Christa s Story
“Learning how to go on and live my life without someone I love was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and it tore me down. Over the span of nine months, I suffered the deaths of 4 people with whom I was tremendously close. For me, the repercussions of these deaths were crippling, and with each passing funeral my resolve deteriorated.
My life became a nonstop series of 24-hour trips to New York for hospital visits, final goodbyes, and collapsing into my mother’s arms in complete hysterics. I watched grief swallow my family whole each time a loved one passed. Then I would get on a plane back to Charleston, and pretend that everything was OK… pretend that I was OK. After all, my parents had both just lost their mothers, and I needed to be strong for them.
The worst for me, though, was losing my maternal grandmother. We were best friends. She had been battling cancer for weeks before I found out, and years before anyone noticed. Looking back, I think we all knew, but no one wanted to face the reality. I had a big championship regatta I had been training for and my family decided it was best not to distract me and wait to tell me until after the race.
Thing is, I found out moments before I hit the water for finals. I immediately called my mother, but it was too late. My grandmother had lost her ability to speak and all I could do was sob over the phone, barely able to breathe. I flew home the next day. I only had one day with her, so I had to make it count.
I measured her balding head for wigs that she would never get to wear, and I would lotion her callus-riddled feat to ease her discomfort from the chemo. The doctor came in and told us it looked as though she would make it through the summer. It eased my hurting heart a little, as I held her bony hand, kissed her cheek and told her I’d be back in a week and I’d set her in a lounge chair in her new fancy “blonde” wig, as we watched the hummingbirds play in her garden. She died the next day.
My world was rocked. I was failing out of school, my GPA was a 0.06. I let the person I had become over 20 years completely disappear. I watched my grandfather become weak, fragile and thin. He was in and out of the hospital every other week wanting to die, trying to die, because life was so unbearable without her. I broke even more. I got kicked out of my own home and had to support myself for two months, because my parents were so disappointed in the way my grief had completely disintegrated all areas of my life and thought I was just lashing out, only because I kept my true struggle from them.
I became someone I didn’t recognize or like. I was a terrible friend, daughter, sister and all around person. I lost a lot of friends, burned a lot of bridges. I was hurting people on purpose because I wanted them to feel pain like I was.
I lived in a state of constant worry. I didn’t understand why I was losing so much. I worried about things that weren’t even happening but I crafted in my head.
I ran away from life and was in denial of what was happening to me. My parents called from seven hundred miles away, and it was so easy to put on my happy voice and pretend everything was great. I lied to them every single day because I was in denial, and because they too were grieving so I was afraid to make it worse.
I realized early in November of my junior year of college that I was battling depression and I began to scare myself. How do you admit to your grieving parents, that you are struggling, that you are completely failing, and that you are going to disappoint them? You want to believe that you will turn it around. I thought I could.
Daily life was a struggle and just getting out of bed seemed an impossible feat. I woke up, went to practice and class, came home, ate alone, then went to bed before the sun was even down. I was so lonely. I was letting my negative thoughts take over my every second and affect my relationships. I believed the bad and unsupportive things people were saying about me, because of my behavior, to be true and let it dissolve my once radiant confidence.
I would get into these moods that I couldn’t shake that were giving me pounding headaches and even blurring my eyesight. By keeping my initial struggle a secret, ashamed of what I was going through, and the stigma surrounding depression, I created something far worse than it had to be. I realized this was not a good or healthy thing, and I needed help. Admitting I had a problem was my first step to getting better. I said it out loud...on my 21st birthday, a week before Christmas, a typically very happy time for my family. I have depression.
I cried for days. I tried therapy; I even let my father listen in on sessions to attempt to better understand what I was going through. Alcoholism, depression and addiction run in my family, and I knew this depression was something that I was going to have to battle for the rest life. I wanted to fight it on my own; I wanted to learn for the next time.
It wasn’t easy. At first I had really bad days: total nightmare, complete breakdowns. I would wish I wasn’t so stubborn. I wrote about it, kept a gratitude journal to find the little joys in each and every day. Each time it got easier to handle, and the bad days became fewer and farther apart. I drew out what my “best self” looked like, and I worked to get there.
I became a peer leader to help students struggling like I did, by sharing my story with them and creating an open environment for conversation and support. I found the more I spoke about it, the easier it was to accept my story as part of my identity. I found ways to fill my down time, which once was filled with sadness and rage, with the things, and people, that bring me joy...
Recently, I have found myself struggling again. I found myself believing the negative things people, close friends, were saying about me, and I was letting it bring me back to rock bottom. I, unfairly, began to take my frustration out on a friend who has been there and supported me more in the last year than anyone. I am so fortunate my past allowed me to recognize this repeat in negative behavior, and comfortably explain myself and get the help I needed early.
Am I depression free? No. It comes back from time to time. Each time it does, I am able to recognize it, catch it early and am more prepared to fight than I have ever been before. I am thankful for what I have gone through. I truly believe it has made me a stronger, happier person; able to feel empathy and love deeply. It has brought to light some of my favorite qualities about myself, which I may not have been able to find without this battle.
The best advice I could give would be to be honest always. Not everyone will understand, but that is OK. You are strong because you have been weak, you are fearless because you have been afraid, and you are wise because you have been foolish. Most importantly, share, own, and be proud of your story! Life is too short to sacrifice happiness!”