This post was originally written nearly 30 years ago when I first left the Marine Corps. While dark, it is a very good representation of what many Heroes experience during that transition phase. For me it has a happy ending, but for too many the ending is even darker still. However, it should also be noted that when I wrote this I sincerely believed medications were the answer. As it turns out they eventually only made things worse. But that is a story for another post.”Dawn
A simple move of the second hand triggers the alarm startling me out of my dreams. As I open my eyes and take my first breath, the air I encounter is thick and stale. My entire being is filled with the unmistakable taste of despair. I attempt to sit up, but the weight of my coffin forces my body back toward the mattress. In my lethargic state, I fumble for the clock, wildly trying to end the incessant noise so I can begin thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing.
Do I really need to go to school today? How many days have I missed already? Why am I such an idiot? Do I have any clean clothes? Oh God, I’ve got a test today. Dragging myself out of bed, I stumble toward the shower. My coffin is just flexible enough to let me move though every step is forced and difficult. I am the living dead, forced to operate in a world that expects me always to be somewhere doing something when all I really want to do is disappear until I can get my life back again.
As I move mechanically throughout my day I sometimes put on a happy face, but am always aware of feeling the overwhelming anxiety that inevitably sends me rushing home at the first possible moment to crawl back in bed. This giant box surrounding me shuts off the flow of feelings, none come in and none go out. The end of the world would be a mere means to solving the internal battle that rages daily between my two selves.
“You @#*, why did you say that? You sound like such an idiot.”
“But it’s true, I know it shouldn’t be done that way and it’s my job to say so.”
“Nobody cares what you think. You are just stupid, ugly and fat.”
“I’ve had lots of things published and people tell me I’m attractive.”
“That was just a fluke, they needed something to fill space and those other people just didn’t want to tell you the truth.”
The second, more vicious self is much louder, stronger and more often than not, I listen to her. Every new task I begin seems impossible and eventually only supports, at least in my opinion, the inevitable outcome set forth by the second self. However, with the help of self number one I continue to strive and hope this is just a case of mind over matter.
I’ve been asked many times to pinpoint when I first began experiencing depression. Unfortunately, what memories I have are not clear enough to attach a date to them. During that period I was not concerned with time as I was engaged in what seemed to me a battle for sanity. My less than noble opponent was a general fog invading my mind sometimes becoming so thick I could hardly breath. There was never really a “good day,” but there were certain days I didn’t think I was going to make it through. I suppose I didn’t really want to actually. After all it’s not easy looking forward to tomorrow knowing it could very well be a repeat of today and yesterday and the day before that. It doesn’t give a body much to be excited about.
I always thought it was somehow my fault. After all, other people didn’t seem to have these difficulties, and no one I’d ever tried to talk to could understand. Just think positively,” they said. “Get motivated, make yourself do what you need to do, you’ll get used to it.”” It’s all in your mind.” However, I just kept asking myself why it didn’t feel just in my mind. Although I couldn’t describe it, there was pain. Not sharp physical pain like when you step on a tack or smash your finger. But a dull ache making me want to beat my head against the wall and throw things. Other times I would curl up in a little ball and pray like hell I would somehow have never existed.
Eventually I became afraid of trying to explain it anymore because I couldn’t bare the looks of pity and incomprehension from even my closest friends. And relationships? Forget it, there is really no way to explain to your date “I’m sorry dear, I can’t go to the movies tonight. I’m trying to decide whether to slash my wrists or drive my car off a bridge.” Statements like that don’t do much for the longevity of a friendship. I tried counselors, psychiatrists, preachers, you name it. Nothing did any good. So what if I have a strong dislike for my mother, if yours beat the shit out of you, you might feel the same. No I don’t speak much to my father but that isn’t my choice, it’s his. Look I feel like crap and I can assure you none of those things make any difference. I’m a big girl now and there is something more involved here than id and his stupid little buddy ego.
Things got worse in my last few months of military service. For my last year I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. I’d been away from my family and husband for almost a year with little to no support from my command and I was rapidly turning inward. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. How do you explain a trained killer who only wants to kill herself?
The truth is I couldn’t even tell anyone for fear of losing my job. “sure you can have an hour off to talk to a counselor, as long as it’s just this once.” It started becoming apparent that self number one was losing the battle. I didn’t care whether I did any work or not, I couldn’t even bring myself to enjoy reading, an activity which had previously filled much of my time.
Once again, however, it was the dim voice of self number one and a remote desire for personal survival that got me through. I knew my choices were limited as the Marine Corps would see my failure to come to work as abandonment of duty and although they may send me for help, it wasn’t the kind of help I needed.
Their solution would have only prolonged the agony of my separation. With this in mind I somehow made it through and managed to stay mentally intact enough to board the plane home, however, not without my scars. In the final two months, one spent in Japan, the other in California, I gained twenty pounds and nearly quit caring entirely. When I finally returned home to North Carolina to my loving husband and his adoring family, I was no longer myself but, as I mentioned before, there is no way to understand unless you’ve been there.
The strain soon began to show on my marriage. My husband, as hard as he tried, could not understand how my sudden mood swings and inability to care about life came directly from this monster invading my body. It didn’t help matters not understanding the problem myself so I began spending my life apologizing for being so hard to live with. I wasn’t a bitch, mind you, just terminally unhappy and very hard to be around. Life continued in this manner for about two years, with self number one pushing me to overcome this darkness in my life and self number two always on the lookout for ways to perpetuate my demise. On the outside I seemed much the same to my friends and family, but with each day I could feel myself falling deeper into the pit of darkness and I knew with time I would reach a point of no return.
The breaking point came early on an April morning in 1995. For some reason I awoke with a foul temper and the familiar but unbearable burning pain in the center of my chest. Suddenly I picked up my bedside lamp and threw it at the wall. Later, in the process of cleaning up my mess, I realized I could no longer continue in this self-destructive manner. My safety and the safety and happiness of all those I care for was in danger. In desperation I poured out my story one more time, with the fortunate consequence of finally finding a doctor who understood. Within moments of my arrival I had a prescription for an anti-depressant and a renewed hope for life. This isn’t to say everything was suddenly moonbeams and popsicles, I can assure you self number two put up quite a fight.
“Ha, Ha now you’re dependent on drugs. I knew you couldn’t do it. You’ll never get rid of me, I’m going to be here forever…”
However, each passing day puts her a little more in her place. I still let her speak once in a while just to keep me humble, but now it’s only when I say so.