Content warning: mention of suicidal thoughts/tendencies, self-harm, mental illness, depression, anxiety
Dear Lost Journal,
My history of mental illness didn’t start or end, it has always just been. It hides
in the shadows and shades of trees and corners, always lurking behind me as the
impending doom pushes my heart toward my throat, sending chills and
goosebumps up my spine as my breath releases from my sore lungs. My mother tells me I have a strong intuition, but I think the only thing it truly detects is that shadow, with its eyes searing a hole from my back to my chest. I thought that if I ever caught a glance at it, it would look more like her, for she had its eyes. But I’ve discovered that it’s just a mirror, as I am my own worst nightmare.
I’ve never slept easily. As a kid, I had abstract nightmares of pointing, glaring,
colorful sticks in a blank, white void. The sticks would quietly bounce up and
down, in what felt like endless cycles. They’d eventually become loud, bounding their way toward my helpless, terrified self. At the time, I didn’t understand that the sticks could stab me; I didn’t know that they had real power. Yet, there I was, trapped and petrified in my dream every night. I’d wake up the next morning, still shaking and screaming, with my dad’s gentle hand on my shoulder. I’d go to school as if nothing had happened, but I’d see the sticks everywhere: in the markers I’d draw with, the light gleaming in through the blinds of the classroom windows, and in my teacher’s square, thin-rimmed glasses. I’d feel the eyes of the shadows, and my heart would race. They called me distracted and nervous, since ‘anxious’ and ‘inattentive’ weren’t yet in their vocabularies.
Life goes on, that strange little shadow following along through my little
timeline. It shrinks and grows, but I can always sense it. I don’t remember my first panic attack, or my second one. I think that the shadow is pretending to protect me. But I do remember that in middle school, I wore a heart rate monitor for a few weeks
because I was having panic attacks during classes. They told me nothing was
wrong, but the shadow disagreed. My shadow found a friend’s shadow, and they
devised a little scheme. This friend had all these strange words and abbreviations in
a medical chart they showed me, like ‘schizophrenia’, ‘OCD’, ‘ADHD’, ‘depression’,
‘Anxiety’; the list felt as infinite as the nightmare void. At the end of seventh grade,
they sent me her goodbye message. They described feelings that I’d felt before and
thought were normal, like wanting to give my little timeline–my short life–to the
shadow, to escape the hellish world we’re told to call home, to give up. I thought
that was normal until reading that message and realizing the value of their life–and
maybe that helped me understand the value of my own time. When the shadow
grows, that value feels much smaller, so I think my friend’s shadow grew a lot that
night. I called their parents, and they’re okay, I think, but they never spoke to me again.
My own shadow has grown since then. Life becomes more complex and
chaotic, and it gets difficult to want to stay. While I’m not very social myself, it seems
that my shadow is drawn naturally to those of others: a couple friends from high
school, some from college, and my little brother. He’s in high school now, and he’s
such a lovely boy. We didn’t get along, but we have a lot in common now, including
our shadows. I think his shadow is colossal, though, and I don’t think he knows that
he and the shadow are not one and the same. I was home from college one night
recently, and he almost threw himself down the stairs. I would miss him so much
more than he could ever know, for I don’t think he knows the value of his life.
I keep digressing. I should be talking about my shadow, but it’s difficult to talk
about something that you can never see entirely. My shadow, oh, my lovely shadow. I could go on and on about the things my shadow has made me do. I’ve been angry at myself and taken it out on my family, I’ve cut my body and tied belts too tight, I’ve starved myself as punishment for crimes I don’t remember committing; is it the shadow that makes me do bad things, or am I a bad person? Where do I draw the line between what I do and what the shadow does to me? I don’t think I’ll ever truly know, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly know myself. It makes me so angry that I am
someone I cannot understand, and it’s all the more frustrating that a part of me might not even be the real me. Mental illness is an ongoing identity crisis. I didn’t know that there was any real imbalance until I was fourteen, when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I didn’t know why I couldn’t focus on anything unless the conditions were perfect until I was nineteen, when I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. How much more do I not know about myself? It’s terrifying how infinite we are. We think all the time, but it all feels so meaningless when we barely know anything about what we think about. Life, in the most general sense, is endless, which makes one life feel so meaningless. How can I get out of bed when I’m barely conscious of my own identity? Shadows, life, and identity are so limitless that there seems to be no point at all.