Lately I’ve been feeling so stuck and left behind by the world. I’ve also been wanting to write in different media about Winter Lily, because I feel like it can serve me well. I need a closure on this whole thing. To tell myself that it’s done, that a whole other, better life is waiting ahead of me. Also, I think it can be a platform to connect with other people who has gone, or still is going, through similar stuff. I always really wanted to share when I was in that place, but didn’t know anybody who might understand. Hopefully, this coming out will make somebody out there be brave to share and discuss, and maybe make them feel less alone.
First of all, it needs to be said that I do not regret anything that happened or things that were caused by Winter Lily. I do not blame anyone (including myself) about anything that might cause it or the by-products of it. I believe that things happen exactly how it should be. Each and every one of us move in our own time and place, and that the river is everywhere.
I will reintroduce Winter Lily. It was my long-time friend who stood alongside me for about 9 years. It first said hello to me when I was 12 and lasted until I was 21. I always think of it as a female, so I refer to it as ‘her’. She was a persistent depression, or minor depression if you will. But for conveniences, I call her dysthymia.
If you want to know further what she is and how she felt like, I wrote about her here, just to save anymore explanation. It is written in Bahasa Indonesia, though.
Winter Lily paralyzed me like she should. Before I knew her, I was a kid full of potential. I was an active (even hyperactive) young girl who liked to try new things and keep my body moving. I did so many extra-courses, like drawing, piano, singing, and dancing lessons, to mention a few. I loved sports and was extremely good at them. I was one of the beauty at school. I had so many friends, and people adored me. At times, I could see in retrospect that they worshipped me in a way the common people worship somebody who has fame and money. I was a favorite girl even for the boys. I had so many guy best friends (and had always preferred to befriend them over the girls). I was in a syariah remake drama of The Sound of Music and did a solo piano performance (even though I screwed up big time). I was a superstar. It’s not a hyperbole.
With all these talents, potential, and personality, though, I always somewhat had low self-confidence. I’m still trying to figure out why. One more negative thing from me was that I was not a nice person. Arrogant, cocky, and bitchy, was how I was. I chose friends, because I felt that not a lot of people deserved to be friends with me, the famous Indiena. I was ungrateful for the people who wanted to be friends with me. Queer enough, I am still friends with one of the people who I rejected at the best times and befriended when I was getting away from everybody else. (She is now one of the greatest, most inspiring person I know, actually. That’s you, Ingka.) But all negative things aside, I was in a great place in my life. I was headed to be one of the most successful person at school.
But then some personal things happened. And hello Winter Lily. The bitchy girl who was me turned into an irritable monster (which is a sign for dysthymia in children). I hated people. I hated my friends that were now so few. I pushed everyone away, including my own mother. To tell the truth, my mother was especially the person I was irritated by the most, for no obvious reasons. Everything she did, I took as a betrayal. Everything she didn’t do, I took as abandonment. She went on to be the single enemy I tried to run from, but whose help I tried to seek from time and again. My mother was like a horcrux, maybe. She was the disease, but also the cure.
It’s not all. I dropped every single activity I liked to do. I didn’t go out doing sports anymore. I didn’t have the energy to. Since I had moved to a new place, I let go of every extra-courses I loved to do. I didn’t seek them and pursue them further in the new place, because I just didn’t want to. I just wanted to be back to the life I knew and loved. I didn’t want to be there. And within a month, I gained 10 kg.
I was extremely skinny before, so the 10 kg actually looked healthy on me. But I was not comfortable in that skin, because now moving around felt so much harder, I was so much heavier. And then time flew by and I gained and gained and gained and gained. And that was even before I seek comfort in food.
I was an adolescent. I had pimples, bad hair, bad body, and I was ugly. I had no friends, nobody I trusted, no hobby, nothing to hold on to. I had a bad life. Even if it’s natural for a teen to hate everything in life, hate their parents and body, I was having those at extras. Teens didn’t hate their friends, they were supposed to be the ones one turn to to hate their parents, boys, and life. Teens wanted to be out, away from parents. But, I wanted to be away from parents, the world, and myself. Teen-age was a time for teenagers to explore the world and themselves through friends and other activities. I deprived myself of those, because I did not want to be alive. By the time friends of my age had developed interpersonal skills, I had none at all. Boys began to be a creature I feared so much, and this persisted until recently.
