Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Memory Of A Friend

         My friend Billy* was a year younger than I was, a sweet kid with brown hair that curled into ringlets and enormous blue eyes.  He came from a very poor family; he was also a non-conformist who wore chains on his Sunday dress-pants and listened to Linkin Park.  The opinion of the ward was stacked against my friend, as adults and teenagers alike whispered about him.  There were rumors that he skipped school, that he smoked cigarettes, that he had “bad” friends.  I never knew the truth of these rumors - we attended different high schools - but I do know that he loved his little sister dearly.  Her face lit up when she saw her older brother and he always gave her a hug.  My junior year of high school - my final year of church attendance - we were both prone to skipping sacrament meetings.  Sometimes we would cross paths as we wandered the empty church halls.  Our discussions were always topical - school, life, jokes.  The elephant in the room - our personal reasons for skipping sacrament meeting - was never addressed.  I was too afraid of the possibility of condemnation to confide in my friend.  
         Billy committed suicide my freshman year of college; he jumped off a bridge to meet the jagged rocks below.  I never mustered the courage to tell him about my shattered belief; now I am left with the empty feeling of having failed him in some crucial way.  I reached my limit at the start of my senior year of high school; I quit attending church and withdrew into a shell as I struggled to cope with my father’s anger, my mother’s heart-break, and the various gossip surrounding my exit.  We lost touch as I sorted out the aftermath of my exit; dealing with any Mormon, no matter how sweet or atypical, was just too painful.  And then he was dead and there was no second chance for reconciliation, no way of letting him know that he wasn’t alone.  I suspect he may have been going through the same struggles I was.  But I will never know the truth.  
          But what I do know is that being a non-conformist or a non-believer among Mormons is a very stressful and isolating experience.  A year after Billy committed suicide, I attempted to take my own life.  My father was making petty judgmental comments about my character while my mother was interrogating me about my “sinful” lifestyle.  The idea that my parents - the two people in the world that were supposed to love me unconditionally - had turned against their apostate daughter was too heavy a burden to bear.  The prospect of the impending years seemed bleak; I thought I would never regain what I lost when I left.  That was a very, very low point in my life and one that I never wish to return to.  And so I am compelled to write, in order to describe the warp and weft of a life spent traveling a different path in life.  A life that, in the years since my suicide attempt, has grown deep and rich from a curiosity about the world at large.  
         And so this brings me to the issue of why I write this blog.  Why I am going public with my story.  I grapple with the issue of sharing my story in a public venue; I worry that I am self-centered, that I will hurt my family, that my story is not relevant.  But then I am reminded of Billy and of why I need to write.  I want faithful Mormons to know that people who choose to leave the Church are not bad people.  We exist and are fellow human beings, with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that make humanity so wonderful.  We deserve respect, to have our choices and beliefs honored.  I want the people who have never been involved with the Mormon Church to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be associated with this peculiar American faith.  And most of all, I write because I want others who are struggling with their faith to know that they are not alone.  I want them to know that their doubts do not make them a bad person and that life will get better, as they find the courage to shape their own destiny.
          Billy deserved better; he deserved to know that he wasn’t alone.  I have failed one person by my silence; I will not fail another.   

*Name has been changed

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Re-examining Priorities In Light Of A Near-Death Experience

          Two years ago I was the typical ambitious grad student; I worked my way through college and graduated from Cornell University with an honors degree.  I then enrolled in a Ph.D program in developmental biology at a top-ranked medical college.  My motivation defined me - I was content to put in the long hours necessary to complete my schoolwork and begin developing my research project.  My life's plan was mapped out for me - Ph.D, post-doc, professorship in academia.  School was spent in a blur of studying and lab-work; I was relentless in working towards my goal.  Life was school and school was life.
          And then, at the beginning of my second year of grad school, I was in a life-altering accident -- I was hit by a car while walking across the street, in the type of freak accident that people hear about on the news but never imagine will happen to them.  There were a total of three pedestrians hit - I was the first to get hit and sustained the most serious of the injuries.  My head hit the windshield, completely shattering the glass, and resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury.
          I was lucky - my physical injuries healed within a matter of months.  The brain injury took a little longer - for about six months I had a mild stutter and I got dizzy every-time that I tried to work out.  But the emotional imprint of my accident turned out to be the most lingering effect.  I developed an acute fear of cars, which in the car-centric city of Houston is prohibitive to maintaining a normal life.  Between the acute panic caused by my accident and the everyday stress of working in a high-charged grad school environment, I turned into a sobbing, hysterical mess.  For the first time in my life, I was unable to fulfill the responsibilities expected of me.  I no longer knew who I was - I had always defined myself by my work ethic and my ambition.  Now I was incapable of working a full-time job, let alone a graduate program that demanded every ounce of my concentration.  I was forced to withdraw from school and redefine who I was as a person.
          This accident has forced me to examine who I am as a person.  During the accident, when I saw the car heading towards me a millisecond before impact, my last thoughts were not about my career options or my life as a grad student - my last thought was the achingly sweet look on my husband's face as I kissed him good-bye that morning.  The idea that I might never see him again crushed my heart.  
          And so now I am at a point where my days are centered around my pathological fear of cars and the unsettling feeling that my life is no longer defined by how busy I am.  Withdrawing from grad school has wreaked havoc on my self-esteem as I struggle to understand how I have changed in light of a near-death experience.                
          I am now re-examining my priorities in life.  What I have discovered is that my priorities in life are centered around family.  Once my life has settled down - once I am at a point where I can live a functional life again - I will return to school and the pursuit of a career.  But when I do return, I will return with the attitude that although a career can be fulfilling, my full heart belongs to the people I love.