Writing With Mental Illness Part 2


I was fortunate and had an amazing childhood, raised by hippies. My growing happened when I thought I was ready to adult and took the plunge headfirst. My demons were birthed on the front lines of war.

My childhood was the stuff of legend. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Billy Coleman (Where the Red Fern Grows) all wrapped into one. I grew up in Napa, California, on the other side of the mountain that cups the valley. We didn’t have cable TV, only a couple radio stations reached us, and the closest store was a small convenience store called Lakeside Market which was about a 10 minute drive, almost as long as it took to get to Napa. My elementary school, Capell Valley, boasted an attendance of 32 students, grades 1–6, with one teacher (Mrs. Grey) and an aid (Mrs. Sammuel). My weekends were spent adventuring through the vast wilderness, trudging through woods, skirting the creek, mucking around the pond, grilling and swimming at the lake from lunch into the night. I caught snakes, lizards, turtles, bugs, frogs, and a cold or two. My dad worked at a shipyard, so he brought me all the plywood and 2×4’s I needed to built five forts, two in the trees. Twice a year my parents would take my sister and me to the redwoods to go camping in true hippy fashion, scoffing at the RV’s with their satellite TV’s, beds, showers, and kitchens. That wasn’t camping!

I loved my childhood.

Thinking about it, recalling the moments that filled my youth always makes me happy.

I think I know when I became depressed. At least, the onset. Maybe… A vivid and powerful moment stands out as a terrible turning point in my life. It was the day I’d gained a profound understanding of what death was on a metaphysical level.

I’d always had a philosophical mind—I contemplated the meaning of words in relation to the sounds we express to convey them while I was walking home from school in the 7thgrade. My realization of death came after my grandma’s passing. She was an amazing woman, always gifting me things for the holidays that would stimulate thought—subscriptions to Natural Geographic, complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, reading lamp, book shelf for the books she was always giving me, cool science sets, etc.

I think I was 12… I can’t remember the year. It was late at night and the phone had woken me up. My dad answered and I felt the pain in his voice. He knocked on my door and told me grandma had passed. I didn’t know how to feel. I forced myself to cry because that’s what I thought I had to do. That’s what everyone else did. Grandma was dead. But what did that really mean?

Months later, I was headed to the dam to fish with my friend. His father was a jerk, super mean, and loved to drink. I’d bean thinking about death in the philosophical way that I’d thought about the meaning of words and the finality of it all devoured my poor little heart. Everyone would die—mom, dad, my pesky little sister, cousins…EVERYONE. Me. I would die. I was going to die!

I cried.

A lot.

I stayed in the car while my friend fished with his dad. My friend would come up and check on me, asking if I was okay, but I’d just blubber through my sobs about dying and he’d go back to fish.

Ever since that moment, I’ve donned a mantle of darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a happy kid. My life didn’t really get hard until my parents had to leave Napa when I was 18 and I tried to adult. Spoiler alert—I failed. I was a happy kid, but my life had changed in that brief moment at the dam.

Everywhere I went, death followed. Not overtly. It was a subtle flavor in my life. A pinch of darkness in a life otherwise filled with vibrant happiness. I remember feeling sad for no reason and finding a strange sort of solace in solitude. I’d thought I was sad, but this felt different, somehow. Deeper. I didn’t want to cry. It felt as though my soul was heavy. Like it didn’t want to get out of bed. Like motivation was a foreign concept, an impossible task.

The worst part about it?

I felt I had no reason to feel that way. No one had hurt me, or yelled at me, or punished me. Sometimes it was raining, sometimes it was sunny. It didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason.

I hated it.

Did it start with my grandma’s death? I don’t know. Is it really important? Some people find release when they “come to terms” with the cause to their issue. It seems that, while the cause of depression may or may not be tied to an event, understanding that won’t absolve the pain. It might help me understand why I’m depressed, but it’s not like the depression is going to magically disappear the moment I understand the why of it any more than identifying the cause of a stomach ache makes the ache go away.

Here’s the thing about dealing with depression—we don’t NEED a reason to feel down in the dumps. We don’t need to make excuses for the way we feel. We just need to do our best to cope with the pain and work on discovering how to deal with those horrible feelings when they arise. I hate to get all Neitzche on you, but each of us is as unique as a snowflake and we need to discover what works for us. It’s an ongoing process, but there is hope. There is light outside of the darkness.

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