In junior high, I had more friends and felt slightly better, even though I still kept to myself and liked better to be alone. I didn’t want any crowd, a crowd that was once a natural place for me to be in. And to make matters worse, I fell in love. It was the popular guy in school, who was smart and good-looking. As the ugly duckling, I didn’t need that at all. But the heart wanted what it wanted. It also thought that he liked me too. To tell the truth, it fell in love because it thought he liked me first. As somebody who didn’t share anything, the feeling was so intense that I couldn’t hold it alone. So the fact that I liked that guy was shared among my friends, but only that much. I don’t remember them knowing how much I was head over heels infatuated with him. I think they still don’t know how much I imagined me marrying him and growing old together. They surely don’t know that I wrote entries and entries of him in my diary, all written with so deep a love, so wild a fantasy, and so pure a desire. I was a princess, and he was my prince. But then, he was the beauty and I was the beast. That was when I decided that I was a girl who didn’t deserve the beautiful boys of the world, because I was a mess and had a rotten heart. I was fugly and I didn’t deserve to be with anybody. (This belief persisted until I was 21.) I was an unpopular, full of pimples, and loser girl with ultra-fugly hair. A harsh blow to my self-esteem, that’s another trash I had to put into my dysthymic bag.
The first frozen bite to the bones that added a thousand point to my dysthymia was friendship problems. It’s natural for adolescents to have it, but for me it was a total knock-out. One is because I didn’t know it was natural, so I took it really hard, which impaired my soul more. Two is because I didn’t fix it. It didn’t even occur to me to fix it. I was locked in a learned helplessness that I thought it was the end of the road for me. I was habituated to avoid conflicts, so I stayed away. What few friends I had, I cut off from my life. Even though at school and tuition we were still together, the emotional ties are broken to me. I didn’t want anything to do with them. Didn’t care, didn’t want to care. I took it as another form of betrayal and abandonment, which is fatal to a teenager. That’s what a depression can do.
Life went on. Everything was getting worse and worse and worse, and I could feel it definitely: there was no way out. The thing with my mother had gone from bad to worse over the years. As somebody who was always there for me from when I was born, who was supposed to know me the best, she was the only one who didn’t live up to standard during those times. And it frustrated the hell out of me. So she became my arch-nemesis. And that way, I pushed her to the edge. She became miserable. I didn’t know it at that time, but it was because of me. I put her over the edge, then, for her to simply tell me to cease to exist. I was so broken by the world, and now was told to just die by the only person I still had my hopes on, I couldn’t do it anymore. But at the time, it was my body that chose to take the wound.
Before that I’ve developed terrible headaches that I thought I had brain cancer and went to see the doctor about that. I went to see doctors, actually. And now after I was told to vanish, it all got worse. I had my back aches, too now. And the worse I got, the worse my mother got as well. Neither of us knew what was wrong with our relationship. We screamed at each other so much, it hurts to think about it now. So much curses and heart breaks. It was all because of ignorance. Who said ignorance was bliss? Not in this case.
My dysthymia didn’t seem to have stopped growing, because my heart was making bigger and bigger holes by the days. It has grown so heavy now that the world was, at one point, in shades of gray. I actually saw it that way. The wind was chilly. And I didn’t know what to do. This was when relationships didn’t work and intrapersonal world was a mess. So I ran to reading, and writing, and obsessing over good grades. The first two were a comfort, my antidote. The last one was just craziness. I wanted to prove to myself that I still had some worth in the world. So bad grades drove me crazy, and I wanted to once again be the girl with so much potential. That was what made things worse.
By that time, I was insomniac for about one and a half-year already. And I have had a near-death experience. And I had been thinking about death so much ever since. And then important exams were coming. And I was obsessing over Anoop from American Idol that I was so drawn to his life story about his murdered friend. And the world was the worst shade of gray that I experienced sleep apnea for two weeks. I was scared shitless about sleeping, fearing that death would snatch me away when I was not awake. So I suffocated the second I fell asleep. I didn’t sleep for two weeks. My mother was there the whole time, but she couldn’t help me feel better. I took it as a betrayal once more. And it became a vicious cycle, because I wanted to die so bad, that when I thought I was going to, I remembered that nobody loved me to grief over my passing, that I haven’t made a worthy print in anyone’s heart, and helped anyone enough for them to pray for me when I die. It made me not want to die. But I was so on the verge of exploding that I wished and wished that I would just vanish. The whole thing really made me want to give up, be done with it. It was an episode in my life I still cringe over.
Not long after that, my mother told me for the second time for me to just stop living.
That’s how bad things have become for both of us. Because of dysthymia.
Not long after that, my father told me for the first time that I was a coward.
That’s how bad loneliness have consumed me for me to not be able to stand being alone at night. Because of dysthymia.
Anyway, things became worse and worse for me that I decided to come back to my home country. I wanted a new life. I wanted to get my energy back. But I didn’t know that when I did go back, I was carrying an old ghost. I thought it was about where I was instead of how I was.
