As a child, I was constantly getting my hands dirty with bruises and grass stains were a constant feature on my legs. I was a tree climber, a rock runner, the kid who had to be kept on a leash. I was always skinning my knees and getting myself into situations I had trouble getting out of, like getting stuck up trees. One time I ran straight into a busy street full of cars (hence the leash).
It was during the summer of sixth grade that things started escalating. I didn’t like the way I looked in a bathing suit, I didn’t like the way my mouth looked when I smiled. I didn’t like my teeth, but I didn’t like how I might look with braces. I didn’t like being outside. I didn’t like swimming anymore, something I had done competitively since fourth grade. I couldn’t find my passion anymore. The thought popped into my mind: what if I was depressed?
“Of course you’re not depressed. You could be one of those starving kids in Africa,” is all my dad had to say about my signs of depression. I left the conversation there and went on with my life, quietly loathing everything I did. I grew distant from my friends and found myself shrinking further into the dark recesses of my mind.
This little bead of heaviness and depression grew and grew. The only way I knew to release the tension was via angry fits at my parents. These became more common and intense, developing into blind rages that I had a hard time remembering.
I was told I threw lamps at walls and a phone at my dad’s head. I was told I threatened to kill myself on multiple occasions.
After my guidance counsellor found a suicide note in my backpack, I was sent to hospital and on to the “psych ward.” I was admitted on a Wednesday, and I left on Monday and it was quite an education. I learned about heroin use and how to lie to loved ones. I was taught that self-harm releases emotions – by a girl with a broken piece of bathroom tile.
After that I was placed on an outpatient program and given a cocktail of antidepressants that turned me into a zombie. It was here I smoked my first cigarette; saw my first drug deal; took my first sip of fireball whiskey. It seemed less about therapy and more about hanging out with exotic risk-takers.
But all good things come to an end. A month later, back at home, I tried to kill myself with a mix of orange juice, vodka, half a month’s supply of antidepressants and some oxycodone I found in a bathroom cabinet. To this day, orange juice tastes like vomit and bad times.
After that failed attempt, life went on. Every few days I’d fly into another blind fit of anger and when it was over my family would tiptoe around me, constantly on eggshells. The worst rage I ever flew into was in West Virginia. I don’t really remember much about what happened but I know that during that time my family was scared for my life and, occasionally, their own.
Three weeks later I was dispatched into the middle of nowhere (Trails Carolina, to be specific). I spent the next three months living in a temperate rain forest in the same clothes and sleeping bag. My feet bled, mosquito bites got infected and I would puke plain red quinoa every Wednesday. I didn’t brush my hair or shower once in 90 days. I hugged a stick every night in my sleeping bag, pretending it was a person.
When my time was done, I assumed I was coming home but it wasn’t to be. I was driven straight to a special school in Arizona. The rules were strict, and some of the staff seemed to have it in for some girls.
Everyone had a different story. Some wanted to be free to binge and purge as they wanted; some to get high and lose themselves in drugs; others to be with the boyfriend who showed love with his fists. But we all wanted to go home. We missed our parents, brothers, sisters, friends and pets.
The girls at the school all felt like mistakes. It didn’t matter how many times we were told we were merely the symptom of a nonworking family system. That the rest of our families had the same struggles we did. It didn’t change the fact that we were the ones who had been sent away.
Our families weren’t being scrutinized every second of the day, supervised as they slept. They were at home, they had each other. We had no one. Or so I thought. Over time, my therapy group became like a second family, sharing tears over the assault, the addiction, the suicide ideation, the rape. This teen family understood what I was going through more than my family ever could.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change my Mom, my Dad, my sister for anything in the world. They may never know what I went through, they may have made mistakes. But they helped me the best way they knew how. They’re my family, and they’re irreplaceable.