[Editor’s Note: Please be advised that this piece discusses depression and suicide at length.]
(Anonymous)–Even though your doctor wants what’s best for you, most people don’t expect driving advice at their checkups. Similarly, people don’t blame their drivers’ ed. teacher for failing to notice their slightly abnormal heart rhythm. But it seems like the one type of “caring” professional responsible for the entirety of well-being (that is to say, everything falls under their specialty) is a psychologist. After all, it’s literally their job to care about (even worry about) every single thing that you worry about.
But like the story of Pete and the penny, Nick and the nickel, Dominic and the dime, Dominic and the Quarter (forget Q), none of these people can really care about you by viewing you as a patient/source of income alone. However, they should (and often do) use their very best specialties to give you the best they can and help you the most they can.
You haven’t heard the story of Pete and the penny? Why would you have? I’m the only one who has. So, Pete is the name I’ll give to the character of my brother, while the others, also fictitious names, highlight the fact that I’m revealing my life story, which sideswipes my suicide attempt, so I’m clearly not going to put my brother’s real name in writing. It was actually a penny though, as all the other facts are unchanged. But the story goes that a little kid picked up what seemed like the shiniest penny he had ever seen. He really had only just realized what money was, and it was a new fascination. You might think it was the start of a great economics career, but watch what happens.
The kid, while climbing up and down on man-made structures, is so excited to see the penny underneath his feet that he literally yells “A penny!” as he bends down to pick it up. But no sooner had he held up the shiny penny to the sunlight than had another nearby older kid said, “You found my penny! I just dropped that”. So just as the kid exclaimed, “A penny!” he says, “aww” quietly and hands the penny over. The first penny he ever made was the first he ever lost, and since it took him years to make the penny and seconds to lose it, you might think the kid is destined to be a failure. You see, the kid was a failure. The kid was actually me. I was penniless again, but no sooner had he lost the penny than his big brother shoves past him to go eye-to-eye with this older kid and say, “I don’t believe you. Give my brother the penny back.” I have no idea whether my brother actually didn’t believe him or he just wanted to see the excitement in my face again, but my brother decided that fighting this kid for his penny was worth it. I said, “It’s okay, he can have it,” but it wasn’t until a couple seconds later, when I smiled about a dog running up to us, that my brother stopped caring or fighting over the penny anymore.
Both my brother and I are infinitely more mature now, so it’s not like I have him running errands taking pennies from kids in the playground. We’re more mature. We need dollars, not pennies. But we’re not hiding in alleyways in order to jump people either (even though we would probably make a great team at that). But instead my brother is about three years away from opening up his own criminal law firm where he will prosecute people who rape kids. That’s his goal, and it’s a fucked up goal to pursue because it is literally pursuing ‘bad’ in an attempt to make ‘better’. It’s a fucked up world and my brother’s goal is intense but he shares a profession with the other people who have tattooed to their eyelids: “you throw enough shit against the wall, eventually some of it is going to stick”. The tattoo is in reference to putting fucked up people away in the hopes of keeping some of them there to make a small difference for good in this fucked up world. Not only is that a lot of the words to put on the inside of your eyelid, but it is literally impossible for anyone to read them, on account of they are inside eyelids, and so when you close them they go dark! I suppose that was the sloppiest handwriting the tattoo artist ever did, on account that neither he nor the recipient of the tattoo cared about the neatness of the writing: they both realize that it’s a fucked up world—hence their willingness to go through with it. I guess to both of them it’s just the symbolism that you’re making “a small difference” (albeit in a fucked up way) for the better down the road. They both have their goals, and likely wish the best for each other.
But my point is that the tattoo artist cares about you, but only actively cares about the tattoos he or she gives you because that is how he knows how to care best. Your doctor cares about you, but only actively cares about the medications he or she gives you, because that is how he can afford to care for you. Your psychiatrist cares for you, but is likely out of place trying to give you a tattoo, and if your tattoo artist tells you that you have an Oedipus Complex, get a consult before you trust him on that one. But your big brother cares about everything that involves you, and tries to influence everything. An older brother must learn or be taught that he must show restraint and limit his attempt to control or guide you over only his area of expertise.