I thought it’d fix everything. Little did I know that it was exactly that decision that sponsored the development of my brand new social phobia. I didn’t know what it was back then, but I was terrorized by people. My new friends were good, but I was always a new girl with no mutual history. A stranger. The loneliest wolf.
(I forgot to tell you that despite my worsening condition, I have nurtured a deep love for humanity. I had become a nice, loving, helpful girl. I did still push people away and was afraid of them, but I knew now that the world was a sad place with sad lonely people in it. So I wanted to help and change the world. It was also a reason I came back to Indonesia.)
Alas, the moving not only didn’t help, it worsened my dysthymia. I had more friends, who now I see didn’t have any emotional bond with me except for a few–some even only used me for their conveniences, since I was the smart, helpful, wise, loving kid. I fell in love for the second time–with a gigantic illusion. I had disappointments so many times. I didn’t see the future at all.
I always knew I was troubled psychologically, and in Indonesia this was a term unfriendly to society. As a place where talking behind your back is more acceptable than confrontation, going to a psychologist will yield a humongous amount of gossip and rejection. But I knew I needed help. (And I also wanted to study psychology, so I had to find out.)
After my encounter with a horrible psychologist who was frustrated by me (and insulted me, nevertheless, despite her doctoral in clinical psychology), I met a wonderful one and started therapy.
However, the journey didn’t end after two or three sessions. Instead it lasted for four years. It’s easy for a dysthymic to build a wall, even from themselves, and I didn’t know I had a huge one. So tearing it down took so much time. But my therapist didn’t give up on me. She made my mother not to give up on me (even though she wouldn’t ever, innately). And my father. But I didn’t know that the real fight was not inside the blue room, but out in the world and that the major work was supposed to be done by me. So the sessions didn’t really so much cure me as it did peel the onions of the facades I had. I can’t count how many setbacks I had. The suicidal thoughts even grew bigger during the moments I was in and out of therapy. But, to say it honestly, it was the major first step to healing, albeit that it was still a long way to go.
The therapy went on and I got into college, which means more people to terrorize me and more responsibilities I had to carry, which in my condition, I was in no way to handle. Long story short, despite the ongoing therapy, I had my blow of double depression on the second year. The major D had come, and it was a thousand ways worse than only one kind of depression.
By the time, I had already given Winter Lily a name. The newcomer felt so different that it needed a new name, which was The Cave. It was the worst I had ever been, yet with all these psychology students around, I was helpless. Yet with all these lecturers that had psychology competencies, I could not ask for help. That, people, is what double-d can do to you. It sucks you into a world of silence. I wished and wished and wished that magic would happen, that an angel would come pass me by and asked me if I were okay and needed help. It never happened. So I was sucked even deeper, which made me experience depersonalization. I didn’t know whose hands that fed me or whose face it was in the mirror, or whose room I was sleeping in (all mine!)
After that, it got worse and worse that dealing with people, organisation, and assignments was too much. I often stayed in bed, skipped class, and not eat so that I did not have to see a soul. Attempts to end life was out of the question, because one try made me realize I didn’t deserve death.
However, there was an episode where after a peak of irritation, I changed into a hyped and friendly girl. I still don’t know what to call that episode, or what exactly happened. Did not feel like a manic episode because it lasted for more than six months, albeit that I was still lonely and sad all the time. But that extraordinary thing catapulted me into a whole new world. My friendliness gave me more confidence somehow. I was still paralyzed in so many things, but at least I made myself to have company. Nonetheless, I cut off more friends and broken so many relationships that really mattered in my life (none was romantic, because I was not capable of that.) I became stranger to myself day by day, but with one thing different, I didn’t carry the aura of a cemetery anymore. I just wanted to escaped from the people who I cared about so much it hurt. This went on for a long time.
Fast forward ahead to one and a half years ago, I got so fed up with myself and not knowing who I was. Years of therapy that didn’t seem to take me anywhere. And then one day, I got my heart broken by somebody. It was a huge one because it was not an illusion. The sad thing was that I purposefully let it slide because I was terrified by being loved. And then it occurred to me that rejecting love was all I have been doing, even the simplest form of it. From not thinking that I deserve it to not knowing how to work it, I avoided any human relation unconsciously. And that was just it. I snapped, and thought that I could not do this anymore. I could not be miserable anymore, just because I was too afraid of being actually fine. I already lost too much time.
