Moving Past Depression
March 11, 2011 was a Friday. It was the end of the school week, and while other people were desperate for their weekends to start, I was desperate for my life to end. I woke up feeling miserable, worthless, stressed and hopeless — common symptoms of depression.
I felt like my whole world was full of problems. I thought to myself, “I’m 17 going on 18, and I’ve been through way more crap and stress than most kids my age. If my life is this problematic now, then what does my future look like?” To be honest, I really didn’t want to find out, and occasionally I still don’t, because I’m afraid that it won’t look that bright.
I had never been more convinced of the path I wanted to choose: death. I went to school with suicidal thoughts in my head and sitting in class made the depression worse. I felt like I was losing my mind. The feeling of wanting to kill yourself is almost unexplainable. It takes over your whole body, mind, heart, and soul. There’s almost no way to push the thoughts away.
There are certain things we can’t fight on our own, no matter how strong we are. Depression grabs control of you and doesn’t let you see hope in any situation. If I never asked for help, I most likely wouldn’t be writing this article. Fighting depression is one of the most difficult things to do, because you’re fighting yourself, fighting your own thoughts and your own actions. In order to survive, help is needed. If you don’t ask for help, depression will win and you may make a mistake you won’t ever be able to take back. You need a professional who understands, and sees what you see. If just going to a friend and talking to them is your idea of help, it’s really not. Depression is difficult to understand, and asking for help is important and more common than we might think.
It’s been two years since my first crisis. I am part of the 20 percent of teens who, according to teendepression.org, suffer from depression before they reach adulthood. Other studies put this percentage even higher in wealthy communities like Marin.
I never knew anything about depression; I thought depressed kids were “Emo,” listened to heavy metal, screamo, and dressed in all black. I didn’t think people like me suffered from depression. I come from a Central American culture that doesn’t traditionally believe in mental illness or how serious it is. I know little to nothing about my ancestors’ mental heath histories. I have no idea if anyone else in my family has suffered from depression. For now I’m the first recorded case, but I believe I carry a depressive gene.
While my genetic risk of depression is not as clear, my environmental risk is obvious. When I turned eight years old, I moved to Marin from Los Angeles with my mom, my two sisters, and my new stepfather.
I was abused from the age of eight to the age of 15 by my stepfather. I was silenced and afraid with no one to run to. I told no one what was happening at home. The abuse reached its peak when I was 11, and it lessened as I entered adolescence. Still, my stepfather continued to tell me that I was worthless and would never become anything. He called me stupid and disrespectful. After a while I started believing everything he said. Soon I was at Tam. It was a whole new environment with a different set of silent rules. I got in with the wrong crowd my freshman year. Drugs made everything worse. I began to lose myself. I would look in the mirror and not recognize the girl staring back at me. The once happy girl full of life was slowly fading away, a new female emerging. She was angry, hurt and broken.
Freshman year passed, and I started my sophomore year hoping for the best. I thought it would be a great school year. I was turning 15 and was having my Quinceñera or “Sweet 15” — the transition of a girl into a young lady. I loved picking out my dress, the one that no one else had, practicing the ceremony with my escorts was fun, and I woke up every morning closer to that special day almost every Latina looks forward to.
I locked all the pain away and I pretended like nothing was wrong. But towards the end of the year, drama with friends got worse.
My depression crisis was triggered by an argument with an acquaintance. She said I had a “rich, perfect life.” As soon as she said that, painful memories raced through my mind. My life was nowhere near perfect. It was the complete opposite, and no one had the slightest clue. Three weeks later I had my first crisis, a panic attack in the middle of class. I went to the nurse’s office and broke down crying, telling her that I wanted to commit suicide and I was scared. The words that came out my mouth surprised me. I couldn’t believe what I had just said. That same day I was sent to a group home called Casa Fremont. I stayed there for a week and learned different coping skills, such as keeping a journal, listening to music, and ways to direct my energy away from cutting and other forms of self-harm. When I got back I went into therapy and was put on a medication, and I seemed to be getting better.
My junior year was still difficult due to side effects from different medications, and I continued to try getting my life back on track. The summer before senior year, I did. At least that’s what I thought.
Around winter break this year I stopped taking my medication because I started feeling better, but stopping them without a doctor’s permission is dangerous. Not taking my medication sent me spiraling back into depression, eventually ending up back in Casa Fremont. I stayed for three days in January, and was released early at my request.
A month went by and I started feeling better again. Then a soon-to-be ex-boyfriend at the time triggered memories of my childhood abuse, and I found myself feeling emotions I didn’t even know I had inside of me. The depression hit me hard, worse than any time before.
I made it to school and talked to my counselor about how miserable and empty I felt. I saw no point in living. I don’t really remember much from my conversation with my counselor, except for her saying, “Carina, I don’t think you’re safe. I need you to go to the Emergency Room, and be placed on 5150.”
My heart sank. A 5150 is a 72-hour watch in the hospital. You are held there involuntarily and are not allowed to leave. Being sent there meant missing out on more of my senior year. Just the thought of my family, friends, and teachers knowing I was being sent to a mental hospital killed me inside. I’ve always been a shoulder to lean on, the type of person who helps others. It was the third time I had put my family through this. They didn’t know how they should act around me, and chose their words carefully around me. I could feel them watching me, trying to capture me with a smile in their memory, just in case it was the last time they saw me. I thought I was supposed to be the strong one. The one that never broke down and kept it together.
But we all have a limit to our strength, and I had reached mine. Blocking out all those emotions of hate, grief, love, remorse, regret and more was the worst thing I could have done to myself.