But like your doctor fixes bacterial infections with penicillin, my older brother Pete went about his adjustments with aggressive tactics and a boxer’s mentality because that’s Pete. That’s what he’s good at, and for a while I hated him for it. Now I couldn’t believe I ever had such angry emotions toward him, and he essentially offered me a law job. I was nervous about jobs for the upcoming summer, because last summer I had some issues with depression and did not earn the number of pennies that I needed to survive, nor gain ground in terms of an internship. This fall, before going back to pursue a career in psychology or writing or possibly both (I’m a double-major), But right before I heading back to school to pursue these things, I tried to kill myself. The story goes on—I was…I am a failure—as predicted. But watch what happens, because I am also a huge success, and it’s important that I continue to make the choice to realize the latter and reject the former. But the transition process is important for you to notice.
My family was called to pick me up and take me elsewhere. In the car, driving for several hours were my two older brothers and my mother (leaving my younger brother). Neither they, nor I, have ever told my little brother of anything that happened that night. I can’t help but wonder what will be the effects of holding this secret from him as he prepares to go to college himself. But my little brother doesn’t even have any idea how miserable I was for the entirety of my teenage life. Because, though I was sad, I didn’t want my brothers or anyone who cared about me to be sad because of me, or sad for me. Depressed people love their families too. So I had grown up hiding how miserable I was. Yet this logic of ‘self-sacrifice’ doesn’t make sense when you consider the temporary absence of judgment in the whole “tried-to-kill myself” thing. But they did drive for many hours in the middle of the night to pick me up and drive for many more hours in the middle of their night to get back into their beds from where this whole journey of theirs started.
And so in the car a slightly chilling silence broke when one of them said, “Whether you want to talk about it or not is your decision, but we want to listen”. And so after a little while of driving, I thought I owed them an explanation, at least that much. But I didn’t know how to explain it, because I didn’t understand it myself. So I just talked. My family listened, as well as pointing out obvious ailments in my thought process (such as the assumption that my brothers don’t have any of the problems or reflections about my father’s death that I do). But mainly they just offered their non-judgmental support, shared the fact that I have to start seeing the world in a more positive light rather then assuming the worst, along with the suggestion that I need to start putting more into life if I want more back. After all, my lack of effort in anything at the time not only confirmed the assumption that I would fail in many things, but it just generally made me feel like a failure in the mean time. The truth is, I still fail in many things, but not nearly as many as before, and I don’t consider myself a failure. Now, I succeed in the matters that are important to me. But my eldest brother Pete sort-of spearheaded encouraging me to put more effort into life, where my other family members took action in other areas of specialty: the neurosurgeon diagnoses the brain problems, and the ophthalmologist diagnoses eye problems.
But, as you can imagine, this pushiness brought back the slightest memories of when he pushed, controlled, and bullied me way back when I was smaller than him. Do you remember when I said the two of us would be great at jumping people in alleyways? I really wasn’t kidding. But due to my desire to focus on good things (and the new habit of replacing bad things with positive images of me completing goals), I must go on with my story. I can go on to say, that despite the four of us testosterone-filled brothers being the most competitive people I know, I don’t think of my brothers in terms of winning or losing fights anymore (despite the fact that they do occasionally happen). I think of myself as self-proclaimed pacifist (though an admittedly shitty one), and I am more likely to think of my brothers and I jumping a bunch of gang members in alleyways than to think of us fighting against each other. That’s how I think now. I hear the words “fight” and “brothers” and assume… No, I know they are on my side, and I am happier because of it.
But my brothers and I have fought from time to time. Pete acts in a way that grinds my gears sometimes, but, to use an unrealistic analogy, I hated him more like a fat kid hating a good PE teacher for believing that they can learn to do 25 even 50 push-ups. And what’s more, this kid can learn to do the 50 push-ups in front of everyone else in the class too, which is what the “fat” (you’ll have excuse my term, but in this fictitious analogy this is a self-diagnostic quotation) kid really thinks he wants. But he’d probably have to (or at least it’d be better if he did) learn how to do 5 in front of the class first, despite the snickering. He has to do this because the gym teacher believes that it will be beneficial for the child who receives insults to develop the ability to say, “I don’t give a fuck what the ‘ignorant’ kids think.” (Excuse me, I meant to say “Stupid” AND Shallow: Ignorant is too neutral of a word, because kids who choose to join in on making fun of people are not behaving neutrally and should not be judged as such).