Just like that, I decided that I should start real fresh this time. For once I was determined to leave Winter Lily behind, which meant leaving familiarity behind and stepping out into the unknown. (Which was horrifying for a girl who is taught by experience that she could not get anything done, that she was worthless, and would not survive in the jungle of life.) I started a Happiness Project inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book, and with the help of my now-colleague mentor, did it in a way I enjoyed. It all began with practicing gratitude as well as doing and noticing acts of kindness for sixty days, at first. The world that seemed so cold began to be a little more friendly. My writing that had been stuck for over three years started to come back. My thinking that had stopped since double-d started to heat up. And then the project extended into 6 months, and then again, after a little break, four months.
Slowly and steadily, I found a new-found love for life that I’ve lost. I have become a new person, this time who is capable of feeling beautiful at times. I ate less and healthier, I lost my depression weight, tried to forgive people, tried to get involved in the world, and excercised more. I’m now a happy, nice person, compared to the young happy, cocky me.
Little did I know that what took me so long to recover was that my aversion to letting Winter Lily go. By now you may have noticed how long I have lived with her that it was hard to separate me and her. I thought I was Winter Lily, and getting rid of her would mean a loss of identity. It did feel like it at first–a stranger who now lived inside me was happier and more outgoing. But then I realised that it’s always been a part of me that’s lurking. It was also harder because I had written in her voice for years that I was scared to lose my writing, my sole rock in the crazy times (even though at the craziest, it chose to stay away). After all, she got her name for a reason. She was a force that kept me writing. And writing was my one and only goal in life since I was still a little, unreading girl.
But now that she’s asleep (hopefully for good), I am grateful. I could never have graduated if she was still breathing. I could not have written again for other people who needs support. I could not have written again for myself. I could not be a functioning citizen of the world.
After she left, I’m left with nothing at all. It is a fact that I did, indeed, lose my writing force and voice. I lost my biggest asset–to feel intensely. I lost a cause. I didn’t know who I was in the world, and my position in life. I wasn’t the wise gloomy Indiena. People didn’t seem to realize who I was anymore. My personality was gone. My writing became bland and without taste. I didn’t know how I should live, because the life I knew to lead was to run away from pain. But my mother’s health was getting better, and the family was more alive than ever. And I had found God again. And even though I was still scared of people, I was now willing to give a try.
Now, I realise I have no skills, experience, competency whatsoever to help me go on to get jobs and get them done, yet. Those are the things my friends have harbored and acquired during my fight with Winter Lily. I now have to start from scratch, carefully deciding steps I want to take not to screw up again. Carefully stepping on the grounds I want to head to. Acquiring the skills, experience, and competency I need to get on to the real world. Maybe it’s too late for some people, to start with a blank page when you have graduated. But didn’t Emily Brontë excelled so young and died so young as well? Didn’t J.K. Rowling started late and achieved so much still? I’m not meaning it as an excuse but a motivation. That it’s great if people are so ahead of me, or are already in places I want to be, but it’s only their time. I, now with Winter Lily out of my way, should be able to get things done too, and eventually get there.
I still have so much work to get done in order for me to actually be ready to compete with people in the real world. I still have to learn how to make friends and work a relationship (which I have zero idea how to do, and it makes me sad and scared). I still have to learn socializing. I still have to expand my interpersonal skills, to balance with my ever-growing intrapersonal skills. I still have to find a new voice for my writing. I still have to find a new cause, a new purpose. I still have to shove my fear of people away, for me to be able to find a partner that can work with me in making dreams come true and the world a better place (because I believe that dreams can’t be achieved.) I still have to learn to be okay with being with other people, to share my thoughts and feelings, to gladly receive compliments and complaints. I realize that I am nine years behind everybody else. There is still so, so much I have to fix for me to be ready and whole. At the same time, I don’t know where to start. Yet, I know I shouldn’t be afraid. I have been a warrior, now why not be once more?
The river is everywhere.
This is a girl who couldn’t even get out of bed for months. This is a girl who was once a superstar, bungee jumped to being a nobody. This is a girl who wants to make herself a name and face in the world. I am now starting late, but it’s better than not starting at all.
P.S. I should underline once again that I do not have regrets about things that happened or things that were caused by it. I only wanted to emphasise that depression costs a lot, especially relationships. I do not blame my parents or think it’s their fault anymore, since I have made peace with what happened and see clearer about the situation of things. Parents are humans too, and there are limits to how much one can take from their children, especially from one whose conditions are not generally well-known (rejected, even) by society. Being clueless is natural. I now can see that their persistence in putting up with me is miraculous, and I did not mean to expose negative things you might think about them in any way.
(This piece is written in part to contribute to Depression Awareness Week. If you are or have been struggling with depression as well and want to share or discuss your story, please leave a comment or reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are never alone.)
Wonderful artwork that perfectly captures how Winter Lily was is by Nat. Check out more of her and her partner’s amazing works at blueprintjam.com