I have a genetic predisposition to depression. No one else in my family has been specifically diagnosed as depressive, but substance abuse runs rampant on my dad’s side of the family; Both he and his younger brother have combated alcoholism and drug addiction. My therapist tells me—and it seems quite logical—that a lot of substance abuse starts out as a means of self-medicating, trying to drown out depression or anxiety. There are probably more incidents of mental illness in my family, but being from a lower class, rural background, my family is skeptical of all doctors, especially those dealing with mental health. To them, depression is an excuse, not a disease; everyone gets sad, you’ve just got to suck it up and keep working. Only my mom and my stepdad know that I go to therapy and take antidepressants, and my mom guards that secret closely. It’s almost as high-security as me being queer. Both things I can’t do much about, and both things that would incur a lot of ire from an otherwise loving and supportive extended family, were they to get out.
My depression—and my queerness—really started kicking in around age 11. I was just starting middle school, an environment that acts like an industrial strength pressure cooker for bullying and self-consciousness. I’d been teased a lot in elementary school, but it didn’t really bother me. I was a total brainiac- quiet, nerdy, and poorly socialized. I had maybe a dozen friends. My teachers loved me, but there were plenty of kids who made jokes at my expense or laughed at me behind my back. They kept it up in middle school, and I became even more of an outcast and my social skills grew even more pitiable as pubescent awkwardness kicked in, but the teasing isn’t what caused me to start getting depressed. A lot of my girl friends started getting noticed by boys, and ignoring me in favor of these new suitors. They were getting breasts and curves, but I stayed skinny and shapeless. I dressed androgynously in big hoodies and baggy jeans, eschewing the short skirts and fitted tees of my peers. I resented my lack of feminine features and the lack of male attention. My best friend since kindergarten, Lacey, was the polar opposite of me at this time. She was gorgeous, with long, straight blonde hair, and C-cups at age 11. I would go days without talking to anyone; she easily made new friends wherever she went. Boys had been fawning over her since preschool. I started to compare myself to her, and my self-confidence took a huge hit. I’d look at myself in the mirror and be astounded at how unattractive I was: my hair was frizzy and caveman-ish, I had pimples, my chest was as flat as a board. What a catch.
I’d always been a little in love with Lacey, but I knew she was straight. She had a new boyfriend every other week, and started spending a lot of time with them. This fostered a sort of resentment and jealousy in eleven year old me, and it gave me another reason to hate myself: I wasn’t good enough for boys, nor was I good enough for my best friend. I started growing more and more reclusive. I would cry myself to sleep, and spend all my time in my room, listening to CDs or reading. I had severe insomnia, and would average about four hours of sleep a night. My mother and I fought frequently. I was a precocious kid, so I chalked myself up as just another moody preteen, caught in a surge of hormones. Seventh grade came and went, and things stayed quite the same. I stayed miserable, unable, most of the time, to put my finger on why. I got my first laptop for my twelfth birthday, and I spent most of my time on the internet. I made a lot of online friends and lost myself in comics and cartoons. I also did a lot of reading about suicide online, and I remember spending a lot of nights thinking about it. That scares the hell out of me, retrospectively. I was twelve years old, and thinking about dying almost constantly! I don’t think I ever seriously considered ending my life, but I had formed a mantra that would stick with me and fuck with me for years: I was worthless, I was the worst, I had no reason to be alive.
(To be continued…)