If you’ve ever asked me that question, or wanted to, read this.
And watch out, because I’m about to get very, very real here for a few minutes.
Let me tell you a story.
One night, I was lying on my bed in my dorm room and crying. I don’t mean crying like when you’re sad; I mean crying like when your entire being is cracking open. I was bawling and shaking and having a lot of trouble breathing. What happened to get me into such a state? Nothing. I have depression.
It was 2 AM and I’d been crying for hours already and I couldn’t stop. There was nothing I could do. Cutting helps but it’s bad for you, and, as usual, I didn’t have a single person to talk to.
I don’t remember when exactly this was because this exact scene happens so damn often. But it was sometime within the last few months.
So I was lying there and pouring myself out. I felt increasingly miserable knowing that killing myself isn’t an option, because I could never do that to my family. I hated that. I felt trapped in a life I didn’t want anymore, all for the sake of the people I love. I have a sister who hasn’t even turned six yet, and a brother who recently turned nine. They’d remember me, they’d ask my parents what happened to me. I have an older brother who just got married. He would forever remember this year as the one in which he married the love of his life but lost his sister.
So what the hell could I do? Over the past eight years, I’ve only gotten worse, despite all the treatment I’ve been getting and despite having support from my friends and family at last. I can’t kill myself, I can’t live like this either, and those are the only two options.
The only other thing I could do, then, was pray.
I don’t believe in God. I haven’t for a long time. I refuse to believe that the Creator of this universe would allow all the war and genocide that happens on this planet, that He would send some people to hell just for being born with a different sexual orientation, that He’s so fucking concerned with whether I eat shrimp or not.
But whatever. I prayed anyway, just in case there IS a God and He loves all His children no matter what and all that stuff. I prayed for this all to stop, for me to be able to feel like a normal 20-year-old again, to make up for the time I’ve lost like this, making a mess of myself alone in my room.
I realized later that I never tried to bargain with Him. I didn’t offer anything. I didn’t promise to learn Hebrew or start going to services on Fridays or to stop getting cheese and sour cream in my burrito when I go to Chipotle. Most people do that when they pray–this is as good an indication as any that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with this God stuff.
So basically, I asked God for this huge favor–to change my brain chemistry, to change my personality, to erase the pain that every day brings–all for nothing! How presumptuous of me. Well, I’ve been thinking these past few weeks, and I’ve realized that I’ve been shown plenty of signs–not from God, maybe, but from the universe–as to how I should heal myself and how I should repay the world for helping me do it.
My calling is to help people and to make them happy. Everything I love in life relates to that somehow. I love writing things that people enjoy reading. I love talking to people who are feeling down and helping them find a way out of their sadness. I love playing with my brother and sister. I love getting gifts for my friends. I love making someone laugh. Somehow, when I do these things, I forget all about my stupid depression.
I’ve been in the depths of despair before, but a friend showed up who needed my help, and the act of helping them completely erased that despair. I realized what I’d needed that night when I was crying so hard I started praying–all I needed was for someone to knock on my door who needed my help.
This is why, after college and graduate school are over and I have my PhD, I will be a therapist. And I’ll spend all day talking to people, learning about them, understanding them, and helping them heal.
What doesn’t make me happy? Feeling like I’m not doing anything useful with myself. It follows that the things I don’t like doing are things that feel useless to me. Drinking. Partying. Watching TV. Having shallow conversations about boring stuff. Eating more than I want to eat. Sitting around.
This isn’t to say that I don’t get any pleasure out of the little things in life, because I do. There are too many of these things to list here, but they include being outdoors, swimming, organizing things, watching a good TV show or movie on occasion, joking around with close friends, taking photos, and eating good food, especially chocolate. And so on and so forth.
But this is a question of lifestyle, not details. My lifestyle is a “serious” one. I love studying and taking classes. I spend much of my free time talking and writing about social justice, politics, and psychology. In other words, I try to do things that make me feel like I’m contributing to the world rather than just floating along and satisfying my own desires.
My parents keep telling me that at my age I should be focused on “having fun.” Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should be. Maybe I would be if things hadn’t turned out the way they did. But after this year, when I was forced to confront some of the deepest questions I’ve ever had to ask myself–Why am I here? Why stay here?–I have to give myself reasons to keep living, and to keep living joyfully. Because that’s the only acceptable way to live.
My continued life is a gift. If not for my loving family and the many other ways in which I’ve been lucky, I probably would’ve killed myself long ago. But I didn’t. For some reason, I was given all these things that make me want to keep living. Yes, I happen to have a condition that makes me subject to frequent bouts of extreme fatigue and emotional pain. But that only makes me value even more those times when I’m happy and thinking straight. That makes me want to do something useful and meaningful with those times, not to waste them all away like people my age are expected to do. I waste enough time curled up in a ball and sobbing. I refuse to waste any more.
I am “so serious all the time” because that’s my way of healing myself and of repaying a world that has made me fortunate. And because, in order to prevent episodes like the one that led to this realization, I need to know that my continued existence is important, that I’m part of an interconnected web, that I’m not just living for myself, but for a world that, hopefully, needs me in it.
So don’t tell me to “stop being so serious.”
Oh my goodness! When I started reading this I mistakenly thought that someone had transcribed my thoughts and memories from 30 years ago when I was in college. It was exactly my experience right down to the attempts at prayer. Too many days found me sitting on the ledge of my college dorm thinking “what if i just fell down?” i wasnt scared then but im scared remembering it now And I too found my purpose and healing in helping others. I too am a longtime depression sufferer.
I know from experience that people in the throes of depression are unlikely to believe that another can get their pain. So when people offer support it may seem hollow or something they are doing “to be nice.” But know that I’ve walked similar steps to the ones you walk and I’ve come out the other side. Not cured but better. It took ages but I got there.
