Part Of Me Was Surprised – The Giving Keys
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Part Of Me Was Surprised

When I was 13 my parents started fighting really badly and really visibly in our house. Just before I turned 15 they separated. My mom hit an all time low. I hardly saw my dad, I had to care for my mom, and I protected my sister because I needed to be her rock and show her everything would be okay, even though I wasn’t sure of that myself. We weren’t able to pay bills on time (or sometimes at all), and my mom unloaded on me because she was too embarrassed to share those intimate details with her friends. I grew up right then because I had to. We needed cabinets, so I built them. Our garage door broke, so I fixed it. My sister needed to go to the doctor, so I made the appointment. I even drove at times, though I only had my temps…but I had to.

My parents got back together a year later and to them and to everyone else it was like nothing had ever happened. To me, everything was different. It was weird having my dad back and jarring to not being in control of things anymore. My mom got better, and my sister carried on, happy to have her family back together. I was glad to have them back together too, but while I was taking care of things, I didn’t realize that a darkness crept inside me. It crept into my nerves and lived in a compartment in my brain where I stored my pain, festering for a year while I kept everything and everyone together. It became so fierce that it didn’t stay in its box for long.

I started having frequent panic attacks (not knowing what they were), but I couldn’t tell anyone because I was the rock. I was the strength. I would feel my hands and nose go numb, and start to see the darkness creeping around my eyes, making me feel like I was falling down a tunnel, so I would go into my room, shut the door, put music on and sit on my floor. I would shake back and forth, stomach tense, and cry even though I didn’t feel like crying and didn’t know why. Twenty minutes to an hour later when it passed I would see the lines on my carpet and the red, rawness of my fingertips from digging in, not realizing in the moment that I was doing that.

Then, one night, something tiny set me off. I went into my room, shut the door, and the darkness crept in further. It grabbed hold of my soul and a black voice whispered to just let go. I heard the T.V. on downstairs where my mom and sister were watching as I opened my bedroom door and walked across the hall into the bathroom. A laugh track sounded from the living room as I took a bottle of Tylenol and one of Nyquil out of the medicine cabinet, put the Nyquil down on the counter, and poured a bunch of Tylenol pills in my hand. I stood there, ready. Ready for the black hand to release my soul. Ready to feel rest. To break free.

All of the sudden I heard my sister run up the stairs and into her room, and something in me snapped. I was back to what was tangible, and no longer consumed by the dark reality inside my head. My new awareness looked at the scene in the bathroom and I broke down in tears and realized that maybe I should be okay with talking to a doctor for help. I felt so weak.

The next day I told my mom that I had made myself a doctor appointment, and after much questioning told her because I thought I had depression. She seemed sort of annoyed, but offered to drive me.

At the appointment, my mom insisted on coming in with me while the doctor asked me a bunch of standard questions, to which I answered fairly honestly: enough to give him the information needed to diagnose me, but not so honest that my full darkness was revealed. Finally, he asked me, “Have you ever had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide?”

I paused and looked up at him. He seemed concerned. I thought this might be the chance to reach out and let someone know. Yes, I wanted to. I felt like letting go. I wanted to be strong, but give up at the same time. Before I could say anything, my mom cut me off and said, “We don’t think like that.”

Well, that was that.

I think he knew. Aside from that, I had enough symptoms and at 15 was diagnosed with depression co-morbid with anxiety, gastritis, and severe acid reflux. I was prescribed my first anti-depressants and antacids.

My darkness followed me, sometimes carrying less weight, but is still present to this day, ten years later. I’ve battled with feeling weak, with hating my medicine, with coming off of them and feeling withdrawal headaches and vomiting, only to go back on different medication, and I lost friends who thought my episodes made me a “downer” (though I told almost no one I had depression, so I probably did seem like a real shut in). I have had a few more diagnoses over the years, but continue to try new things to feel better, and fight.

Through college I was determined to find my strength and understanding. I read books about neurology so I could understand how darkness works, took pharmacology, learned about behavioral therapy, etc. Depression is such a misunderstood disorder (even by doctors), and so much negativity is associated with it. Some people even disbelieve its existence.

