A decade ago this past August, I tried to kill myself and landed in a mental hospital for rehabilitation for the next month. After that, I kept my depression close to me, like a blankie or a best friend. I trusted it to always be there, unlike so many other things that had come and gone because, up to that point, it had been the only thing that had stayed.
Every fall – ironically my favorite season because it meant the start of a new school year – I would inevitably fall into a spiral. I would start craving any of the behaviors that I’d associated with depression: self-abuse, drug use, pushing away the people I cared about, quitting my job. I would do anything so that I could come together in that falling apart. My whole being was aligned in the direction of sadness.
I remember three years ago when my whole July through November was consumed in a dissociative haze—collapsing in the shower, flooding the bathroom, and not realizing that it had happened until the sound of my then-fiance pounding on the door broke through, and we realized that the past 45 minutes were black. Two years ago when I locked myself in my room for a week and refused to come out while anyone else was in the house. One year ago when I broke years of progress towards healthy living and self-harmed.
This year that didn’t happen. I didn’t do anything different, but I finally forgot. I didn’t realize until this past week that it had been a decade, and when I did, I felt almost guilty. Every year up to now, I’d remembered—year 5, 6, 7, 8. I’d kept it as a mantra to explain why fall was so hard. It was an important date, between me and my depression; one that should be kept sacred and spoken about in hushed, reverent tones. But this year, it wasn’t.
This year I lived joyously. I went out with friends, drank, danced, sang, laughed, lived. And I forgot the date that defined so many of my falls before. Until a week ago. And, you know what? Part of me feels strangely guilty. Depression has been a part of my identity for so long that it feels bad to not give it the respect and time it deserves, and that I had given it every year up until this point. That being said, it feels good to be happy—a delicious, decadent, almost guilty-pleasure happy—in a way that I haven’t felt before.
When I was younger, I was in an abusive relationship for about 5 years. It was my first relationship, and I didn’t have enough understanding of the world or life to know what was happening. Everyone around me told me that it was unhealthy, and that I could (and should) do better, but I just wanted to stay where I was. I thought that I was happy, because it was the first time that I’d felt wanted or important. Then, the first year after it ended, I felt sad on the days of important events – his birthday, the day we first started dating – but I soon began to feel a sense of freedom and happiness in it too. Those dates no longer had to define me, and I could go on to build more symbolic moments that weren’t so tinged with pain.
These are the same feelings I’m having now, when I look back on the first year I forgot that I tried to kill myself. Should I feel guilty about forgetting something that I’ve always thought was so definitive for me? Or, perhaps, should I revel in the fact that depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety aren’t the only things that make me? It wasn’t the forgetting that struck me empty as much as the remembering that I forgot. Like, the whole few months of free-formed happiness and joy were sneakily pilfered out from underneath the nose of a usually watchful keeper, and I should feel guilty for their theft. I wonder, though, if I was happy if I forgot, or if I forgot because I was happy?
We should not feel guilty for our own happiness, especially if the guilt is coming from a place of never having felt happy before. While taking a moment to understand and recognize that, yes, a shift has taken place, and maybe mourning over the change is important, I will not let this drag me back down. There is a time for putting away the things of the past, no matter how comforting they have been, or how many memories (fond or otherwise) we have with them. This was the first fall of the rest of my life: the first fall of forgetting to not-live. I can only hope that the rest of my years are just as forgetful.