Please use me as someone you can write to when the crying jags are overwhelming. I understand and I can be a support.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I’m glad to hear a bit of your story; I know plenty of depression sufferers but they’re all my age and no better off than I am. It’s good to know that you’ve gotten better. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to send them my way. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this. It takes a lot of courage to display vulnerabilities to the world.
The funny thing is that a while ago, I had a bit of a crisis where I realized that I didn’t really have any idea where I wanted to go in life, and the vaguely defined goals I had formed didn’t sound all that exciting anymore. After mulling it over for a while… well, I came up with a very similar answer. And hearing somebody else come up with the same thing really makes me feel like there’s something to it.
You know, it’s funny, because while you’re definitely right when you say that it takes courage to share stories like this, it’s simultaneously easier to do that rather than to keep it all bottled up. It’s so much easier for me now that pretty much everyone I interact with regularly knows I have depression and I can explain why I was too tired to see them the previous night or why I need them to explain an ambiguous comment they made to me and all that. Similarly, this blog post is my way of answering a question that many people have asked me.
Also, I’m glad to hear someone else thinks this way too. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
It’s true that sharing helps, as I’ve discovered myself… I guess that’s why they invented talk therapy, eh? The internet is definitely not the most sympathetic listener in existence, but thankfully your blog seems to be largely troll-free.
Wow man this was an amazing insight. ill be honest i typed into google “why do i feel so serious all the time” and i couldn’t have asked for a more refreshing, excellently worded result. I can identify so much with your pain, i was alone in school with no one to talk to, no one understood me. I still am the saddest most foolish misguided person i know trying to find satisfaction and love in all the wrong places. my parents are all about giving love but shunning all negativity from their lives. i learned nothing from my parents, i started up at a super market stacking shelves only to find that every single person had a level of social skill and control that i never learned which immediately put me in the corner by myself yet again. its made me so sad and anxious, im 17 now starting out my second year at polytech. I just feel so empty and frustrated with so much going on around me the drinky the weed i have no idea what is good for me and what i should be investing my self in. i know ive had enough of this stupid party culture, it only makes me more sad and depressed. all i want to do is curl up in a ball and hope that all the frustration will go away some day. i try so hard to talk my shit out with people yet end up feeling empty when i realize what my problem is, i dont want to be serious anymore i just want it all to end. i want to be happy again.
Girl i feel ya you are serious and when i read your passage i was serious with you girl i hope u feel much better and bless your heart…good luck DONT EVEN KILL YOUR SELF.
one conclusion is derived that we need to release our sad feelings out…. that will put an end to the depression….
writing diary is one of the best ways to do so.. and also you have to to keep in mind that although things are serious now but it will not last forever..this method will a very positive result: you will be able to live with a stable mind and a good sleep at night
i have been suffering from depression for the past 3 years n i only realised it last year when i moved to another city. i’ve been running away from my problems most of the time thinking i’l be rid of it but i now know that is not the answer. i sometimes smoke weed and it makes me feel a little better n helps me loosen up a lil bit but i wanna be able to feel normal n not be uptight all the time without it. i dont really like to drink and ive also come to realise that i dont really have any good friends anymore so i got no one to talk to. i could see a therapist but i cant really afford it as i haven’t had a job for about a year. ive never really told this to anyone before coz i dont think they really get it and where im from noone really understands depression..anxiety attacks n stuff like that. but now im tired of living like this..im tired of people thinking im some kind of a freak or sumthing idk..so i’d really appreciate it if someone could tell me what to do..tips or anything..
Hey. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this. Here are several things you can do:
1. Find a therapist or counselor who takes sliding-scale payment, which means that you can pay as little as you need. Sometimes you can even do it for free. Here are some tips on that: http://captainawkward.com/2011/09/22/how-to-locate-low-cost-mental-health-care-in-the-us-and-canada-guest-post/
2. If you live in a city right now, there’s probably a place where you can get career counseling or job training for free. You can try googling that, or you can see if your city has a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliate. It’s a really great organization that you can call to find resources that will help you. Getting a job won’t solve everything, but it could help you distract yourself and make enough money so that you can afford a therapist. Plus, you’ll probably be a lot less anxious if you don’t have to worry about having enough money to get by.
3. I know it feels like nobody could possibly understand what you’re going through, and I don’t know where you’re from so maybe you’re right about that to some extent. But about a fourth of adults struggle with mental illness at some point in their lives. If you have any friends that you trust, try talking about it with them. You might be really pleasantly surprised. Also, try googling to see if there are any depression support groups in your area. They’re generally free and a really good way to meet people who will understand you and give you advice.
4. Keep not drinking! That’s really great. A lot of people turn to alcohol to help deal with depression, but alcohol is a depressant so it actually makes things worse. I’m not personally sure if smoking pot can be helpful, but as long as you’re not overdoing it or putting yourself in danger, do what you need to do.
5. If there’s nobody in your area that you can get support from, try forums online. The depression subreddit can be really helpful and is full of kind people: http://reddit.com/r/depression. There’s also CrazyBoards: http://www.crazyboards.org/forums/
Good luck; I hope you feel better soon.
How brave of you to write and post this! You should be proud of yourself, for caring so much for others and putting so much effort to heal yourself and the World. I wish you luck and very much love! Keep holding on ❤
Thank you sooooo much for sharing your story. I often get angry with myself for being so serious all the time and wish I could be more fun and funnier. But I too have depression and it’s hard to be happy sometimes. And also like you, when I do things for other people I feel a lot better. I like being helpful and needed and wanted. You are going to make a wonderful therapist and I wish you every success. You are bold and honest and will be able to listen with experience. And people like that are very much needed in this world xo
I feel exactly the same way. You be you! Thanks for sharing!