Content warning: This post contains information about depression and/or anxiety, which may be triggering to some survivors.
"Fighting Your Own Fires," Yoo-Ra Herlihy
If I could take back my past - all the tears, screams, and self-harm, I don’t know if I would. It is part of who I am.
It all started when my Uncle Charlie died. I learned that he was an alcoholic the year prior, when he had been hospitalized for an overdose after hearing about his father’s passing. From that moment, I felt like it was my mission to be there for him. I became his pen pal. I wanted to show him he mattered to someone.
I remember coming home that day, and seeing my father’s car in the driveway when he was supposed to be gone on business. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. I didn’t know how to handle myself. I felt like I failed my Uncle Charlie. That I didn’t show him he mattered enough.
I started to see a therapist for a while. I felt hopeless. Was it because of my uncle’s death? Was this something I had been keeping inside me for a long time? I couldn’t explain it to myself let alone anyone else. I just felt heavy, sad, and unworthy all the time. I was soon diagnosed with clinical depression.
Somehow, having the title of depression made things feel even worse. I felt like I was being punished for being sad.
Through counseling, I discovered a few other things I was struggling with. I hated being adopted. I hated knowing the first person who was supposed to show me love was the first person to deem me not worthy, and gave me away. It’s something I will never get over. I love my adoptive family, but it is never easy.I always see my friends with their families, how they all look alike. I didn’t understand why my birth-mother didn’t want me. I blamed myself, and assumed I just wasn’t worth being kept. I am grateful she gave me up for adoption so I could have a better life, I just wish I didn’t see it as being denied the first opportunity of love.
I don’t remember the first time I cut myself. I just remember it hurt - a lot. I do remember the worst time, when a girl at the small Catholic school I attended claimed she was my friend and then told everyone how annoying I was for being sad all the time. I felt betrayed, and sadly this wasn’t the first time this happened.
I remember coming home screaming that I wanted to kill myself, and grabbing a knife from the kitchen. My mother stopped me, and I dropped the knife. That wasn’t the last time I harmed myself. I would cut anytime I got angry at myself - whenever I felt unworthy or not good enough.
I had a teacher who told me I was going to Hell all the time. Who made me feel guilty for existing if I didn’t follow Jesus. God was a tormentor in my head. I always felt like I was being watched, and that I was a bad person for not wanting to pray or for fighting with my brother. I will never understand that school or the experiences I had there, and I will never forgive them for what they did to my mind.
I think the most frustrating thing is that I always feel selfish for being depressed. I have a wonderful adoptive family, incredible friends, a loving and supportive partner, and have been given many great opportunities in life. Sometimes I get so mad at myself for being sad, and crying about what may seem like nothing. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many therapists I see, or medications I am prescribed, my depression just keeps fighting back.
There are days I do not want to get out of bed. There are days I feel like nothing, and that the world would be better without me. There were days where I would just lie in bed because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I felt like sleeping was all I was good for. I always fight it though. I get up not because I have to, but because I know I can beat this. I didn’t always know that. It is something I have had to learn over the years.
It hasn’t gone away. It’s an endless battle in my head. I will tell you though, you can live through it. When things get hard, and I am crying my eyes out for what seems like something so small, I tell myself I can get through it. I think of the times I have gotten through tears and wanting it all to be over - and how I made it through. I remember that making more scars won’t fix me, but breathing and remembering I matter does.
To those who read this, remember everyone who smiles has a story. Never assume because someone looks happy that it means they have their life together. We all are going through stuff. The important thing is to be kind to each other. I know it’s not always easy, but please try. I am still here today because I have found so many good people in this world. They might not always be there 24/7, but knowing they care means the world. Even if you can’t be there all the time, just give a person a smile when you pass them, say hello. You never know how much you can change their day, their life.
Depression is like being on fire, only it is invisible. It starts as a little flicker, then its grows. You try to control it by hiding it from others or ignoring it, but that only makes it bigger. Eventually, you try yelling for help. People come running to your rescue, but they can’t see the pain you’re feeling. They might help make the flames die down, but they can only keep them down for so long. Some of them might get tired of trying to help you, and leave. Some will stay no matter what, but even they can get tired.
In the long run, you are your own firefighter. You are strong, and you can fight your flames. It can and probably will wear you out, and sometimes you night feel like giving up. Please don’t give up. You can fight your fire.
About the art:
I'm lucky enough to get to work with Yoo-Ra on a daily basis at Lesley, so I was pretty familiar with her story before she submitted her piece. While reading it, I felt all the feels because she has basically become a little sister to me over the last year, and I hate knowing the struggles she goes through in her own head.
I absolutely loved the ending of her piece, and fighting the invisible fires in your brain. She and I experience depression and anxiety very similarly - so when she spoke to others not being able to see your fires, or only being able to help the flames die down, I couldn't help but relate that to my own experience.
Dealing with your mental health is so tough when no one else understands what is going on inside your head. Developing that resiliency is something that takes practice, but I truly believe that with that practice - you can fight your own fires.