It’s crippling. Your brain is the organ that directly affects your mind, or your consciousness. Depression tricks you into forgetting your strength. It creates a new reality. When you break a bone: healing it takes time and a cast. With depression, if you’re really, really lucky you have people in your life who understand your darkness and see your strength and become your cast until you remember it there and heal yourself. But the difference between mental illness and broken bones is, bones heal and become whole again because your body wants them to heal, and nobody judges people for having a broken arm. With depression you always feel a little bit broken, carrying it like a weight, and people who know see you as weak. Once you gain your darkness you have to learn to live with it.

Today, I work with kids who have mental illness and try to see my darkness as a gift so that I can help them. I try to be an understanding, supportive adult for them because I never had that. Not to say I had no adult love me, just nobody who could help. I had nobody to talk to about it; nobody who truly understood.

As an adult, I have four or five close friends, a bunch of close college friends, a husband, and a loving family. My family does not know that I still deal with this darkness, that I still have bad months, just that I had to go on anti-depressants for a time when I was a teenager. They don’t know that I still take them and that I have or have ever had panic attacks. My college friends don’t even know I have depression, or that it is co-morbid with anxiety. My close friends and husband know bits of it and are all supportive, but only about three of them really understand. Even to the ones who understand, it’s hard for me to talk about.

I met one of those close, understanding friends just under a year ago at work, and after spending every day together in a professional setting, we began eating lunch together every day too, and realized how much we have in common. He doesn’t have a darkness but he gets it, somehow. I started opening up bits of myself to him, and he understood and supported me no matter what. He is one of the few people who knows about my darkness and makes me feel like it’s okay. Eventually, I met his wife and amazing little girls and they, my husband, and I all began hanging out frequently.

Knowing how amazing my friend was, I hoped his wife would also be amazing, and I was not disappointed: she is a marathon runner, a lieutenant in the army, a veterinarian, is outgoing, sweet, and fiery, and just perfect for him. She’s the kind of person who everyone instantly likes, and accomplishes everything she attempts. Months after we all started having Game of Thrones watch parties and dinner parties, etc, and I got to know her a little bit better, something changed. Two or three times from work or just hanging out at my house, my friend had to leave to go to his wife for mysterious reasons. I didn’t want to pry, but I was worried, like it was something life threatening. I gave them space, but texted my support. Weeks after the first time he had to leave, he told me that it was because she was dealing with severe depression, and I later found out that she was planning suicide.

Part of me was surprised, but another part really wasn’t, because typically people who have been struggling with mental illness for a long time are very good at hiding it, even when it gets bad. As an outsider, I saw this amazing, inspirational woman whose darkness had too tight a hold on her. She saw herself as weak and low. I told my friend to tell his wife bits about me because I thought having someone else dealing with the same thing might help. I was lucky enough to pull myself out of my longest period of grasping-for-air darkness (it lasted about five years), but at times I didn’t think I would. For years I felt so alone, and I didn’t want her to feel that way. She had to see what everyone else saw: strength. We texted back and forth and she pulled herself out of her hole and back into seeing through the dark, brain-generated cloud into what is tangible, and back to having better days. Now, I see a person stronger than I thought originally because she accomplishes more than most humans do, but with a darkness around her soul, and a black voice occasionally telling her to let go.

I gave her a giving key that reads “strength” as a reminder of what is really inside her. A reminder that dealing with it makes you stronger and it’s not a weakness, but an obstacle. After ten years, I see my darkness as a burden, the bad months as a challenge, but also as a gift to use my perspective to help people and see the world differently. I hope that this giving key can help see her that, too.

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  • Hi, my name is Ellen.

