(Warning: Part of this post deals with suicidal thoughts)
I am not prone to negative emotions and yet… depression. The year we moved to Alabama was the year of 9/11, and we crossed the border just over a month after that event, the scarring of America. And, just like how that act of terrorism has caused such an undeniable and lasting imprint on the cultural identity of the United States, moving branded my soul with its undeniable wound.
There were times when I felt sad and I could only feel sad and it felt like I had never been happy, not really. I felt like I was worthless because, if I’d been worth anything, I wouldn’t have been passed over the way I’d felt I had. God, of all people, I hated the most because I knew my parents were doing what they at least thought he’d told them. But it wasn’t even him I hated the most. It was the sadness. I hated crying myself to sleep without knowing why my heart was breaking, without even having a reason. Yes, I’d moved. Yes, I’d left friends and a life behind. But I had made new friends, started new things. On the days, at the times I felt sad even though nothing in particular had happened that might cause such a feeling, I would sometimes remember the times before Alabama when I couldn’t stop laughing, couldn’t stop smiling.
The mother of one of my friends back then had particularly enjoyed making me laugh. I would try so, so hard to keep a straight face when she was being funny, but it never worked. The giggles would just pour out of me, and she would laugh as well, delighted that I was delighted.
Memories like that were like daggers to me. I felt like I’d become incapable of ever being happy like that again. Of ever being any kind of happy ever again. Even as I hated that, even as I hated God, I would turn to him in those moments. He bore my yelling, my anger, and my grief. I would rage at him and demand he explain himself. I would go to him in my painful loneliness when all I wanted was to be held and ask him to hold me and I would try to comfort myself imagining his arms around me. You see, I didn’t feel safe talking to anyone else. For my younger siblings, I had to be strong. I had to set the example, be there for them, and be the eldest now that my older brothers had moved out. When it came to my parents, I believed my sadness and my fears would be a burden. There were so many nights when I wanted so much to go into my parents’ room, wake them up, and be held by them while I wept, but I didn’t. And I hated, with every fibre of my being, all those moments that I was sad and couldn’t figure out how to be happy like I was sure I’d used to be.
None of my family or friends knew about any of this. Not even the times when I considered whether it would be easier to pierce my jugular with a sharpened pencil or a scissor blade, whether one would hurt more, whether one would take longer to kill me than the other. It was a strange fascination, imagining what it would be like to hurt as I bled myself dry. It was a strange time, but only now that I look back on it because, much as it made sense that my friends and family wouldn’t know about this thing I kept so secret, what made the least sense was how, half the time, I didn’t even know about it.
It was almost like I lived a double life: Bad Alabama and Good Alabama. In Bad Alabama, I was depressed, angry, irritable, sometimes leaning towards suicidal. I felt lost in my own house, lost in my own head. I yelled at God on one hand and begged him to comfort me on the other; I screamed at my brother when we fought and then cried afterwards (this was the only intrusion of Bad Alabama into the domain of Good Alabama, and only when my parents weren’t at home). I was alone. In Good Alabama, I did all my schoolwork well, I loved learning from Dad and my textbooks (we were homeschooled for various, very good reasons). My siblings and I played together often in my room, building and adventuring with our Lego and Bionicle, making up card games and inventions that were half cardboard, half imagination. I went to church, made friends with the other kids there, especially the other homeschoolers, and felt entirely at ease talking with the adults, all of whom I knew by name. I was inquisitive, friendly, smart, and surrounded by a loving community. Good Alabama was on the outside, with others, and, sometimes, I would slip into Good Alabama far enough that I would forget completely about Bad Alabama.
Good Alabama is the reason I want to go back someday to visit, the reason I sometimes miss the people there so much it hurts. It also helped the Bad Alabama not be so bad, not be all-consuming for, as time went on, Good Alabama grew, and Bad Alabama faded. By the time I was twelve, Bad Alabama had shrunk to near non existence in my daily life. I started going to youth group, where I learned and grew so much in my interactions with people and my relationship with God, who I’d begun to trust for real, if only because he hadn’t left despite the constant abuse I’d piled on him, and I was also enjoying great friendships and writing my first (very bad) novel. I forgot about Bad Alabama, but it didn’t forget about me.