I’d always felt sad as a kid but I could live with it. Then when I got into my double digits it became a lot bigger because people in my family were dying, and so I thought that death was the reality of life. I thought that when you grow up, your loved ones die. Due to bad genes or bad luck, my family members died early and so I had to grow up too fast.
And the first clue I had to knowing that something was wrong with me was my level of functioning. It was so hard to get up, go to school, face the day, face my parents, face the world. I thought all of the adults around me felt equally terrible but that there was something wrong with me because I let my terrible feelings take over. I wasn’t handling them right. I wasn’t a strong person, I was too sensitive.
Looking back I know that those feelings weren’t normal. They were a sign that there was something wrong in my life and in my brain chemistry. But as a kid, you think that your family is the world. That everyone else’s family is just like yours, or that they could be, if their relatives died.
I feel SO sad when I write this, and I feel angry. I think to myself that if I spend every day of the rest of my life trying to get the message across to kids and teens that they aren’t alone, and it gets through to one person, then my life, all this fighting, will be worth it. I never want to let myself forget how alone I felt growing up.
And then I think, well, what could anyone have done to help me, anyway? My parents were trying their best, and no one could magically stop my family members from dying. Being diagnosed with depression earlier might have helped me feel less alone but it wouldn’t have eased the pain much at all. I think I knew that deep down when I was eleven. I knew that we were all helpless little ants on a doomed planet.
I believe that every kid feels really fucking alone sometimes. Some feel more alone than others, but especially those of us who feel really deeply, that aloneness is part of our existence. But as a kid, that aloneness is so scary. When I think back to how much pain I was in at eleven, I cannot believe I got through it. Honest to God, I can’t believe I did.
So what helped? Waiting. Taking it day by day. And music.
See, my dad is really into music and as a kid he’d give me cassette tapes of bands he thought I’d like. I had Queen and Michael Jackson, and would listen to their music and stare out by bedroom window. Then my shitty little tape deck stopped working. I told my dad and he didn’t say anything really. I was disappointed.
Then one night after dinner my dad told me to go upstairs and pull down my blind in my bedroom window. I was in the middle of doing homework or something and was like, “Why?” He told me again, strictly, to do it. So I stomped up the stairs feeling totally pissed off and opened my bedroom door to find the blind already down. What the–?
Then I saw it. A brand new stereo was on my shelf. It was huge compared to my last one and it played CD’s. It wasn’t my birthday or anything, it was November, so nothing special was going on that would warrant presents. But there it was. And that changed everything for me.
Later my dad would confess to me that my mom was angry that he’d spent like $200 randomly on me so close to Christmas. But it was right when my aunt was dying and the timing could not have been better.
My dad was part of this music club where they’d send you a pamphlet of all the latest CD’s and if you bought like three from them over the year you got ten free. So I’d pick out bands I’d heard of or whose cover art I liked and my dad would give those free CD’s to me.
And so R.E.M. got me through. Our Lady Peace and Oasis. Sarah McLaughlin. I never felt safe enough to tell people just how alone I felt at that time, and I didn’t feel safe enough to cry. I was emotionally fucked but I had music, and so I’d put on my stereo and turn it up so loud that all of my feelings got a little quieter in comparison. And my parents never told me to turn my music down, ever. Not once.
So I guess my advice to you, if you’re one of those people who feel really alone and feel like no one can help you, is to find some sort of outlet for your feelings. Find music you love, find books and find sports or whatever your heart is drawn to and surround yourself in it. Fill up your days with your passions and if you do that, then the days will be easier to get through and the nights might not feel so dark. Keep doing what you love, dream about a better life, and just hang on until you feel safe enough to talk to someone.
And when you find the right person they will help you. You’ll still have your passions but then you’ll have a person or a network of people who can fill in those times when your passions can’t drown out your pain. And when those supportive people in your life can’t be with you for whatever reason, you’ll have your passions. Switch back and forth between the two, or better yet, keep faith that you’ll meet someone who not only understands you but loves the things that you love too.
When you feel alone, remember that human beings have felt deep horrifying pain for thousands of years. They found a way to cope by making music, making art, building castles and inventing the lightbulb. They used their pain and passions as fuel for the journey. They make great fuel.
*Want to see/listen to me read this post? Check out my new Hire Me page to see a video!