Seventh grade was when my depression began.
Now before anyone asks, nothing triggered this. I just started feeling like crap in seventh grade, despite my loving family, amazing friends, stable household, good grades, and basically perfect life. There was the exhaustion, and then the sadness. The sadness had no source. There was no reason for it, but it was there. It was like incredibly distracting background music, turned up a little too loud. At first I tried to get rid of it, but when I realized I couldn’t do that, I turned the volume up, grabbed a blanket, and just let it surround me. I could still have happy moments, at times. I still laughed at jokes. I still smiled at things. But the sadness was still there, waiting, and it absolutely hated being ignored. I went through life with lead weights on my ankles, my head, and the corners of my mouth.
Weekends with friends were life-saving. Because I couldn’t tell my blood family what I was going through, my other family, my friends, saved me. I would show them my broken heart, and they would kiss it and put band-aids on it and keep it beating until I could see them again. I would spend hours collapsed on them, and they would rub my cut-up arms and kiss my forehead and charge my failing batteries enough to keep going for another week or so.
I held onto moments with the people I cared about and little things I would find when with them--a rock in the shape of a heart, an old rusty nail on the side of a path, little objects that I wouldn't let anyone touch and would cling to when I felt lost.
I needed help, but was too scared to ask for it. This went on for a few years. But then my parents found out. I forget how. It may have been my sister, or it may have been that I forgot to cover up my arms with bracelets one day, but either way they sent me to group therapy. It was good to talk to the other girls, and it was good to let it out, vent a little, relax for an hour and a half every Tuesday night.
But my brain was still messed up. They put me on Zoloft, after some persuading from my concerned sister, and I think it helped for a few months before my body got used to it. Then it stopped working, so one day, I took myself off of it. If you’ve ever read about or gone through Zoloft withdrawal, you know that it’s hell.
By eleventh grade, my grades dropped into the 40s and my parents grounded me. I wasn’t allowed to phone anyone, see anyone, or go online until my grades improved and my room got cleaned.
Neither one happened.
After a few months, my parents realized that grounding me was making it worse. I got new medication. They sat me down and asked me if I would like to try out a private school. A Sudbury school. A non-stressful, no curriculum, democratic school that lets its students choose how they spend their days, learning through everyday experiences and play.
They told me I could visit the school and check it out, and I started sobbing. I didn’t see any way out before that. I had been planning to be dead before senior year, and this school was my miracle.
I’ve been going to Sudbury for around three months now, and it has changed my life. The doubts I had about the philosophy of the school dissolve with each 9-year old poet, each 6-year old who answers the phone, “Hello, Hudson Valley Sudbury School, how may I help you?”, with each child who knows more about friendship and morals and honesty and communication than half of the adults I know. This school, this crazy, radical, insane school, has saved my life. It has taught me to hold on to inspiration, to find new reasons to live every second, to be different and odd and inspirational and ferociously passionate.
Every once in a while, for a few days, I get bogged down again. I sit down and feel like living is impossible, like I can't possible keep going, like the world is fading to grey again. Depression will come back, smiling and spreading itself through my bloodstream, turning my bones to lead and asking, "Did you forget about me?"
But it knows better than to stay, and I know better than to let it. Because no, I didn't forget. And I'm not cured. But I hold the chains now, the whip, whatever metaphorical leash I need to keep it down. I'm in control now.
What I've realized is that I was never weak. Throughout those five years of not being able to do anything and wanting to give up entirely, I was not weak. I was beaten, bruised, bloody, but I was alive. I am alive.
I am alive.
This article first appeared in the Good Life Youth Journal. A free journal written by young people for young-minded people.