Brave was not a word I was able to identify with. I was always afraid of the dark, afraid of making friends and afraid of the world in general. But never brave. But ironically, that was the meaning of my name. Bernadette, meaning, brave as a bear.
You see, I was never the type who had many friends. I was always the loner, the girl sitting at the back of class. But I cannot blame anyone but myself. I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t really relate to people. Their lifestyle, their choices, their views. I was in my own world, over thinking everything, dreaming about unrealistic dreams, hoping to make my imaginations into a reality. I had been this way since I was 12 from what I can remember. Maybe it was because I always had prettier friends and I was just insecure about myself. Maybe it was because I wasn’t the top of my class. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I don’t know what started this habit, of hating myself and wanting to be like another. It was subtle but it carried throughout high school. It became more apparent in college.
I wanted to feel the void and emptiness in me. Yes, I know. Cliché. But man, it was true. I wanted to be the popular kid. I wanted to be the girl guys chased after. I never felt content with myself. I was always searching. I didn’t know who I was. I remember coming back from a good day from college, only to drown in my bed, crying. It was so bizzare. I had a great day. Why in the world was I bawling my eyes out?
I had been cutting myself since I was 15 but after few months into college, it became my daily routine. Even if I was feeling fine, I’d do it. It just became a habit. Six months into college, I got myself involved into alcohol, smoking and substance abuse excessively. I was trying to be bold, to be brave and all that. I was trying to fit in. The crazy thing was none of my friends ever pressured me to do anything. I wanted to do it. I wanted to prove myself and drinking was the way to go. And so I drank, and drank, and drank.
Somewhere along college, the college Christian Fellowship had a talk about “Hope is bigger than Depression”. I mean, I didn’t have depression but I was utterly sad and hopeless in life. So, I gave it a shot. And man, did I came out of that talk crying, being able to relate so much with what the speaker had said.
Weeks followed and I stopped with all the alcohol and substance abuse and smoking. But then, this feeling of emptiness came crashing like never before and I realised that all this while, the things I had been doing were my coping mechanism against the sadness I was feeling. I started picking up my Bible and praying and everything felt better. I was recovering! Life was great again!
But somehow, I was still sad deep down. Eventually, my lecturer got me to see the school counsellor/ therapist and man was it the best decision ever, seeking help. I was later referred to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder. I couldn’t believe it.
Was my faith not strong enough? Was I worrying too much and not trusting God? Was I a bad Christian for being suicidal and not appreciating the life God had given me?
The questions bombarded my mind and as months went by, everything went downhill.
I had attempted suicide a few times. I had to be sent to the hospital a couple of times. I can’t even remember. I just knew my friends were there with me at 3am together with my lecturer, taking care of me, loving me despite everything. Things got so bad I had to quit college 2 months before my finals. One and a half year wasted. Time, money, energy, all to waste. I would have graduated from my pre-U programme but I didn’t.
Some had told me that my faith was weak. Some said I was being possessed. Some said I was not trying hard enough and giving up too quickly. Others, that I brought it on to myself. And honestly, I can’t blame them, the issue of mental illness is such a taboo subject. People are not educated about it. Some don’t even want to be educated about it. But for those friends who were kind and loving, who wanted me to seek help, who reminded me that therapy and medication was God’s gift to us, thank you. If it wasn’t for the few of you, I wouldn’t have sought help.
And today? I am better, enduring. I’ll be completely honest with you. I never thought I’d made it out alive. I never thought I’d made it til 21. But I did. And I have but God to thank, ultimately. You see, I always viewed God as this vending machine. One prayer request in. One prayer answered. Which was why I wondered how a Christian like me, who loved God could hate life so much. You see, I was wrong. This phase I went through, this depression and anxiety and suicidal phase I went though, it was all so that I could learn and grow and serve God better. It was so I can empathise with people better, Christians who thought they were “bad Christians” simply because they have a chemical imbalance in the brain, something they could not control. It has helped me kinder. It has helped me understand that everyone has their own battles and they may not always show it. And so, be understanding.
My depression has taught me so many things. To enjoy the simple things in life. Friends, family, lecturers, coffee, nature, art and the list goes on. But the biggest one would be to always have hope. Hope in God, someone who would never leave me unlike mere mortals. One who would listen to everything I had to say, anytime.
I know it’s difficult. I know it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But man, hold on. Have hope. Find people who really care. Seek help and you will see yourself bloom. Life gets better, it really does.
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