Major depression is a debilitating mental disorder. It’s crucial for me to begin with this definitive statement, because it took years – no, decades – to realize that I was impaired by clinical depression and persistent depressive disorder and I needed ongoing professional help. Inwardly, I knew, but fully acknowledged it as my life exploded, and I was powerless to abort the free fall.
Now that I’m a self-aware woman and no longer in denial, I know that my first depressive episode occurred in my pre-teen years. My home life was less than ideal, and the instability and chaos caused me to feel isolated and lonely. At age 10, I was traumatized by a one-time incident of child molestation by a “friend of the family,” and it was enough to catapult me from sadness to depression to a fantasy world where I was always the victor – never the victim.
It helped that I was believed and that the perpetrator was never allowed to re-enter our home. My adult confessor threatened to kill the sick-minded child sex abuser, and for several years, I thought I was responsible for a man’s death, but later learned he was alive, but “had lost his mind.” My other strong feelings? I was ashamed and never felt free to talk about what happened to another soul until I was 18. Before I discovered the child molester was babbling to himself and being led by a caretaker, I felt, and righteously so, that he should have been punished, and even at 10, I worried about potential victims. I soon began to gain weight in a subconscious effort to desexualize myself. My erroneous thoughts were, “Wasn’t my developing body and the dress I wore what caused ‘Mr. Jones’ to molest me?”
I cannot pinpoint when situational depression morphed into a full-blown depressive episode, but I do know that by age 12, I was cognizant of a permanent state of unhappiness which I worked tirelessly at masking. Moreover, I wasn’t certain of the underlying reasons, including a probable genetic predisposition to depression, and attributed the mood disorder to the molestation. But the incident that initially caused grief, mourning and other emotions that my prepubescent vocabulary could not describe was not the sole reason for my then permanently depressed state. I knew what I experienced post-molestation was not the same as what I later suffered. This new darkness was profoundly different, because it emanated from the essence of my being, the depths of my soul. It was like standing on a precipice and being pulled downward, powerless to abort the freefall.
During my 15th year, I attempted suicide by cutting my wrist – not enough to do any real damage, but not because I didn’t want to harm myself. Yet the fear of the unknown – death – and pain were enough to stop me. Fortunately, I was not streetwise or savvy enough to acquire sleeping pills, because if I had, I would have taken a mega dose, laid down and drugged myself out of this world. The cutting occurred on a Friday evening, but no one knew and I proceeded to school Monday with a long-sleeve shirt that covered my newly scarred wrist. Subsequently, I plowed through life with the yoke of depression heavy on my neck.
I powered along through strength of will, faking normalcy, and the day after my 16th birthday, I was elated at the prospect of a new dog as a belated gift. I headed to a nearby hardware store to buy a leash and encountered a red-eyed, desperate-looking man who grabbed and forced me into a rusty green car. He snatched me by the shoulders and banged my head into the backseat of the car. He then held me down with his left hand, while holding his right hand inside his coat. I was then positive, but later uncertain, that he had a gun.
Although I was not then a Christian, I prayed to Jesus, because I had heard my grandmother say, “If you call on the Lord, he will answer you.” The pockmark-faced man suddenly shifted his interest from rape to money. He asked if I had any cash, and I, through noiseless tears, responded, “Yes.” He released me, so I could rise, then grabbed my purse off the floor of the car, sifted through the wallet, taking the $6 I had for the dog leash. Meanwhile, I began softly crying and continued silently praying that this dirty, filth, and probably diseased, man would not rape me.
After staring at me for what seemed like an endless amount of time, but was probably a minute or two, he decided to free me and unlocked the car door, and I bolted from the car and ran as quickly as I could in wedge-heeled shoes to a friend of my father’s house. Then, I mentally kicked “my stupid self,” because mistakenly, I hadn’t realized that the hardware store wouldn’t have been open anyway, because it was New Year’s Day. “No wonder there were no people out and walking about other than me,” I reasoned. Therefore, I was to blame; my faux pas, along with forgetting to tell my father my destination, was why I was nearly sexually assaulted and robbed. Or so my depressed, negative psyche told me.
Throughout high school, I performed acceptably, but should have excelled based on I.Q. and achievement test scores, but I couldn’t pull myself together. However, my love of English, French and history kept me in school and motivated enough to perform well in these subjects, which I mastered effortlessly. Other subjects that required concentration were a struggle. Finally, I graduated -- not at the top of my class -- but with a 2.8 GPA. It’s miraculous that I graduated at all, because I had no professional or lay counseling for either of the violations. Also, I had been indoctrinated to not convey my problems to anyone and to always remain stoic and dignified.
Click here for more reports by Phyllis L. Smith Asinyanbi.
Copyright © 2014.