In a deeply personal submitted column, a recent alumnus gives an account of his depression
Concordia is a great place. It is filled with happy cobbers of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds. There is little wrong with the mantra of being a ‘Happy Cobber.’ Yet there are some, perhaps more than most care to believe, that are not of this group. I happened to be one of them. Life is not as easy as the exterior smile and ‘How are you?’s copiously lavished upon people passing by me. I am not writing this for sympathy, but rather to instill empathy. The battle of mental illness is so difficult to fight alone and perhaps this will be an impetus for some to reach out to those in need.
I remember the first time I wanted to commit suicide. In fact, it is a memory that I relive at least once a day. Yup, daily I am reminded of how I wanted to end my own life; I cannot forget how badly I wanted to die. It was ten or more year ago. Rare is the day since then when I have not had similar ambitions.
It was the brightest of summer days. Not a worry in little 4th grade Tony’s life. However, all I could do was lay upstairs in my bed, crying my eyes out. I could not understand why I felt so lonely, so isolated, so unloved. It was as if everything in life wanted me gone. I spent hours cursing God for forsaking me, worrying over what I would become in life, thinking everything was for naught, and the list just gets darker. Granted I was a bit over analytical for my age, I do not think those thoughts were exclusive to me. I just wanted something to happen to take away the emotional anguish. Physical pain was longed for; the thought of cuts, evisceration, amputation, anything was welcomed. I settled for breaking many of my toys to take out the anger, much to my brother and parents’ chagrin. Finally, after a few hours, I tried to suffocate myself in my pillows. If you have never tried that, it is not easy. But, after failing, I had to then live with the thought of being too useless to actually do it. This, as you can imagine, did nothing for my state of mind.
It unfortunately did not end there. Every time I was home alone for the next few years I would dream about taking the shotgun to my head. After going hunting enough, I knew that I could not fail with a 3in 00 buck shot coming out of a 12 gauge. I apologize for the thought of a ten year old holding a gun in his mouth, but remember I then thought about the effects of pulling the trigger. What stopped me? I am not sure. Some days it was because I knew I had a task to accomplish: chores, homework, baking, etc. Other times it was because I was going to visit a friend later. Mostly it was because I knew someone would have to find me. I could not bear the thought of my mother walking in to my brains scattered across the living room. Ghastly, but true.
What made me that way? Was I not loved? Far from it; there was not a single thing I lacked in life. I had an older brother, and though older brothers can sometimes be awful, he protected me from every meany head on the playground. My mother would clean, cook, hug, and tuck me in every night while praying with me. My father started to get scarce around this time, but I do not believe he was the cause. It just sprung on me, like a cougar out of the bushes whose teeth just don’t unclench. There was not, and still is not, anything rational about my feelings.
As I grew older, I started to become a man much faster than my peers. If I took on more responsibility and care giving roles I could hide my plight. I could bury it under the focus and love given to my task. It caused me to lose much of my childhood joy, and make me stand out amongst my peers. Well, middle school didn’t help. Being the tallest, fattest, smartest, most responsible, boy in class made me easy prey for teasing. I joined clubs and sports to get my mind off it and meet people. I also started to bake heavily to share love. Nothing really seemed to help. I was never any good at basketball, nor did I really ever connect with my fellow students. I just cried more and more. Though of course not in front of anyone. Real men, I was taught, do not need to cry or even acknowledge emotion. I had to fight to accept myself and just grow up knowing that I couldn’t let it beat me. I just grew more into myself. These things weren’t all bad because of how I turned out, but it sucked all the same. Feeling like you only have to live on the promise of tomorrow grows stale quite rapidly.
High school was like middle school, but people actually wore deodorant. I was just about the last one in my class to drive, have a girlfriend, have sex, have a phone, you name it. Also, one of the few to never drink, smoke, or steal something. What did I do? Go to school early because I couldn’t sleep with the thought of it bearing down on me. Lift weights and shoot hoops for about 2 hours. Quick do my homework before school started. Class consisted of my going to the bathroom for about 1/3 of each class. Why? I couldn’t handle it. My skin would just crawl. After school I would run, do drills, shoot more hoops, or practice depending on the season. After getting home around 9, bake until 11 or 12. Repeat. I could not have any down time. It would eat away at me. Yes, I was alone by myself because I could not fake it all day. It took so much effort to start moving that I knew I just had to keep going or else I would break down. Actually, I remember three specific instances where I just cried for 2 or 3 hours during class. I lied of course about the reason. Everyone gets earaches right?
I had friends, but only at school. When we talked, I had to be the center of attention because my mind would wander and it was hard to put on the brave face when it did. I would be a crowd pleaser, with baked goods, and flirt with everything that moved. That is not who I was or wanted to be, but it was what I needed to do to survive. I just knew I had to make it out of school and it would get better. Or at least that is what I told myself when I would think about the hunting knife in the drawer by my bed. One quick hard swipe of cold steel across my throat.
College came and went in a flash. I loved almost every minute of it. From classes that gave me work to do, to clubs that offered reasons to fill my time, and still many people to entertain. I grew in responsibility by getting a job and being an RA. I still had the dictum of finding someone to take care of in order to survive. For much of my time, I would act so responsible because that is what I had trained myself to do. That is how I hide my pain. School also took away some of the accessible weapons that I was accustomed to. This did not take away the thoughts but rather made me more creative. I stayed up as late as I could studying so I did not think about it, and got up at 4:30 to go to work because I would have nightmares every night if I slept more than 6.5 hours. People would ask why I did not go out. I said lots of things but never the real reason. I was afraid of losing control when I was drunk. Would I still be able to focus on the good things in life? Would I cave into it? I was so scared of drinking. Besides that, I was so exhausted of faking ‘Happy Cobber.’
That is my story in a nutshell. I spared many of the details because it was not my goal to make readers cry. If you are feeling in a similar way, I want to implore you I am not alone. There are people around you who feel as I do. My story is probably unique only because it is my own. What can you do? Some days it feels like there may not be a reason to get up in the morning. That is one of the hardest things to overcome. Please, please find your reason. Whether it be a job, project, friends, your dog, or simply because breakfast is going to be amazing, there has to be something that gets you going. I hope that you are like me and want to get better. I only recently got to that point. Having to fit into the stereotype of a strong, independent, manly man was too much for me to take. I knew that I had to share it with people; thus, I wrote this letter to the editor and decided to stop living the lie.
If nothing else, know that I want you to live. Know that I want you to get better. Know that I will be there to talk to when you feel like the world is slipping away from you and all you want is a hug and an ‘I love you for the way you are.’ I was in that place and I got it from people who I let be close to me. It is scary letting people see the real side of you. Will they judge you? Will they reach out to help? Will they listen? I have had all of those experiences. Just keep going. You will find solace. Currently I have close friends who are more than supporting and even got me to see medical help; I am on anxiety medicine to start.
The worst part for me is that I know I have goals five, ten years from now, but seriously doubt tomorrow. When this happens to you, call someone, go on a date, get coffee, and don’t be alone. This is not a burden to carry alone. For the rest of you, please help. If you know someone who is like me, be their reason to live. Give them some of your time. Ask them real questions. Invite them to stuff. And for pete’s sake, ask them important questions and wait for the full answer. It is not much, but it is a start. Maybe offer to go with them to get professional help. Mental illness sucks and I don’t have the answer. If I did I would not want to die each day. Believe me, after 12 x 365 of fighting it, a day off would be alright. The first step is to get people talking, showing them that there are people who care, and being able to look beyond ourselves to others.
This article was submitted by Tony Sang, contributing writer.