Ever since I started being more open about my depression, I’ve heard the same thing from almost everyone – “But you’re always so bubbly!” “But you’re so good at work/school!” “But you never act like it!” This makes it very hard for people to understand what I am going through, because I am bubbly, I am good at my job, and I am too good at hiding it.
I live with a battle inside of myself. I have points that I hit lows and I have thoughts of suicide. Sometimes it comes on all of the sudden, and sometimes I can feel it coming for days. It is really hard to explain, but I have come up with a way to describe what is going on in my head in relation to my college roommate, Katie.
Before I begin, I want the reader to know that I tried desperately to help Katie. I walked her to her counselling appointments, called numerous hotlines to get her help, got our RAs involved, called her parents, and stood by her side the entire time despite all of the things she put me through. When I describe my year with Katie, I am not saying any of this to ridicule her. She is merely an example of how I can describe what is going on inside of me.
When Katie and I first met, she was awesome. We had some gen-eds together our freshman year and later found out that we were in the same major. She was fun-loving, was always down to get ice cream, and could light up a room with her smile. When she asked me to live with her for the following year, of course I said yes!
When I made my way to the dorm to start moving my stuff in after a long summer of endless conversations and making plans, I knew something wasn’t quite right. Katie was already moved in, and her stuff took up over 2/3 of the room. I asked her about it, and her reasoning was that since I would be going home most weekends and she was only going home for winter and spring break, she needed more room than I did. It sounded reasonable at the time, plus I didn’t want to already start arguing with my new roommate, so I let it go. This is how it was when I had my first suicidal thought at age 10. It was an intrusive thought that was not like what I had experienced before. However, there was an explanation. My dad was in the hospital, my mom was stressed out, and I was trying to be strong for her and my siblings. I wrote it off as stress and prepubescent hormones and moved on.
As the weeks went on, things seemed pretty normal with Katie. She was her usual fun self. We went out for ice cream like we did freshman year, we joined a Zumba class, had dinner together with friends every night, and helped each other study. She would do things that ticked me off, like stay up late and loudly laugh at whatever show she was watching on her laptop, NEVER do her dishes, ALWAYS leave hair in the sink and drain, and sometimes bring friends over late at night without talking to me first. It was annoying, but it wasn’t anything that other college people didn’t have to deal with. This is how my depression feels most of the time. I will feel down, feel moody, and have some not so great thoughts about myself. It is annoying, but it isn’t something I can’t work around if I push myself hard enough. My job, family, and friends aren’t impacted at all. I’m barely impacted myself, to be honest. It is more of an inconvenience than anything. I just roll my eyes and think, “Really, brain? Are we going to do this now? Let’s just read a book or go for a walk and get over it.” It is livable.
Katie joined a sorority late in the fall semester. She also got a friends with benefits. And then another, and then another. She partied with her new sisters starting Wednesday nights. She would come home pretty tipsy, if not mildly drunk, and wake me up. She would want to talk to me about the drama that was going on with her sorority sisters or her f*** buddies. Sometimes she would bring a guy back and ask me if she could have the room to herself for an hour. I usually wouldn’t argue with her, but would talk to her about it the next morning. She would apologize, but would do the same thing the following week. Her behaviors started affecting my life, but it was something that I could still deal with. This is how my depression feels some of the times. The roommate that lives in my head likes to cause some drama and make me feel like crap about myself. She likes to keep me up at night with her bullshit or try to kick me out of my own head so she can do whatever she wants in there. It can feel overwhelming and I get angry. The feelings I feel really suck, but they’re manageable and I do a pretty good job using coping strategies to deal with them. I can work, go to school, be a good wife, and live my life almost normally. It is tolerable.
Katie got really involved with the party life when we got back from winter break. She also came back with some serious drama from her favorite friends with benefits. He had given her an STI, and she found out that he was also seeing other girls. I tried to reason with her that she was also seeing other guys and that she needed to use protection in order to prevent STIs, but she was inconsolable. She started behaving very recklessly to get even with him. She would get very, very drunk at parties and she would call me to come get her. She would scream at me and belittle me the whole way back. She would call me names and make me feel terrible about myself. I knew she was drunk, but I also knew what she was doing wasn’t okay. I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I didn’t want to burden our campus counselling, my family, or the RAs with her drunk nonsense. This is how my depression can get. My brain decides to wreak havoc on my emotions and my body. It tells me I’m not good enough, that everyone hates me, that everything I’m doing is wrong. It tells me I’m useless, that everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around, and that I’m a waste of space. It tells me that I’m a bad friend, that I don’t deserve love, and that I need to go away. It is difficult to reason with it. This is when things get more difficult to manage. This is when I have to work extra hard to make sure that I put on a brave face so my family and friends don’t know that anything is wrong. I don’t want to trouble them with my issues. I have to make a conscious effort at work to smile and remember that my actions impact my students, family, and husband. This is when I have to remind myself that my husband and mom are there to help me if I need to, but I feel like a burden to them. It is difficult.
Katie got really bad in the late spring. She started purposefully spilling drinks on my stuff and ruining assignments. She got drunk and projectile vomited on my bed. She got high and convinced one of the guys she was with to put slices of pizza under my area rug and in my pillowcase on a Friday and I didn’t find it until I got back to the dorm Sunday night. Even though I can’t prove it, I swear she started spitting in my food. She had sex in my bed on multiple occasions and would leave used condoms under my mattress. I tried really hard to distance myself from her, but that’s when the real verbal abuse started. Katie started self-harming and drinking until she passed out. She would send me pictures of her bloody razors on the bathroom sink when I would go home for the weekend and text, “This wouldn’t happen if you were here. I hate that you leave me alone.” This is when I got the RA involved, helped her to make counselling appointments, and called her mom about what was going on. I threw out all of her razors and dumped her alcohol down the sink. I locked up all of my prescription medication. I sat down with her and made very strict rules about what our dorm life would be like from there on out. She hated me, but she was alive. This is what my depression can get like if I don’t keep it in check. My brain tries to convince me to behave like Katie – to cut myself, to burn myself, to starve myself, and that the world would be better off without me. It verbally abuses me and tries to convince me that I would be better off dead. It tries to convince me that if I would just do what it says, things would go back to being normal and I could be fine. It tries to sabotage everything that I hold dear like Katie did to the stuff in our dorm. It tries to suck me into its madness. This is when my life really starts to get impacted. I have to get my husband and mom involved, even though I really don’t want to. I have to put all of the things I could use to hurt myself in inconvenient places so I at least have time to think about it and talk myself out of it when the bad thoughts come in. I have to set very strict rules for myself on how I’m going to treat myself and the things that I am not allowed to do. I hate myself at these times. Part of me hates myself because it would be easier to just let go, part of me hates myself for feeling this way in the first place, and part of me hates myself because I hate that this happens to me. It is absolute hell living in my own head, but I do whatever it takes to survive.
I am very fortunate that my bad times with Katie were brief, much like my bad times with depression. I was able to finish that year with a 4.0, be an active member of 4 different clubs, and go on a few dates. I made some really awesome friends that year, and that was the year that I became honest with myself about what was going on in my head. Since then, I’ve gotten married and started a life in a beautiful home with our cat and dog. I landed my dream job almost a year ago and I’m crushing it. I will graduate at the end of fall with my master’s degree with another 4.0. My husband and I are planning to try to have kids in about a year.
Even with everything great that is going on, I still struggle with the depression. I still go through hard times, but I am very fortunate that I am functional. Sometimes living with my depression is like going through a cycle of living with Katie. I am very fortunate that for the most part, the roommate in my head remains an annoying inconvenience.