I think I first knew I was depressed around the age of fifteen or sixteen. It’s a little hazy, to be honest, but that’s the nature of depression—it messes with your memory. All I know is that I started my junior year looking forward to learning all I could about math and physics, and by the following summer I couldn’t get out of bed.
These things come slowly, like any major life change. It probably started with a lack of interest in school, in work, in handing in assignments. Then I started falling out of touch with the friends I had hitherto spent almost all my time with. I gradually grew apart, and sometime around February I was in with a completely different crowd. I somehow migrated from the geeks and nerds to the goths and misfits. And while they welcomed me, I nonetheless felt like an outsider. I was alone.
The turning point came when my parents sent me on a disastrous trip to spend time with friends in Germany. It sounds petulant, looking back: shouldn’t I have been grateful for the opportunity to visit another country, practice my language skills, and meet new people? But sixteen-year-old me could only see a week away from his like-minded new friends (and the girl he was secretly harboring a crush on), and it was one of the most miserable times of my life. Suffice to say when I got back I was unhappy with my parents and my life, and like a bad mood that never lifted, I stopped smiling, I stopped working, and I stopped living altogether.
I still remember my first self-harm. It was with a blunt blade of a Swiss Army knife, and it barely left a scratch. I remember my second, too, with the dismantled blade of a pencil sharpener. It was weird, and didn’t bleed like I thought it would: when you cut with a sharp blade, there’s a moment of nothing, of the purest white gash in your flesh before it fills with blood. It barely hurt, just a residual, dull ache.
The remaining several hundred cuts blur into each other. My upper right arm is a patchwork maze of scars, and draws odd looks from people who see it. Sometimes people ask why I don’t have tattoos; I’ve marked myself more permanently than any ink.
Young and socially inept, I kept my what feelings I had bottled inside, and never let on that I was in love with my best friend, nor that I was jealous of the time she spent with another boy. Add alcohol into the mix and there came a night when I blew myself out of the social waters and ostracized myself from the only group of friends that still accepted me. I’m ashamed to this day of my behavior that night, and suffice to say that no one wanted to spend time with me afterward. I entered my senior year of high school as alone as it was possible to be.
By Christmas I was kicked out of high school for skipping every single class and staring dully into the distance for hours at a time, and spent the next couple of months at home in a black haze, questioning my every reason for being.
The single light, my saving grace, was the budding realm of online chat, and the now-defunct Gothic Rose forum where I could socialize with equally miserable and depressed people from around the world. And here I met the person I would come to call my ‘girlfriend’—though to this day we’ve never met. I fell madly, head-over-heels in love with this lonely, abused and deeply depressed girl, and spent my every waking hour waiting for her to appear online. When my parents forced me into intensive therapy at my aunt’s for the summer with no contact with the outside world, my surreptitious late-night conversations with her were just about the only thing that kept me alive. I hated my parents bitterly for trapping me like that, and I loved her desperately and passionately enough to keep the razors on my arms, and not my wrists.
Of course, the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and soon rifts grew between us, and within a year we had drifted apart. I spent years afterward still in love with her, though, and I think of her fondly to this day.
Such were the golden years of my depression.