The funny thing I’ve found as I gradually start to recover from my depression is that as my condition improves, what I used to feel makes less and less sense. I realize how irrational some of the thoughts that once completely controlled my life were. Instead of being depressed wondering how I could ever see things differently, I begin to wonder how I saw them that way in the first place.
But some things—some things you don’t forget. I’ll never forget what it feels like to have the breath stolen out of my lungs during a panic attack. I’ll never forget how hard it is to drag myself out of bed every morning, mostly because, despite my best efforts, I never will be a morning person. But there’s one other thing that will always be fresh in my mind. No matter how well I’m doing, no matter how irrational my thoughts may seem in hindsight, I will never forget that feeling depression gave me of being completely shattered—of feeling like my soul had been crushed into a million pieces.
I will never forget going days without sleep, and the pain I felt sitting awake at night, looking myself in the mirror with a handful of pills, trying to talk myself into not swallowing them all. I will never forget staring at myself with tears rolling down my face and the only thought I can form is “why am I broken?”
I asked myself that a lot.
Why am I so broken?
Society has somehow mastered the art of the oxymoron when it comes to mental illness. Doctors, friends, and family will all convince you that what you’re going through isn’t your fault and that, at the same time, you aren’t broken. Personally, I never bought into that. I never bought into the fact that I couldn’t be broken. How could I watch everyone around me accomplish what I should’ve been able to do but couldn’t and tell myself that I’m not broken? How could I listen to my brain tell me day after day that I should kill myself and think that I’m not broken? How could I stare at a bottle of pills like it was as much of an acceptable getaway as a tropical vacation and think that I’m. Not. Broken.
I sat around for months trying to rationalize this. I couldn’t look at everyone around me going through life having no idea what it meant to think and feel the things that I did and convince myself that I wasn’t reduced to just the rubble of what I once was, and this started to define me. I started living in rejection of my brokenness. There was no denying it, so I started trying to rid myself of it.
I tried to drown it away with booze. I thought maybe if I faked being whole for long enough, I could convince myself that I was. I tried to numb it with a few too many pills. I told myself that maybe if I just masked how broken I was, it would go away. I tried handing the shattered pieces of myself to other people thinking that maybe if they held me tight enough, they could put me back together. In the end, I couldn’t drown my problems, I couldn’t mask my problems, and I couldn’t hand them off to other people. In fact, this only made my pain all the more evident. Drunken euphoria quickly turned to drunken tears, being numb to pain also meant being numb to everything else, and people just leave you staring at your broken pieces laid out in front of you again and again because they cannot put you back together.
The pain of my fragmented mind ate away at me day after day, and along with it, the idea of ending everything seemed like a better and better option. Then, someone had the wisdom to tell me something contrary to the solution that everyone else had been handing me. They looked me in the eyes and said, “You may be broken, but it is only in the way that we all are.”
It took entirely too long to fully appreciate what this meant, but it freed me from the burden of brokenness. Finally, I had a way to reconcile what I had been feeling for so long. Yes, I am broken, but I am not the only one.
I was going through the most painful time of my life feeling like I was the only one going through something that left me with cracks. Now, there’s something to be said for this; no two people feel things the exact same way, and it’s true that no one may know your unique pain, but I looked around me and thought that I was the only one that was broken when the truth is, everyone is broken. If I had looked around in all those bars, I would have seen eyes as empty as mine. If I had stopped to really look at the people I thought could fix me, I would have seen that they couldn’t hold my brokenness because they were trying to hold themselves together too.
Brokenness isn’t a mark of failure, it is a mark of humanity. When we realize this, we not only begin to see ourselves differently, but the people around us as well. Our attitudes towards the people we walk with become drastically different when we remember that everyone is fighting a battle. Everyone has something that has left them scarred because that is part of being human. No one has a monopoly on suffering. While there are many parts of my journey with mental illness I would gladly toss out the window and never think of again, this is not one of them. I will happily remember my brokenness everyday with every person I encounter if it reminds me that they too are fighting something and that, while we may be fighting different battles, we are in this together.