In September of 2012, I returned to school determined to get the highest marks I was capable of getting to make my parents proud. I planned to study every day, complete every assignment without procrastinating, build my vocabulary, and simultaneously work to complete grade nine piano. But sheer will would not propel me forward.
Personally, the best motivator for me is success – if I succeed once, I ride a high that pushes me forward and convinces me that I have the capacity to be successful again.
School defined me. My grades defined me. They were my identity, my measure of worth. I was the smart girl. If I wasn’t smart, I was nothing. I thought that my parents wouldn’t be proud, would have nothing to feel happy about if their children didn’t succeed. I had to succeed for them. Everything ran smoothly until I realized, after grade nine, that I was still struggling with Math. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many hours I put in, I just couldn’t make concepts stick. I once spent (this is not an exaggeration) nine hours on a Saturday trying to complete one math question. But of course, this was when I began losing focus as well.
I can’t pinpoint the moment everything went to hell. I can’t name a date or a time that marked the shift from “okay” to “not okay.” But what I can do is recount the moments that made me notice and feel that my life was truly falling apart.
I remember feeling a powerful ambivalence towards going to University – on the one hand, I was excited to start my career, and I was excited about possibility – on the other hand, I was scared that I wouldn’t get into University. A rejection from University, to me, would have been the ultimate, undeniable proof that I was worthless, and that I would never succeed in life.
One day in September or October, somewhere around the beginning of the school year, I was talking excitedly to my dad about what University I might end up attending. I brought up the possibility of applying to Queens, believing that this would please him, as it was a reputable University and I would have to work hard to make it in.
What my dad said next crushed me. He told me, “Well, the way you’ve been going lately, I wouldn’t bother applying to Queens, because you wouldn’t make it in.” He then walked off, leaving me alone in my shame.
I didn’t talk to my dad about going to University again. Looking back, I don’t blame my dad for the comment – it hurt, yes, but it came from the belief that I was slacking off, a fear that I really wouldn’t make it in life if I didn’t stay focused, and an unawareness of what was happening to me. I think the comment was supposed to be my motivation to work harder, but it had the opposite effect.
Soon, all day, every day, the same negative thoughts were swimming around in my brain. I began to have trouble focusing on homework. I had so much trouble that I couldn’t complete it. I had to take naps in the middle of doing homework because I had no energy. For the first time in my life, I started not handing in assignments. I was embarrassed to go to class and face my teachers. Some of them used to compliment me and tell me how smart I was. I didn’t want to see the looks on their faces when they realized that I really wasn’t. I started panicking when I went to class. I had a group presentation to give one day, and I stuttered and blushed through it, put my head on my desk after, wanting to die, and then I stopped attending class. My piano lessons were terrible. I stopped being able to practice.
At some point, I started cutting myself. It was the only thing made me feel better. I thought if I punished myself, then I could absolve myself for letting everyone down and being a useless burden to society. Soon I got addicted to the release, and it became a compulsion. Something I had to do to feel better. But I had to keep doing it, because an hour later I wouldn’t feel relieved anymore. I wore long sweaters to hide the cuts, and then switched to cutting my shoulders.
One day cutting wasn’t enough. Tears were streaming down my face and I wondered if I should just end it all, because I was stuck in limbo.
I left the bathroom (where I was cutting), and walked briskly to my old Math teacher’s room. He was someone I trusted, respected, and the only person I could think of to go to. I felt like I was acting on instinct. There were almost no thoughts in my head, just a need to get help, a belief that if I could just talk to this teacher, he could help me.
I ended up showing the teacher my scars. He contacted one of the school counsellors, who talked me into coming downstairs to the guidance office. Really, they said if I didn’t go downstairs with them the hall monitor would carry me down himself. I was ashamed, mortified, terrified, and I meekly obeyed after I managed to unfreeze myself. I was so scared that I had gone too far, that this was my fault, that I had disappointed my parents beyond anything they could forgive me for. I thought that I had ruined their happiness.
These memories are a little blurry in my memory, but I think it was that same day that they called my parents. I wasn’t brave. Like I child, I wanted comfort. I felt worthless and guilty.
My dad came to pick me up from school. I dreaded his arrival. But, when he arrived, he was calm. He booked an appointment with my family doctor to get a referral to see a psychiatrist, and then he took me to see a movie and tried to cheer me up.
My dad told me that he had gone through a depression too during his youth, and that he believed I was going through my own depression. He was completely understanding, both of my parents were, which I had not been expecting at all. I thought I had let them down. But now I realize that they just want to see me happy, more than anything.
In the following months, the pressure eased as I dropped all but three out of the eight courses I was taking and my parents no longer questioned me about homework. My parents let me take a break from piano lessons. My teachers were aware that I was not myself. I saw one of the school counsellors almost every day.
Somehow, my depression grew darker. Even though I had the support of teachers and my parents (and I was so grateful for this), I still couldn’t get rid of the negative thoughts and feelings. I was still cutting. I cried on and off every day for no reason. I felt like I had an infinite need to talk to someone, which could not be filled. There was a void inside me, and it was growing.