But, as you can imagine, I made up that specific analogy for a reason. In high school, I ran out of any real friends for a time. Certain social groups I used to belong to learned to hate me (it seemed that way), but more likely they just stopped finding me “cool.” We grew apart even though few things about our personalities changed. In a lot of ways I believe that this is in great part due to how I became a sensitive goody-two-shoes and stopped making fun of other people once I was mature enough to realize that this actually does hurt people when done in the wrong situation: my brothers and I make fun of each other all the time, never hurting each other, but I stopped hurting people. Pretty much all of the jokes this specific friend group made back in high school (and to my understanding, all the jokes they make now) have some real victim. The first thing I learned to do was make fun of myself as a substitute. Perhaps I could contribute my fair share of laughs to the group setting like that, and it would be an equal substitute. But by doing so, I noticed that I devalued myself in both my perspective and theirs. Not only that, but I found myself annoying those friends with talk about scientific discoveries that interested me (in the field of psychology). I thought it would interest them and make up for “my lack of value” as a friend by talking about the fascinating stuff I’m learning in class. I bored them as a nerd. And so this, as well as “scolding them” on the subject of moral matters every time I expressed disapproval of a joke that went too far, and HURT someone who was an outsider eventually led to me becoming (and in some cases choosing) to be an outsider myself. And so I ran out of friends.
To this day, every thing I do is subject to opinions of respect, and nothing I do is universally popular. I have to choose between pursuing a relatively safe law career that will end as partners (down the line, if I’m successful) with my oldest brother, pursuing the field of psychology further, or a career relating to writing. It seems silly, but a question that I ask is, what is cooler? Nothing I do will be “cool” to 100 percent of the population, but as I was perpetually sad, I saw some psychologists in the mean time. I’m not currently seeing any though. I believe myself to be asymptomatic of the severe (as diagnosed by a number of psychologists) depression that lasted from childhood to adulthood. But the symptoms did not stop. To date I really haven’t been helped by any psychologist, though I realize that I am the exception in this matter. I have had many first time meetings with psychologists, who later transfer me to a colleague who has more time and is looking to take on more patients. But eventually I felt ignored by my therapist who did not respond to my text message, which I sent the day after our fist meeting (as she asked me to do at the meeting). She took a full week to respond to the very first contact I made to her on account of an “illness”. I felt horribly rejected because the timing of the therapist rejecting me’ hit home as a girl also rejected my invitation to a formal. I bought an extra 60 dollar ticket (which it was seen as above and beyond gentlemanly in the culture I was in) and really had no idea who I would like to give it to. Reflecting on that was difficult as well as trying to fathom why “I’m so fucked up not even my so-called therapist will talk to me.” I self-discharged myself from the program without notifying my family (as I was away from them at college) and was thinking of suicide just as much as ever. But I don’t have any of those thoughts anymore, and if I were presented in the same situation I wouldn’t perceive it even remotely close to the same way. Shortly after discharging myself from any psychological program I found myself symptom-free. As strange and unnatural as it is, I just (gradually but immediately) forced myself to start exercising, studying, and writing again, or thinking positively again, replacing any feeling of failure with a positive image of how it will feel when I conquer the failure. By taking action right now, I got to feel hope for the first time. I literally didn’t know what this was. I thought of it as another way of saying “chance”, or a useless statistical illusion relating to “your chances”. I had no idea hoping would do so much for me in the moment, or my chances of succeeding.
But I’m still contemplating much about life such as career path. And I still have fears of being penny-less or friend-less once again.
