself, to finally feel fulfilled in finding myself again.
Kayla Jeswald is in her second year of the NEOMFA program specializing in fiction writing. She has had a passion for writing the last 14 years of her life. Not only does she enjoy fiction writing, but she loves to dabble in nonfiction and poetry as well.
“The Day I Disappeared” is about Kayla’s ongoing battle with depression. She really wanted to write this personal encounter with it and hopefully reach people battling with the same illness.