Safe(r) Space(r)

CW: depression, mentions of suicidal thoughts

I wake up with my head submerged in the pillow. I open my left eye and everything looks like something from a 50’s TV show: grey, stoic, silent.

“What time is it?” I think to myself. I remember falling asleep at 5pm, planning on waking up later to go to the gym, then eat, then do work. I checked the time on my microwave. 9:00pm.

“Well,” I think to myself, “it could have been worse.”

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety about 8 months ago. At first, I didn’t know how comfortable I felt about writing that down and sharing that, but those diagnoses are not uncommon even in my friend groups, let alone the social circles I inhabit at Oberlin. I used to be so upset that I would have to “check the box,” (in case I ever needed to sign a document and I am asked if I have taken anti-depressants or been diagnosed with a mental illness), but then I started to realize that many people around me were going to have to do that as well.

This post isn’t about why that shit is the case. So many think pieces are being written about why college students in my generation are more depressed, anxious, neurotic, etc. And I read them to see if they can explain why I find a bed safer than the outside world.

I check my email at 9:15pm, and I saw that I had received a safety alert (the second one in less than 3 days) informing me that several blocks away from where my dorm is, someone was robbed at 4:15pm by two people, one of whom possessed a gun. Moments like that make me not want to go outside anyway, so it doesn’t assuage my fears that the bed is actually safer for me. My friend who is at UChicago with me who lives around the area was nonplussed by this news. “I’m used to it,” she says, “I can’t even be upset about it anymore.”

I didn’t think this would be a common occurrence, but at the same time, I had a feeling these sorts of alerts would be commonplace. At Oberlin, I don’t generally receive news of such a violent nature on such a typical basis. Shit can be rough, but I’m just not afraid of gun violence at Oberlin. Period. But for most of this academic year, I still found myself in bed. Waiting. For everything and nothing at the same time. I once wrote in my diary that “Depression is standing alone in your room, and looking around, and all you can think is ‘This is it?”This is all?'” I realize that I don’t even always do the standing part.

I’m supposed to remember that what’s happening to me is basically all in my head. That my brain is essentially malfunctioning and that’s the reason why I get irritated easily and I can think so easily about erasing myself from existence. And I am assured by peers and therapists that it’s normal that I would want to spend all my time in bed. I don’t really want to do that. But there’s a disconnect between my desire to be productive and my desire to stay sane. One seems to always get chosen over the other, and at some point my body can’t take it and I end up in that bed, not knowing anything except the fact that I am so human and generally so full of life, but it’s not being taken advantage of.

Now, in high school I told my counselor my junior year of high school that I was suicidal, and she had to inform my dad. He was not supportive to say the least of my requests to go to therapy. “Therapy doesn’t work,” he said. “This is a spiritual battle with the devil.” If I was having issues, I should have been able to talk to him about it. In fact, he was disappointed that I had not told him about my depression before. I couldn’t tell him that he was one of the biggest parts of my issues with the world. That he viewed the world in such a specific way, and I couldn’t fit in with it, and it made me perpetually unhappy. And then I came to Oberlin, thinking it would be different, and I found myself feeling the exact same way.

I told my therapist that I figured I would be happier once I left Oberlin. She allowed herself to agree with me; many of my sessions with her involved intense discussions about how Oberlin was not a fit for me in so many ways. I figured being away from a place I thought was making me sick would actually cure me.

And for a couple of weeks, it basically did. I couldn’t get my anti-depressants right away, so there were several weeks where I was without insurance and without medicine. But I didn’t care, I felt so happy to be alive. I would naturally wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning almost every day. And I wanted to explore the world. I was back home in Chicago, staying with my older sister and visiting friends and figuring out what types of trouble my 21-year-old self could get into. The bed wasn’t safety then. It was just a temporary refuge so I could recharge and go back out again. Violence was still happening around me, but I decided that my desire to live would override my fear of the unknown.

Then I finally got my insurance and my medicine. I started going back on it about 2 days ago, and I figured the side effects would come back in full force: namely an intense drowsiness that no amount of sleep can get rid of. I’m not advocating for people to stop taking their medicine, I appreciate the benefits of my medication, and I hated not taking it for a while, mainly because I was afraid of the side effects of not taking it. But already I’m in bed for extraordinary amounts of time.

I try not to be so hard on myself about it. Side effects are common, I may not always wake up in time, I can always take the medicine earlier in the day, etc. There’s always another day for me because at this point I actually want another day. That was not always the case. But I see all of the tragic news and in my darkest moments I wonder if I really do want another day on this planet. The religious tradition I grew up in is very Judgement Day-focused, and thinks the world is going to Hell anyway, so they may as well only save themselves and prepare for the end of times. I may not believe in that anymore,  but I allow myself to wonder at times what would happen if they were right. Would they be in a place where they would finally feel safe? Does that mean we are all just living to try to survive on this planet, nothing more, nothing less?

In several hours, I’m gonna go back to bed, just so my sleep schedule isn’t too fucked up. I ate dinner, I messaged a friend, I’m typing this post, I’m gonna do some research. Another day in the life. And I hope that when I wake up the next morning (alarm set to a specific time), I want to keep experiencing another day.


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