Though I’ve disliked every psychologist I’ve seen, I still want to be one myself and do it right. Or I could write, and write on the subject that will help others get better all the same (perhaps helping larger scale of people in a smaller way). Ideally I want to do both despite the fact that many people don’t get it and don’t think either of those things are “cool.” I want to do both those things (And I will pursue both). I may very well be the first person I know to pursue (and I mean, really pursue) writing two different senior thesis’ at Amherst college in two entirely different fields. But what I want to be more than a psychologist or writer is to be a brother. What I want to be slightly less then both those things previously mentioned is to ‘be cool’. After all I am choosing those things despite the fact that I believe it will in many people’s eyes make me less cool. The writing thing is “nerdy” and “artsy,” even cliché, and the psychologist thing is something that interests a soft goody-two-shoes “nerd.” What does all this mean regarding which career choice? Does any of this relate whether I should tell my little brother what has been going on with me for the last decade?
For some of my “friends,” all they want is money, and to them, money is “what’s cool.” I am surrounded by people who are already successful investors as undergraduates, pursuing business or economics (in many cases both) degrees. But interestingly enough, at the point in my life where my “worth” on the scale of the social ladder was at its absolute worst, the “coolest” thing I did by my standards, or by other’s standards was hanging out with my brothers more. I did so (before I realized how cool it was) to the point where it even seemed like I was (and I probably was, on an unconscious level) showing off how close I am with my brothers. I had no idea this “social ladder strategy” would be so popular, but Its not like I care enough about the “social ladder” to sacrifice this hobby. The stage where I stopped doing what was necessary to be popular, but still cared about my popularity, was now over. After all, I believed that occasionally ditching (even good) friends to hang out with my brothers would hurt me socially. I was doing it despite my belief that being “soft” and showing close relationship with my manly brothers might have negative impacts. Who knows: maybe my really not caring what others think as I try to and get closer to being my true self will have positive results socially. But in any event, I don’t think what others think about the process will have a significant impact on my happiness either way.
“What would the six-year-old me want me to do/want to do himself?” I often ask myself this question in an active (at times counter-productive) quest to find my true self that hides beneath the expectations of others and the desire to fill them. but it was easy back then. For example, I might ask that question regarding career paths. Back then, I had decided to be a professional basketball player, but back then, this was not only what I truly wanted to do at the time, but was also what everyone else that I knew truly wanted to do themselves. Thus, everyone thought it was cool. And before then, before I learned to care what others think is cool, I would have said, “just be a superhero.” They’re cool. But this too was at a time where everyone I encountered (certainly everyone I got close to, or was my age) thought superheroes were cool. But I’m at an age where my peers make fun of a lot of superhero movies, as well as the actors and characters themselves. Even if I were to literally become superman, superman’s “always do the right thing attitude” and Clark Kent’s hipster glasses might still keep me out of certain social circles. Superman isn’t “cool” enough to please everyone. In fact, a lot of people prefer super-villains to superheroes. Most people I know have more fascination with, more appreciation for, even empathize with more, and furthermore, “want to be” super-villains. Maybe I’m still rolling with the wrong crowds, but maybe this just shows how (sadly) evil, and flawed (or human) everyone else is.
But now to be honest the only person I really want to seem cool to is my little brother. My little brother is the only one in my family who doesn’t know about the fact that I have suffered from severe depression, as diagnosed by a large number of (that is to say, every single one of) the psychologists that I have seen. Should I tell him? Literally everyone on my gigantic athletic team (that is to say, everyone on it— even the first years whom have names and faces that I literally wouldn’t recognize) know more about my suicide attempt then my little brother. Some of them even know that was the product of depression for the last decade, even though they didn’t know me 5 years ago. But right now, even though my little brother is infinitely more confident, and better then me in every way, he doesn’t understand the concept of “depression”; I find myself debating whether I should shield him and keep his confidence sky-high or burden him sharing this story with him in order to caution him and teach him everything I know. I could teach him everything I’ve done so far: social ladder-climbing, romantic interactions, social psychology, sport techniques, and even moral dilemma lessons, but if he’s so far from depression that he doesn’t “get it,” the lesson seems like a moot point. I have literally taught him everything I could that doesn’t involve admitting to my depression. After all, it is was originally my older brothers’, and mother’s decision not to tell him in the first place, and I just follow their expectation of me (not how I want to behave). But then I had this memory of how we were growing up and living with our beds next to each other from age 4 (and his age of just over a year) until I was 14, when we used to tell everything to each other at night when we couldn’t sleep. We even ran out of stuff and just chilled in comfortable silence. But we wanted to share company with each other (and have the potential for conversation) so we would ask “Mark?” or “Joe?”: He’d say “Joe,” I’d say “Mark”. Then we’d say “just checking” which came to be our abbreviation for “just checking if you were awake” which we originally used to ask several times a night. And I don’t think my mom or other brothers know about this attribute of our inter-personal relationship. After all, there is an even less known story than “Pete and the Penny.” It’s called, “The Ice Cream, The Living Room, and The Underwear”.
