Dear Mila,

There’s a story I’d like to tell you. Part of a story. Basically the latest chapter of one. Mine.

For the whole past year I’ve been writing to you about the world, my discoveries, my life.
Today, I will tell you about my death. And my resurrection.

But first, there’s something you need to know: I like people with stories. People who had to fight. And people who’s fight made them kind and compassionate.
I look up to people who know about life’s ups and downs, it’s hidden valleys and treasures. People who only ever have a good time are suspicious to me. How would they relate to the many people suffering in this world? They seem to be avoiding life in it’s full immenseness. Seem to avoid hardship and are not fully aware of what’s happening around them.
People who think they are strong because they have never fallen have no idea about the strength of the people who get up and fight their demons every day.
If you know how a heart can shatter into a thousand pieces of sharp glass, you’re my kind of person. Because then you know how it feels to have your heart swell and fly, like a balloon filled with helium. So full that you think you’re gonna explode out of joy of a single small moment. The glitter of the ocean, the sensation of warm rain on your salty skin, a hug by that person you’ve been missing for too long. Or the first glimpse of a blue sky you thought you’d never see again!

With this, I want to encourage everyone with a story to share it. With the people they love, people they meet, people they’ll maybe never see again. Because there’s nothing worse than having to go through death, hell and life alone. And by sharing our story, we discover, that we’re not alone. We are story-tellers. And we all have more than one chapter.

So here’s mine.
In January 2015 I packed up my surfboard, my backpack, danced in the living room and took off to my favorite place: The ocean. More specific: Sri Lanka. The teardrop shaped jewel in the Indian Ocean.

What I didn’t know was that this would be the end of life as I knew it.

3 weeks later, it was valentine’s day, we crashed. Our motorbike thundered down the side of a small bridge, leaving me unconscious and my friend utterly devastatingly injured. I woke up with the high pitched sound of the broken bike and my friend uttering noises of immense pain under her breath.
It took us 12 hours and 3 different hospitals to get her from the mountains of Sri Lanka to a private hospital in Colombo.

As much as you might be interested in hearing more about my friend’s story, this is not my information to share. Thus I can’t continue here. All I can say is this: She will be fine! And she is by far one of the strongest people I know and I can’t wait to surf with her again. Because we will! I admire her for how she handled the incredibly difficult situation she was in, and the pain she had to endure. I will never stop re-living the moment when we had to separate hands to be taken off to two different intensive care units.

My story begins here.
On February 17 I had a stroke. Two, to be exact. As a direct consequence of the accident.

Yes, it came along with all the symptoms you hear of. The right side of my body went paralyzed, I couldn’t speak, only utter sounds, I couldn’t move and had no idea what was going on.
I wanted to speak, ask what was happening but could not react besides making those golden-retriever like sounds. That moment is engraved into my brain (literally and figuratively). I hope one day the flash-backs will stop.

The next hours I spent in a big noisy machine, being examined by many doctors and being wheeled around in a bed. But what I remember most is the deeply concerned look on the doctors faces, a certain person’s hand on mine and the overwhelming need to sleep. I hid under the covers.

I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). In the middle of the night, alone. That was when that little creepy devil of anxiety creeped into my veins. He snuck in through my ears with the beeping of the machines, into my eyes with the blinking lights and the emptiness of the room. Into my blood with every drop of the medicine. And there he settled.
Over the next 2 weeks in the ICU he had his fun with me. He made me scream, shake, squirm and cry whenever he liked. He’d creep up my right leg, whispering “stroke” and would cling to my lungs when I tried to breath or ask for help.

For two weeks I saw no sunlight, smelled no fresh air, no stars, no birds, no plant. Only a room the size of a cardboard box, artificial light and the beep-beep-beep of my heartbeat being digitalized. The devil grew, multiplied, called for his friends. And they came. Guilt and Depression. They picked me apart, left me sometimes apathetic and tired, then again crying and screaming, then begging, then whimpering, then senseless.

