Two seconds away from pulling the trigger. I could feel the cold steel on my temple, the fiery hollow depths of death in the gun’s muzzle. I could feel my body sinking into the bed, every limb tied down, pushed down as my spirit levitated, hovered and drifted away from my body. I watched as the dimming flame of my soul quivered in fragility in the wind, and watched as I extinguished it with an exhale. I grappled to find the words, memories, images of family, friends, and happy moments in the past to hold onto, but every evocation felt like it was slipping through my fingers. “They will mourn and will eventually move on. Life goes on,” I said to myself. I pictured the wailing cries of my mother, the denial of my brother, the stupefaction of my father and sister… and yet made peace with it. I found a silver lining in visualizing my family growing old and closer together because of the loss. "Oh, Lord! But what about my husband, hasn't he suffered enough lost?!” I said to myself. I could feel my blood congeal into ice, I felt such glacial numbness… for two seconds it was as though I no longer existed.
I have dealt with and faced depression since I was a teenager. But for many years, I have been the witnessing caretaker of those closest and dear to me and never for a second believed that I would one day be the one dealing with it myself. In my culture, there is such shame that surrounds the topic of mental health, I never felt I had a safe environment to talk or deal with it. But most profoundly for me, there never existed any real conversations around how to deal with emotions and vulnerability. I grew up to believe that someone always had it worse than me, making my feelings invalid, instead of learning to be vulnerable so I can empathize with others. Feelings was not discussed in my surroundings, so the coping mechanism I developed was to internalize everything. Nonetheless, as time has always revealed to me, what is hidden always comes to the surface, what is initially small transforms into something bigger, and whatever isn’t dealt with becomes layered.
… for two seconds it was as though I no longer existed.
One of the first most vivid experiences I had with depression was in High School in Haiti with one of my best friends. We first met in Junior High School and clicked immediately over our love of books, poetry, and movies. We could quote sonnets of Shakespeare on a whim and dare I say, our love of Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet,” was our storybook teenage girl fantasy. We were often teased and taunted for being in our fantasy world, but to me having one person who got me was more important than convincing twenty people to like me. And I will always value and commit to our friendship because of that.
She was acutely smart and had such a vivid imagination, that her love for what was possible made life around her infectious. We would spend endless days studying, reading, watching movies, dreaming of our future and talking about boys. Boys! Boy did they change things for us in High School! Simple crushes in Junior High turned into dating in High School. We were always there for each other sharing our experiences as we transitioned into this new phase in our lives. We were there for each other from week-long boyfriends to the more serious relationships that left indelible marks in our lives. Then one day – I am never sure between the boys, the pressures of school and growing up – our teenage girl fantasies were shattered having to deal with new realities none of us were quite prepared to deal with. I don’t know what triggered it or how it began for her, but for our remaining years in High School, I would witness someone I loved so dearly be raptured in darkness.
My best friend began to deal with depression in a society that often stigmatized the very notion of mental health. No one talked or acknowledged it, it had to be hidden from public view, deemed "a private matter" that even behind closed doors was never really dealt with. I witnessed her “High-highs “and “Low-lows,” and knew all too well the feeling of helplessness of never quite knowing how to help or bring any solace to someone you love so much. I witnessed as schoolmates ruthlessly bullied her, childhood friends — not knowing how to cope or concerned with public perceptions — drifted away, watched as the school administration ill-prepared never addressed the issue or protected her, and her family trying desperately to come to terms with and find the right support for her. I saw money, material goods, a never-ending "Yes" and liberties given to her in the hopes to make her feel better, but they were always temporary solutions. The toughest moments for me were when we went out to parties. Boys would try to get her drunk to put her in compromising situations to ridicule her. Her siblings, cousins and I would spend the night chasing predators away and chasing after her as she resisted leaving parties. The alcohol did not help, it made for intensely emotional evenings for all of us. But those experiences thought me a lot about her, about how she wanted to feel ‘normal’ and go through teenage experiences like all of us without feeling singled-out. It taught me to make a conscious effort to always be myself around her, to tell her things like it was, to not treat her as a ‘case’ but as my best friend and a person I cared for. Part of it was to tell her things like it was even if it was hard to hear. Although at times I was scared it might have triggered something for her, I felt it was more important for her for me to be truthful with her. And it was that deep respect and love we held for each other that makes us friends to this day.
Nevertheless, that experience did deeply affect me and I wouldn’t feel the weight of it until we were apart in college. We lost touch with each other during our college years attending different universities in different parts of the United States. It wasn’t until I got into college that I realized the responsibility I had put on myself to care for and protect my friend, the constant worry of never truly understanding how she felt and feeling helpless in bringing any lasting relief. It was a responsibility that was never truly mine to take on, but that I did put on myself. “I had to be there for her. That’s what true friends do. What type of friend would I have been if I didn’t show up and take care of her when she needed me the most?” I felt guilty for feeling the experience was burdensome for even a second…and I tucked my feelings away.
