Eighteen Years

By: Cassi Cox

Eighteen Years.

It seems like so much and so little all at the same time.

Eighteen years ago this May I graduated from high school. It was supposed to be the best summer ever, but instead I experienced my first real battle with depression. I’ve had a few major depressive incidents in my life, but this was the first one and it nearly cost me my life.

That entire summer was a blur. I won’t go into all of the details of the personal circumstances that preceded the depressive episode. Depression is a disorder that is generally understood to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Those two things crashed together in an epic fusion that left me…not okay.

I had come to believe that I would never be enough. I believed that no matter what I did and no matter how hard I worked, I would always be viewed in a negative light because of things beyond my control.

I believed I would always be a failure. None of my efforts would ever prevent that, ultimately. Every success was just delaying the inevitable and lifting me higher so that the fall to the bottom would hurt even more. After all, that is what was said by an adult that I deeply respected. Maybe all that I had worked to be despite my environment was just like a kid playing dress up. Maybe I would never fit in or be welcome anywhere but trap houses and abusive relationships.

Maybe that’s what I was worth. Maybe it wouldn’t ever get better.

I was in a pit. A bottomless pit. I remember four people from that summer who offered me slices of hope. Four people who chose not to leave me alone in the darkness that WAS that summer. My memories are muddled and vague, but there are glimpses of light and peace that I still remember.

Falling asleep on Aaron’s couch when nowhere else felt safe enough to sleep. Stephen sitting with his knees at his chin, on the floor next to my bed. I don’t even remember why, but he was there. Donna, who never stopped showing up.

And Alex.

Alex, who took away the razor blades and the pill bottles. Alex, who made me eat when I began to starve myself. I weighed 85 pounds when I started college that fall. Alex, who came over every day and refused to let me sit alone, who believed in my worth for me when I couldn’t believe it for myself.

When I look back and reflect, the number of times I tried to die that summer is staggering. I did not see light. I did not have hope.

Eventually, though, the light broke through.

It was gradual. The way Alex laughed when I called him out for manipulating me into eating. His smile would would break and then spread across his face when he knew that I knew but he still wouldn’t give up. His joy was contagious and his persistence relentless. The sight of more books than I could ever dream of reading in 5 lifetimes when I walked through the campus library. The sun peeking through the dying leaves in the fall. Why do we see such hope and beauty in dying things? Road trips and soccer games. Snuggles from my then very little sisters. The idea that maybe, just maybe, hope existed.

It took time. I can’t say that enough. And sometimes it just strikes me- the gravity of what it must have been like to to experience first love alongside someone battling a major depressive episode hits me and my breath catches. I am even more grateful for Alex. He saved my life, over and over again, until I was finally in a place where I was able to value it myself.

And now today, I can hold my own heart, and cherish my own life in ways that he did in my stead so many years ago.

Because the reality is that there will not always be an Alex. Major Depressive episodes are brutal and grueling and if you don’t know what is happening, they can be lethal.

May is mental health awareness month. Awareness is something that I didn’t have back then. Maybe Alex did, or maybe he just had some combination of instinct and love. I guess I will never know. What I do know is that is that I did not know what was happening inside of me. I did not know that there was hope. I didn’t know that there would be light again. I didn’t know that there was help.

I didn’t know, and it could have cost me everything.

Knowing is such a huge part of the battle. Because now, today, I know. When the darkness closes in, I can call it by name. It doesn’t get to consume me anymore because awareness has led me to the tools that I need to keep it in check. A great therapist, who has taught me to be more aware of what is happening inside of my body, as well as healthy coping skills and self-care. Anti-depressant medication. An incredible support system.

If you or someone you love is fighting this battle, please know that you are not alone. You do not have to stumble through this blind like I did- or like Alex did, as someone loving an individual struggling. There are resources and supports that exist. Don’t hide in silence, pushing it under the rug.

Step out into the light.

Keep Still Being Here.

Find Your Fight.

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

Find Your Roar

Suicide hotline: 800-273-8255

For numerous resources regarding depression: https://nndc.org/resource-links/

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