And they stayed with me. After I left the hospital. After I left Sri Lanka.
Anxiety was an ever present devil. He’s green, small, grinning. He hides in corners, in buses, in lecture halls, in cafés. And he’ll tell me that death is coming for me. Any second now. So I’d pick up the phone for help or to say goodbye. Break down on the street crying. Hiding. Not taking a shower when no one was in the house worried that no one would find me in there. Leaving the door open when I sleep, hoping that someone could tell the difference between death and sleep.
It is no life when you think you’re dying three times a day. It is merely existing. 

But as one devil shrunk with the help of therapy, meditation and medication, another one grew stronger and stronger. This one is less like a little creepy devil. It’s a deep dark black pool of dark water with slippery creatures on the ground, trying to grab your ankles as you flail your arms to stay on the surface. I didn’t. I went under. But the fact that I’m writing to you today means that I didn’t drown.
Having been left with daily symptoms of a strong concussion and the stroke, I could see less and less sense in my life. What would my life be if I couldn’t travel anymore? Who was I, if I couldn’t explore the world anymore?
Can an injured brain take the workload of a student life? What would I do if I couldn’t pursue my degree?
If all your dreams are shattered by a beaten and broken body, why dream?
When just walking down the street is an effort, what does the outside world matter?
When moving around the house is painful, why leave bed?
If every night is only a string of flash-backs and nightmares, why sleep?
Why eat?
Why drink?

Why live?

And so it went on.

Until I found the pills. All the pills. And there I was. On the edge of destruction. On the edge of suicide. On the edge of life and death.

But I couldn’t do it.
I am a person with a story! MANY stories.
My whole life I wanted to be the girl with the many tattoos, many jobs, many destinations and many stories. So I need to live to tell this one. I decided to build my life again.
Even though it still seems like it sometimes, I know that nobody gets everything.
I had more than many. From a beautiful childhood to a troubled youth, a loving family, safety and warmth. Life lessons. I have a good, beautiful body, a great brain (even though it now has holes in it) and an even better heart.
I was given the world, the ocean runs through my body and there’s the sand of the sahara in my shoes. I may never get all the opportunities other people were given. But that doesn’t define me. What defines me is my strength and my love for this life. It I’ll never teach great theories, write great articles or be on a big stage.. that’s ok.
I will teach people how to fight and how to be strong. How to love this world. The planet will be my stage. Maybe now, I won’t be as good or smart as others. But there’s a reason I’m still here.
All I can do in the end is give my best in being me.
As long as I feel there’s life. There’s the world. There’s me.

And all the things fighting for.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t just snap out of depression or anxiety. I’m still battling it every day. But I’m also discovering that it’s worth being strong.
There are days I don’t want to get up and I’m jealous and angry because it seems everyone else has it easier. Nights where the nightmares are grabbing, where death seems to be peeking into my bedroom. Moments that seem entirely dark, deep and endless.
But they become less and less – because I asked for help. And I received it. By many many people. And I remembered that I matter. I remembered that people care. Family, friends, kind strangers, therapists, doctors, kittens and meditation.

I will never again be the girl that wrote to you last year, Mila. But that’s ok. Because I have another story, another tattoo. I am more compassionate now. I take (even) less bullshit. And even though I’m still a bit shaky in the knees, I know I’ll be stronger. And there will be life.

I can see it from here.

Love,

-A.

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5 thoughts on “Depression And Other Story-Tellers: My Year Without Life

  1. Beautifully written. I’m sorry you had to go through that… But I admire the wisdom you’ve gained from it. You speak with a poetry that can’t be faked and it’s testament to your sense of self. I been through some shit myself, on another wavelength. And yer… self worth is what it comes down to at the end. You said it yourself, you have to remember that you matter. And taking less bullshit is a symbol of the strength it requires to adhere to that. It’s one of the hardest to things to explain when your self worth is so low it’s crippling, no matter how successful you are or what you think you have to be happy about. It’s a force that seems as prevalent and mysterious as gravity, affecting every fiber of your being.

    Thanks for sharing. It mattered to me

  2. Wow thanks for sharing! I know what its like to wake up and fight the demons eveyday but still make your life as good as you can at the same time and that is true strength! Keep fighting and keep sharing!

  3. Having gone through TBI and depression myself in my early adult life I understand every little fear and uncertainty you’re going through but also how proud you must feel sometimes. Keep it up even if it sometimes sucks.

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