Mom, I nev­er smile.”

A nine-year-old me had already rec­og­nized one of the key dif­fer­ences between myself and my peers. It would, how­ev­er, be anoth­er twelve years before my depres­sion was diag­nosed. We didn’t talk about men­tal issues.

Not, I think, because it was seen as some­thing to be ashamed of, but it did not even occur to any­one that maybe some­thing was wrong with me that could be fixed. In hind­sight, I’m won­der­ing why the ther­a­pist I saw (after being molest­ed by a hitch­hik­er) nev­er realised things. Maybe it just wasn’t as bad then. Or maybe a child that uses the term “sex­u­al attrac­tion” (as in, being wor­ried that what he did to me would stop me from hav­ing nor­mal ones) couldn’t have that kind of issues.

I was over twen­ty when I for the first time woke up with­out feel­ing as if a huge weight lay on my chest. This was after I left uni­ver­si­ty because I could not deal with things any­more, after I and my boyfriend had bro­ken up. I don’t think that the end of the rela­tion­ship caused my issues (I was already on med­ica­tion for my depres­sion, anx­i­ety, pan­ic attacks and mood swings) but it cer­tain­ly didn’t help.

I can’t even tell you how long that peri­od last­ed. I remem­ber only shat­tered bits and pieces of a dark­ness that almost con­sumed me. I lay awake, want­i­ng to be puri­fied. For the dark­ness inside to be drained. I imag­ined the knife slic­ing into my stom­ach, wash­ing away all the hurt. Once or twice I even slammed a fist into my stom­ach, almost as from reflex.

And now? I’m bet­ter. Depres­sion doesn’t take me in the way it used to, because I’m wise to its tricks. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Maybe I’m just used to it?

It was the sec­ond year of uni­ver­si­ty that I first sought out a doc­tor. She had this laun­dry list of ques­tions, and I joked with her occa­sion­al­ly as I answered them.

Do you feel anx­ious?”

No, not more than rea­son­able.”

What did I feel anx­ious about? Well, nor­mal stuff. School. Grades. My rela­tion­ship. Friends. What my par­ents would think. Dis­ap­point­ing my fam­i­ly … As the list became longer and longer, her eyes widened, and it slow­ly dawned on me that no, this wasn’t rea­son­able.

This I also cope with now. When I get wor­rried, I men­tal­ly check myself to ensure that I’m not hav­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate response. Most of the time, I real­ly have noth­ing to be wor­ried about, so I ignore the feel­ings of dread. I know not every­one can, so it’s impor­tant to know that every per­son is indi­vid­ual. What might be easy for me might break some­one else, and vice ver­sa.

Breathe out. Breathe in. I always speak fast, but when the pan­ic strikes (at least the “up” kind) I speak faster. I think faster. I can’t focus on a sin­gle thing, while hav­ing a burst of ener­gy that could last me through­out the year. If I could just har­ness that … but of course I can’t. What trig­gered it? Stress, maybe. Or some­thing else. My pan­ic attacks aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly brought on by any par­tic­u­lar trig­ger (at least not ones I’ve been able to map), but they’re there.

When it’s “down” I just want to sleep. Hurt myself. Bleed myself on the wicked­ness inside.

Thank­ful­ly all of my attacks the last three or so years have been the “up” kind.

Boys will be boys.”

He just likes you.”

You need to be the more mature per­son.”

If you just stop let­ting them get to you, they’ll stop.”

Before you say that to a child, before you lay the bur­den of them being bul­lied on their shoul­ders, think. Yes, I cry at the drop of a hat. But just because I eas­i­ly have the water­works turned on doesn’t mean that I deserve it. Why don’t you just stop breath­ing, or walk­ing, or that habit you have of tap­ping the desk when you’re think­ing? Exact­ly. You can’t, because it’s sec­ond nature to you.

Con­sid­er, next time, that being sen­si­tive and empath­ic is a good thing. You’re fos­ter­ing nar­cis­sists and me-first-ists by telling chil­dren that car­ing is a bad thing.

I always cared. I still do. I’m the shoul­der to cry on, with­out (for most of my life) a shoul­der I can cry on.

Heal­er, heal thy­self.

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