    I read your story, and I want you to know I think it’s a story worth being told.
    I think your life is one worth being lived.
    And there is no reason to hold back. To hide the parts of you that you think are less beautiful.
    And your darkness, its not a burden you have to carry. I know it may feel like it, I conquer anxiety regularly. And I fought chronic depression for several years. I know what that weight feels like.
    3 years ago, that weight got lifted.
    I have a similar story except my family never got put back together. I get it. The responsibility, the weight, the need to keep everything and everyone together.
    I carried that weight for the majority of my life. I got used to it, but it was killing me. I heard the voice saying “Give up” and I had no argument to fight back with.
    I was angry. I was hurt. I was mistreated. I was confused. I was bitter. I felt alone. I felt heavy. I wanted to give up.
    Then, I went to my church’s youth group conference. I went only because my friends were going. The last night of the conference, the guest speaker (He wasn’t even good, to be honest) brought out this door for the alter call (It was kind of lame). People got up and started heading over so they could walk through the door and go to the alter. I had no intention of doing that. I stood at my chair and let a tear fall down my cheek. The weight of my life suddenly felt physical as I hunched over. Then this kid walks over (A kid I had yelled at earlier for being obnoxious.) and looks me in the eyes and says “You need to go through that door.”
    I didn’t want to. But this kid puts his little arm around me and pushes me towards the door. He’s tossing chairs aside and making a path for me. The pastor asks me if Im ready to go through the door. I say “I guess.”
    And then i walk through. It was just a door. And you may not believe me, but it’s the truth, the second I went through my legs gave out. I’m on my knees and I can’t get up. And suddenly, I begin to cry. Something I hadn’t let myself do in years, definitely not in public. But I’m crying uncontrollably, the little kid is still at my side, and after several minutes I come the the undeniable revelation that I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go another day the way I am. I can’t keep living with this voice in my head. I can’t keep carrying this burden.
    At the time, God was just something I heard stories about. I didn’t really believe in Him, and if He was real, I hated his guts. I was so angry at everything.
    But in that moment, I just knew I couldn’t do this alone.
    So I whispered this simple statement,
    “If you’re there, take it away. Take this weight away.”
    I’ll stand by these next words for the rest of my life.
    The moment those words left my mouth, A physical weight was lifted off my shoulders. Ive never felt that weight since.
    Did my life get easier? No. But it got infinitely better. The depression faded but it was still there. But I wasn’t alone. The next few months, hell would erupt in my family.
    But God stayed by me. I felt Him. And he gave me a spiritual family. A worship team that still stands by me to this day. I stopped surviving and I started thriving.
    I brought people into my story. I shared the good and the not so good chapters. And I slowly began giving it all to Christ.
    And He has used it all for something greater than me. I’m a leader to young people too! And I get to love them with a fearless love. A healed love. Depression is real. And a lot of people discredit it. Im not saying it went away over night. I still battle it from time to time. The difference now is I don’t fight the battle alone. I know that I’m a conqueror in Christ. I know I am redeemed. I know I am cherished. I know I am enough. I know that I am brave and bold and beautiful. And I know I have people in my life that I can share the fight with. Friends are called to sacrifice and stay.
    I needed to learn to let people stay for me.
    And that God had never left me.
    I hope this story doesn’t upset or offend you. I just wanted to tell you my story. You aren’t alone.
    Those kids you love on, and stand by, you’re making such a difference. Their hearts are being healed by love.

    But, your’s is worth being loved and healed too.

    I don’t believe in coincidences. I don;t believe that I just happened to click on the Giving Key website at 11pm at night, and randomly started scrolling through stories (something Ive never done before). I don’t believe just as I was about to exit out, something in me said to read one more and it just happened to be your’s.

    You are seen.
    (Genesis 16:13 is rad)

    Theres an album called The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger that always calms me. It may be worth the listen.

    If I could give you a key right now,
    My word for you would be “Redeemed”.

    I hope your life is full of whimsy, love, and adventure.


    A friend

    El on

  • For some reason mental illness is something that people don’t talk about. The reality is that so many people struggle with these issues and even they cannot share what they are going through because they feel like the’ll be stigmatized for it. This is a medical condition, but for some reason we treat it as though people who struggle with it are just weird or crazy. As a high school teacher I see an increasing number of kids who deal with self-esteem issues, depression, or some sort of anxiety and my hope is that this is an issue that becomes more of a talking point in our society. Many people just need someone to listen, understand, or show them their strength like this author did. It’s important that more people continue to share their stories so that those dealing with it realize they are not alone.

    Thomas on

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