I don’t remember much of that day. I was taken to the emergency room by my sister Isabel and was put in a room with nothing but a security guard in front of the door. I was surrounded by four white walls with no way out. When the psychologist came to analyze me I completely broke down. She asked my mother questions about me. My mother began to tear up and I couldn’t stand seeing her like that. I hardly ever see my mom cry, and knowing she was crying because of what ran through my mind just made everything worse. I didn’t want to look at her, I couldn’t.
I was mad at myself and refused to go to the hospital at first. I remember screaming, telling my sister, “I’m not crazy, I don’t belong in a mental hospital! I don’t understand why you guys won’t let me die. I just want to die. I can’t take this anymore.”
Tears welled up in Isabel’s eyes, as she tried to hold herself together. She didn’t want to cry in front of me. She asked me if she could give me a hug and I said no. She walked out of the room. I was alone. Now that I look back on it, I realize suicide can affect and maybe even destroy people in my life.
The adolescent mental hospital was intense. I was taken there by an ambulance for safety reasons. As soon as I got there all of my things were searched. My clothes weren’t allowed to have strings, the wire from my undergarments was taken out, no makeup, hair clips or jewelry were allowed, and all my belongings like shampoo, lotion, and even my toothbrush were kept locked away at all times. When I wanted to get my things I would have to ask for permission.
Everyone was checked every 15 minutes; wherever you were, the staff knew. Everyone had a roommate, and the hospital could keep up to 20 teenagers at a time. The rooms were stripped of everything, except for a bed, a desk, a chair, and a drawer. The windows in my room were thick with scratches all over them from other patients throwing chairs at the windows, but there was no way to escape. A key was needed for every door, and there were cameras and security all over the hospital.
There was a strict schedule, and everyone had to follow it. If you didn’t participate in the groups, refused to eat your food, harmed yourself, or refused to take your medications, your time spent in the hospital was extended. If you got out of control, disrespected staff, or fought them you were “booty juiced,” a term the teens in the hospital used. Being booty juiced meant being carried by staff to your room, being sedated and being put on “Line Of Sight,” in which you are accompanied by staff everywhere, even when you slept. I witnessed a girl get booty juiced when she refused to cooperate and began calling a staff member all sorts of names. When she would not leave a group therapy session, five men came in and each one grabbed an arm or leg and took her to her room. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day, or the day after.
My days at the hospital felt like forever. I thought I was never going to leave, like I was never going to get any better. One day, two of my closest friends came to visit me. I hadn’t seen them in a week. The doors opened and there they were, standing in the entryway. One of them, Jazmin, just stood there looking at me, as if she couldn’t believe I was really there in the hospital. When they came inside, I held them close, they began to cry and I couldn’t imagine not being there with them. I kept thinking to myself that if I had killed myself I wouldn’t be able to tell them I love them and how much they mean to me. They cried in my arms, and I realized I couldn’t let depression win. We sat in the hall talking until Jazmin had to leave because of her age.
Liliana stayed with me and I began explaining what had happened because she had no idea. I remember the way she looked into my eyes as if trying to find the happy me, the Carina that seemed lost. Liliana told me that when she looked at me that day it was like looking at someone else. She said my eyes scared her, they were so unrecognizable.
When I got out of the hospital, I had trouble adjusting to my classes. I couldn’t stand being in rooms full of other students, or the load of work I had to do. I was stressed and angry. I soon felt even more depressed than when I first got to the hospital. My urges to hurt myself were unbearable, so I was watched by loved ones at all times outside of school. I disassociated myself, something people do in the wake of serious trauma. In other words, I removed myself from my body and watched as I physically harmed myself. I’d feel the pain but I couldn’t do a thing about it, and it scared me. Many of you reading this article know exactly what I’m talking about. To a person struggling with depression, cutting can be like a drug and it doesn’t hurt, it feels good.
For some victims of depression, medication works, but so far it hasn’t for me. I’ve been through four of them. When I was in the hospital, I was prescribed Zoloft, which is supposed to help with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It only made my mental state worse, so I was taken off the medication because I had started cutting again. Two weeks later, I got an allergic reaction to the 225mg of Wellbutrin XL I was on. My lips, hands and feet began to swell, and I was rushed to the emergency room, where I was given a shot of adrenaline to make the swelling go away. I want to make it clear: just because I had bad reactions to Wellbutrin and Zoloft does not mean someone else is going to have one. I’ve talked to many girls in groups and some responded well to medications that I’ve hated. Everyone’s different.
As I’ve mentioned before, when you’re on medications you’re never supposed to take yourself off of them unless a doctor gradually takes you off. My doctor took me from a high dosage of 225mg of Wellbutrin to zero from one day to the next. I went through a withdrawal period of three weeks. Those three weeks were filled with tears, panic attacks, strong urges to cut and so much more. I wanted to die more than ever, but my mom, sister, and sister’s partner took turns watching me at home as I continued my therapy. I was never left alone.
Today, I have made a choice to live and I am doing better. The only reason I made it through my crisis and my withdrawal is because of the care of others. Even with their help, it was one of the most horrible times of my life.
Many more students at Tam than you might realize suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts at some point in high school. Of those students, each experiences a different intensity of depression, some more chronic than others. This is the time of the year when psychologists, counselors and hosp
If you are reading this article and have any doubts about whether you suffer from depression, I hope I have inspired you to speak up and ask for help. Don’t let depression take over your life. Every day is another fight, but trust me: the fight is always worth it in the end. We’re young, with a full life ahead of us. Even though the future may seem blurry and blank, it becomes clear with time. Have patience.itals in Marin are flooded with stressed teens asking for help. Pressure from school, grades, and a perfectionist culture seems to erupt at the end of the school year.
Written by Carina Albizures. This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.