My second most poignant experience with depression was in college with my cousin. She was like a sister to me. Growing up in Haiti in a very large family, she was the only cousin who was a girl closest to age to me. We did everything together since we were babies. I was gentle and introspective; she was assertive and outspoken. Like Ying and Yang, we were opposites that complemented each other. I lived vicariously through her, celebrating every adventure and applauding every risk she took that I wished I had the courage for myself. We were inseparable and built an infamous reputation on the schoolyard “you mess with one of us, you’ll deal with both of us.” We were synonymous together in elementary school.
I was devastated when her family moved away to North America. We both had to learn to navigate growing up without each other in new environments. In the years that followed, as her family moved around in different countries, we spent every summer vacation we could together, catching up on everything that went on in the year during long summer night conversations. To this day, we can spend months, years even, without talking to each other and in one conversation catch-up. We have an intangible connection that words fail to explain.
“Yes. How are you?”
“Have you heard from your cousin?”
“Not recently. Why?”
“They can’t find her and we were hoping if maybe you had spoken to her.”
“What do you mean they can’t find her?!”
“Don’t worry. They are just looking for her. She will probably call you. When she does just let us know. Ok?”
I hung up the phone in shock replaying every conversation I ever had with her that in the past few days that might give any hints as to what was going on. My first instinct was to leave college and go looking for her. But where do I begin to look? Family would keep trying to reassure me that everything was under control to mitigate the situation, but my gut kept telling me that they had no idea what was going on. I kept anxiously waiting and praying to hear from her. I felt if she could hear from me, I could reassure her. It would be weeks later when my phone rang and for a second…my heart held its breath.
“I know it’s you. How are you?”
“I know you heard…It’s complicated…”
“You don’t owe me an explanation. I just want you to call me for whatever. I just want to hear your voice. It’s enough to let me know you are ok.”
“Just call me whenever for whatever.”
And we hung up the phone. She called me every day, and not once did I ask her to provide me any explanation. I just wanted to be there for her without judgment. I just wanted to be there for her. I knew when she was ready to share anything with me, it would be her choice and at her own time. I knew she was going through a dark period, I had pieces of details from family members, but I knew only she knew the truth of what she was really going through. It would be years later that we would talk about depression and how in that situation for her, she had made a very courageous and bold decision to deal with it by herself away from family. It was not an easy journey for her having to face it on her own, starting from the bottom with no money or home. She knew it was a decision she had made for herself and had to take responsibility for. Despite how crazy it may have seemed at the time, once again, I found myself admiring her courage and thanked the heavens she was able to rise from this situation. Her risky approach is not made for everyone, but I believe it was the right one for her. I can’t explain the fear that came over me at that time at the thought of ever losing my cousin. It felt like a part of me was lost and that by all means necessary I had to find her. I felt the same helplessness I did with my high school friend, being so self-aware of how I had no real control of the situation or how the person felt. So, it was so important just to be wholly present for my cousin and let her know that. But in the process, I had no one to talk to about it and how it affected me. I witnessed how family members were busier judging or coming to conclusions about what went wrong instead of providing support to one other to go through it together. So, in a split-second decision… I chose to internalize some more.
“Just call me whenever for whatever.”
And in two seconds… I realized that now I was the one going through a depression…and more deeply, going through suicidal thoughts. I had reached one of the lowest points I ever felt in my life. Taking my own life felt like a sweeter relief than living. I can’t quite describe such a feeling, I don’t have the scientific facts to help make it make sense for other people. But, this is what I know from my experience. Years of undealt feelings and traumas caught up with me. I deflected having to take care of my own feelings by taking care of others, ran away from facing tough issues in the hopes they would be "out of sight, out of mind" and had so much pent up anger to be in constant survival mode just to get through the days. None of it was healthy for me and life just had to find a way, extreme as it may be, to get my attention to take care of it.
My darkest seconds has built up to be my golden hours. I had to go through it, there was no shortcut to this. And it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. In my experience, it took being aware I had reached rock bottom to gain the courage to take a hold of my own life, to realize I was responsible, that I was the writer of my own story. It also took the kindness of perfect strangers and loved ones that I could open up to at the moment, to feel surrounded and supported. I first called my cousin — who had undergone her own experience with depression — and my husband, who brought me joy and purpose, to just make them aware more than to have them provide me with solutions. I knew it had weighed heavily on my husband, and that his first instinct was to take care of me. I had been in his shoes in similar situations in the past. But, what my past experience had taught me was how important it was to tell him, "I know you want to solve this for me, but at the end of the day it's really my responsibility. And the best thing you can truly do is be there for me, however, helpless it will feel for you. The best thing you will ever do for me, is to be present." That's the truth in all of this. This is the internal work that I alone am responsible for. This is daily work on myself. In the process, I have met a mentor with a network of friends that have completely shifted my life. They helped me realize the road to recovery is in putting one foot in front of another and that it is an internal journey. They helped me to understand that the real joy of life is in every moment you are living and get to decide to live. They have also taught me to see there are mentors in everyone I meet, that teach me something new every day and are always there when you need it. This experience has made me realize that I am not alone even when at times I feel that I am. I have learned to feel again, to truly go through emotions and experiences knowing something always awaits me on the other side. It has taught me to fail, to go through pain, open to what it truly is there to teach me. Most importantly I have learned to face my fears, often self-created, that block me from tapping into my true potential and from just being grateful to be alive.
I can’t think of a more vulnerable story to share but here goes my two seconds…