Breaking down walls

I’ve spent a good part of my life building walls around myself, to keep people out. I think everyone does that to some extent, but some people build better walls than others. One of my biggest problems is that I feel too much. I don’t know if it correlates to my issues with depression and panic disorder or if it’s a separate issue. All I know is that everything from a misspoken word to an unintentional act can cut me like a knife and make me bleed internally. So,  I build walls. I hide behind them and try to pretend that I have a good life, doing things that make me happy. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it isn’t.

The first wall I consciously know that I built was to protect myself from my father. He was not physically or verbally abusive towards me, I just didn’t matter to him. I was always the quiet one because my sister was always so boisterous and always had a group of friends around. Anything she asked for, he gave her. If she wanted to go out with friends on Friday nights, she was allowed to. I was given books and told to stay in my room and not bother him. I tried to be a good daughter and offered to help him with projects like working on cars and repairing things around the house, and he’d let me, but I never got a thank you for my help and I never felt like I was appreciated for my contribution. After my parents’ divorce, he started dating and I started baking as a way to pass the time because I hated being alone in the house by myself every Friday night while my sister was out with friends and my father was out doing whatever he was doing to find a new wife. I told myself that it was okay that I was alone, because it gave me the freedom to experiment with baking recipes, but honestly, I’d rather have spent the time doing something with my father. Every time one of my friends mentions that their daughter was going to a father/daughter dance, it made me wonder if I just wasn’t good enough for my father to go to a dance with me. So, up went a wall; one that I could hide behind and convince myself that I didn’t need my father in my life.

I built a wall to shut out my mom as well. Soon after the divorce, my mom went back to school and got a job to help support us. I don’t begrudge her that. Then, she decided to go to law school. All of a sudden, every spare moment of the day was spent with her nose in a law-book, studying whatever courses she was taking that semester. I never had that caring mom who helped me with my homework or talked to me about boys or taught me how to create a budget and balance a checkbook. I figured if she didn’t have time for me, then I didn’t want to make time for her. Instead, I started making sure that dinner would be ready when my mom and sister got home, and struggled through my homework as best I could without help. Of course my sister wouldn’t help me because she was older and had more important things to than to help her stupid little sister.

As I got older, I built more and more walls to hide behind. I created a persona in high school that allowed me to get by relatively unscathed and mostly (I thought) unnoticed by the majority of classmates. I was never the top of the class, but I was never at the bottom. I was never in the popular clique, but I wasn’t outcast. I just existed. At the time, I harbored the dream of going away to a college out-of-state, earning a degree, and beginning a new life away from everyone who knew me. That dream came crashing down three weeks before college was scheduled to begin when my father told me that he decided that he couldn’t afford to pay for my college, and it wouldn’t be fair to my sister, since she was only attending community college. So, instead, I also enrolled in community college and passed three unmemorable years there without making a single friend or feeling like I had actually learned anything.

It was around this time that my depression started. At first, it was just dysthemya. Chronic, long-term, mild depression. I had several bad experiences in high school that may have triggered it, or it may have just developed on its own. I don’t know, and I don’t have the self-will to examine it any closer. I learned to live with it, because I had no one to talk to or share my problems with. Eventually, it morphed into the panic disorder, which I still have, and eventually into full-blown Major Depressive Disorder. Any time I tried to talk about it, I was told that it was all in my head and that I just needed to snap out of it and be happy. The depression would go away if I let it. I was accused of being an attention seeker, trying to get people to feel sorry for myself with my mood swings and crying jags. In reality, I needed someone to explain to me that depression is a disease, just like cancer or Parkinson’s. Some people eventually get past it with the right combination of therapy and medication, and others don’t. So far, I seem to fall into the “don’t” column.

I was terribly ashamed to ever admit that I had depression or panic disorder, so I always blew it off as just having a bad day. I didn’t want to be seen as weak or helpless. I just wanted to be a normal person with the occasional bad day. There was a new wall around me, to keep my true feelings to myself so that no one could make fun of my weakness. That was a good wall. The people who knew me best never realized I had any problems, and I never shared my scarred life history with them. I was just another slightly strange person who never quite became friends with anyone.

Then one day I decided I was tired of hiding behind my walls. I decided that I wasn’t going to be stigmatized for my mental illness. It’s not contagious, so explaining it to others wasn’t going to cause an epidemic of new sufferers. I slowly started talking about my issues to people who seemed to care, and I found out that the people who are my true friends don’t care that I am not perfect. They see my flaws as making me unique, not broken. That’s  not to say that there aren’t still times when I hurriedly put the walls back up and hide behind them when everything is going wrong, but I’m getting better. I still won’t talk about certain events in my life that have shaped part of who I am, but maybe someday I’ll be able to do that. In the meantime, I’ll work on tearing down my walls and sharing my hurts and pains, explaining what depression and panic disorder is actually like to people who ask, and trying to be accepted for being me.

It’s taken 39 years, but I’ve discovered that I like me, cracks and all. I’ll never be a completely whole person, and I’ll never be able to guarantee that I won’t slip back into the major depression that causes me to curl up in bed for days at a time, crying for no reason. I’ll still have panic attacks for no known reason, but it’s okay. It’s just part of who I am.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Julio
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 05:10:58

    Wow, Thank you for sharing.I did’t know your life was that difficult. I am so glad you are doing better. I used to work Social work to help people with mental illness. I too suffer from mentsl illness. But anyway awesome work.


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