The story takes place one day well after I was potty-trained, yet before I realized I was lactose intolerant. My intolerance of lactose was not severe enough to have been previously diagnosed as I hated the taste and actively avoided just about all dairy anyway. But one day, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted for dinner. In that one sitting I had quantity of dairy in those bowls of chocolate ice cream that my stomach had never seen, considering I hated milk, cream, and cheese (I know I’m weird). I shit myself in the living room and literally did not do anything about it because I had no idea what to do in this situation and was afraid that I might get made fun of. Upon the conclusion of the investigation of “what smells in the room” performed in front of everyone, I was scolded by my mother and sent to bed. My little brother went to bed also (I think he was told that it was his bed-time). My little brothers first words that night—not making fun of me but just looking for enjoyable conversation—were “I cant believe there was an actual poop,” a reference to the little piece of poop that slipped down my pant leg on to the rug which my brothers found using a flashlight. At the time I was rightfully self-conscious about it and asked/told my little brother “I don’t want you to ever mention it or speak about it again.” To this day he hasn’t, and this is honestly the first time I have since then too. We had no further conversation that night. But we did still “just check” a couple times. Looking back at this now, that action reveals a lack of awkwardness between the two of us, and a lack of care of my undiagnosed (at the time) disability (of slight lactose intolerance). Though I had a huge tolerance for ice-cream that first time my mother decided I was old enough (clearly a misdiagnosis/I should sue her for malpractice) to choose my own diet, my relationship with my brother didn’t change at all—not even for one night.
Honestly the second I let my brother read this piece of writing, we may both have a laugh at how weird the punishment of only being allowed to wear tighty-whities (no boxers) was for a kid who shit himself and lied about it. Give me a break: it was my first “outbreak” of lactose intolerance. But what I’m realizing is people who focus on the positive are happier. So when I say this article is about my depression, is it really about my depression? I’ve been happy lately for the first time in a long time. But speaking of the positive sides. I have a “can fill up on ice cream and then shit yourself in the living room watching TV” relationship with my little brother. We literally have a “don’t have to talk about the poop smell but can talk about it if we are in the mood for cheap conversation” relationship. So I guess in this sense, it really doesn’t matter whether I tell my little brother that I was severely depressed from age 12-20. So if you ask me about how my brothers are doing, and if I’ve talked to them recently try to understand when I say, “no, because we are all busy, but its okay because we have ‘poop-your-pants’ relationship”.
But as much as I want to end the story there for (artistic) writing reasons, I want to continue for (moral) Psychology reasons. I want to give you something you can take away. When I was depressed I was searching for unconditional love with an attractive women. I had this fantasy that I would meet someone who would not judge me if I got I were hit in the head or put on pain killers and started behaving in a way most people would say is too weird for them. For example I would hope that my ‘true love’ would still accept me if I mature and discover something about myself, perhaps relating to depression. A realistic example is discovering an abnormality of chemical brain functioning such as – not enough of the neurotransmitters correlate to happiness. But when I was depressed I used to think, “that’s what I need to find happiness”: that type of relationship. But that thought itself makes a habit of pushing happiness into the future (which will never be the present). But now that I’m happy I think that right now, I have great supporting relationships with my brothers. But I’m happy right now just because I have a great family to support me. But I’m also happy because I’m hopeful and thus excited about great opportunities ahead of me in every way. This is a state of mind that reaches my career path pertaining to helping people, social situations and perhaps future girlfriends down the road. Because goals are great but goals are future accomplishments. Happiness has to be in the present.
[Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs support, here is a list of resources, some of which are confidential, that you can access both on- and off-campus.]