Staying Afloat

A sophomore’s struggle with balancing anxiety, depression and the stress of high school all comes crashing down

Editor’s Note: The following story contains mentions of suicide. The content in this story may not be suitable for children younger than high school age. In no way is the intent of this story to promote the behaviors and decisions discussed. Reader discretion is advised.

I hate the month of January. It’s cold and unforgiving. The chill never escapes me. It was also the month that my dad was diagnosed with Tinnitus, a potential result of early-onset dementia.

After I found out, I went to school the next day without an ounce of sleep. I faked my smile, forced myself to get up and sit through class. School was distracting. How could I be expected to focus on my education while my family crumbled in front of me?

Nights were spent crying in an effort to tire myself out so I could finally go to sleep. My attempts were in vain. I often found myself finally nodding off as the sun began to peek through my blinds.

I watched as my once organized room fell into disarray. Clothes littered my floor, making it barely visible. Used cups and plates were strewn all around.

I thought about cleaning. I really did.

But a minute turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months. My room became a pigsty. I was surrounded by garbage. I hated it. I felt disgusting. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the energy to clean up.

These were textbook signs of depression. I had struggled with this all my life.

I used to look at my childhood through rose-tinted glasses. I used to ignore the hours I spent crying. I used to ignore the perpetual state of hopelessness I existed in.

Gradually, however, the realities of my past set in, finally reaching a massive, explosive crescendo. Intensified emotions and desperation drove me to attempt suicide.

I thought that would end my life, relieve my parents of the burden I felt I was.

Instead, I found myself clinging to the toilet like a wet rag, puking my guts out. I went about the next day like nothing ever happened, as if I hadn’t lost about half my body weight in vomit the night prior.

I felt so selfish.

All I wanted was for everything to go back to normal.

False Sense of Security

As my dad devolved into a vegetative state at home, I was figuring out proofs in geometry and finishing “To Kill a Mockingbird” in English. I was exhausted every waking hour of my life.

I longed for something, someone, to get me out of this miserable state.

That someone came in May, in the form of a lanky, gawkish boy who loved League of Legends more than he did me. Literally. He would ignore me for hours while clicking away.

Still, he was a distraction from everything raging in my head. He made me happy, that’s true, but my happiness came in waves, crashing against jagged rocks. The tide would recede and I would be left empty and dull. I never stayed in the same state of mind for too long.

Not long after we broke up, I went back to online school. Starting sophomore year was exciting, even if it was through my grainy chrome book screen. I was thrilled.

Against the Current

That feeling was short-lived. Sept. 3 came in a flash. Facing the hallways that made me feel so isolated last year, the emotions came rushing back to me.

I was moving backward again, against the current. I was being swept away by the waves. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Every day was the same: endless amounts of busy work that didn’t help me at all, coming home exhausted and eventually going to bed at 3 a.m. after doing homework all night. Rinse and repeat the next day. The school system does a fantastic job of reducing students to solely their grades and extracurriculars. It was working all too well.

One mental health day turned into two. Two turned into five. Soon, I was gone for a full week.

I suppose the most jarring part was that while I was deciding whether or not I wanted to live, it felt like no one else noticed. I know there are procedures in place that “help” students like me, but it wasn’t enough.

Ten minute conversations in an empty room with the air conditioning buzzing louder than the words we spoke. Pats on the back from teachers who told me that “it’ll all be alright.”

But how would they know?

After wallowing in self pity, I finally got myself up and told my parents I wanted to drop out of school.

Their reaction gave me whiplash. I wasn’t sure if I heard correctly. They told me that they loved me and that they would support me until the end.

Embracing the Sea

I acknowledge 8-year-old Isabella. I think of her. I cherish her. There is no way she could ever imagine the scene laid out before us now: the setting sun casting amber beams over the water as I approach in bounding strides.

I am running barefooted towards the water, my feet kicking back clouds of sand behind me. I am running faster and faster toward the water. I feel the burning in my lungs. I want to give younger me a hug now; how cynical she was.

I am uncertain if she would stop crying, but I know now that my tears have dried, and I am finally the one thing I have longed to be since childhood: happy.