Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

                  Any of you who have read the previous post on this blog know that I am currently going back to school to study psychology.  My ultimate goal is to gain a counselor's license, though I'm not completely sure right now what type of counseling I want to do.  Lately though, I've been ruminating on a particular memory, which I will be sharing below, and thinking that I may want to work with high school or college students.
                  Some of you reading this blog know that I have struggled with depression.  The narrative below is drawn from the darkest, deepest part of my depression.  I want to assure my readers that this memory is over two years old, and my mental health has drastically improved since then.  I have a better support system now, and more importantly, I am much better at letting myself use the support when I need it.  Nevertheless, my experience with depression was a life-changing one, and in many ways is the root of my desire to seek a counceling license.  The account below is as true to my memory as I can make it, and as a result it includes graphic descriptions of not only what I experienced, but what I contemplated while in a very dark place.
                   Consider yourself warned.


                  I sat down on the edge of the futon, letting it sink beneath my weight as my backpack slipped off my shoulder to land on the floor with a heavy thud.  I gripped the side of the mattress, but I didn't feel it.  There was no sensation from the thick fabric under my hands.  I could feel nothing but the dull ache deep in the center of my chest, which I had long since learned to ignore.
                  I stared blankly around the empty room.  I had deliberately stayed in the dining hall until I knew my roommate would be in class, but now I wasn't sure why.  The silence was oppressive.  I couldn't hear any of our neighbors, though I had seen at least one other girl returning to her room at the same time as me.  I couldn't hear myself breathing, or even my heartbeat.
                  Everything around me appeared dull, washed out, and faded, like a photograph left too long in the sun.  It was as if nothing was quite real.  Or I wasn't.  Almost, I could believe I was a ghost.
                  Something on my roommate's desk caught my attention - a flash of silver.  Without thinking, I stood and took two steps forward to pick up the object.  It was a straight edged razor, the kind used in utility knives.  The metal felt cold, almost icy to my touch-starved flesh; the metallic reflection seemed blinding against my sepia-toned fingers.  Unbidden, a question rose in my mind: If I cut myself, would I even feel it?
                  I don't know how long I stared at the blade in my hand, envisioning exactly how it would happen.  In my mind's eye, I could all but feel the sharp steel slicing into the soft underside of my forearm, leaving a thin, clean line of pain.  I could see the tiny, crimson drops that would well up in the track, each one a perfect, beautiful sphere: a proof that I still lived.
                  That thought brought me up short.  Slowly I turned the razor over and over in my hands.  The cool metal had warmed by now, but the edge whispered across my skin like a silken band.
                  What if I cut too deeply?  That was how people committed suicide.  I knew, suddenly, that I didn't want to die, not then.  Until that moment, I hadn't even realized that I was unsure.
                  Half-formed scenes flashed through my head, of misjudging and bleeding out alone in my dorm, or waking up with bandaged wrists in a hospital.  Of judging correctly, only to be accused of attempting suicide by friends (or worse, family) who discovered the marks.  Of being forced to try to explain why I did it - reasons that seemed simultaneously to be both obvious and impossible to me.  And interwoven over and through all these images was a bone-deep, gut-wrenching shame and terrible nameless fear.

. . .

                 I wish that I could say I thought of how my self harm would devastate my family, or of all the things I still had left to experience and learn.  But it was neither the people who loved me nor the things I loved that made me put down the razor that day.  In truth, my depression had driven me too deeply into myself, disconnected me too much from the world for those arguments to have even occurred to me.  The only thing that kept me from self harm or worse was a blind, selfish, primal desire for survival.
                 According to recent data, about two million cases of self injury are reported annually in the United States alone.  Millions more go unreported due to the secrecy which participants in self harm tend to maintain around their injurious activities.  It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men engage in some form of self injury, up to and including suicide attempts.
                 In a way, I was fortunate that my depression had no focus, no conscious reason for my misery, or else I might not be writing this today. If my will to live had been even slightly diluted by such a reason, I might well have made the ultimate gamble, and lost.  I had the means and the opportunity to become one more datum of that horrifying statistic.
                  This is why I want to be a counselor.  If I can help even one lost, lonely young person out of the sort of dim, lifeless place I found myself in, I would consider all the time and money spent on my education to be well repaid.  If I can show just one young man or young woman that they don't have to face that terrible choice alone, support just one person through the sort of crisis I survived unsupported, I will be well satisfied with my investment.
                  No one should have to live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.


  1. <3 Depression runs in the family. We have a tendency for it because it's how we were born.

    And for anyone else struggling with anxiety or depression, there is NO shame in counseling. It certainly helped me.

    Jenny, I'm proud of you for finding what you want to do with your life! I hope your emotional connection to your work helps you be one of the best. <3