Family Time | All of the answers, there in the Kate archives
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All of the answers, there in the Kate archives

I’ve written about this before, the rough patch I went through in high school. (I swear I’ll get back to cute kid stories soon.)

I went to Northeastern Family Institute once and Brattleboro Retreat twice, for self harm and depression. I grew up with two loving parents in a tight knit, supportive community. I had a great childhood. So it’s long been a mystery of sorts, why did I go through this? Other people have “real” problems, family problems, abuse, etc. I was lucky not to. So why did Kate fall into a pit like that?

Last weekend I went through several boxes of things my parents had saved. Their house is in the process of being sold and it’s time for me to clear all my stuff out. It’s like opening a million time capsules all at once. I read every piece of paper there.

And I did find some answers.

Why Kate went off the deep end in high school

Ingredients:

  • 1 child, labeled Gifted & Talented, advanced a grade (to mature into a person who doesn’t quite feel like they fit in anywhere)
  • Inherent penchant for dramatics (as evidenced in early diary entries: “I’m DYYYING and NOBODY CAAAAARES”)
  • Philosophical mind (asked her mother at the age of three if we were God’s puppets. Mom says, you think too much)
  • A firstborn’s need for praise
  • Creativity overload (as with all the depressives, right?)
  • Crazy sensitivity to what others may think
  • Ability to fall in “love” deeply and quickly

Add in:

  • Normal doses of teenage angst, narcissism, self image crises, hormones and scholastic pressure
  • A perfectionism, Type A thing that comes out and stops her from doing anything all the way. Things used to come easy and having to work hard at anything is a foreign thing

The straws that broke it:

  • The summer she turns 14, a friend’s betrayal that causes her to isolate herself from all of her friends. Not having friends is a scary thing. Feeling rejected is a scary thing. It makes you look at yourself anew, critically.
  • At this time she’s reading Antigone, Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, the Scarlet Letter, and finding ways to draw parallels.
  • Deepak Chopra, A Wrinkle In Time. Getting extra thinky about What IS Life, Even?
  • Discovering Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Bush and other bummer music to spiral out to.
  • Oh yeah, and the internet. It’s full of dark stuff if you’re looking for it.
  • A really crazy commitment to environmentalism. Feeling guilty for living, because of the resources it takes up.

And the catalyst:

  • She made a new friend who cut herself. She thought it was terrible and tried to stop her. That night she went home and tried it, though, and was hooked. Here’s a way to show everyone what they’ve done to her. Here’s a way to feel something other than shitty feelings. Here’s a secret to have. A sacred ritual. A secret weapon for whenever she felt jilted or wronged or ugly or annoying.

I’m lucky that I had the support system I did. The new friends I made (and some old friends I kept), who made me laugh, and who knew what I was going through, because they were, too. They lifted me up. Theatre; the art room and darkroom. The teachers who accepted my papers talking about myself instead of the subject matter. The teachers I ate lunch with. The boys who loved me, each in their own ways, especially my high school boyfriend. My sister, who beat a kid up for picking on me. My parents, who fought the insurance companies to get me the help I needed, and who tried everything they could think of to chill me out. My grandparents, who radiated love unconditionally.

I kept hurling myself at the ground and all of these invisible threads caused me not to hit it. I’m grateful for them. I hope y’all know who you are. Thank you for making sure that 2017 Kate exists. I’m sure glad she does.

In adulthood, I’ve realized that everyone has a dramatic time in high school where they might not be ultra confident, and some love or friend destroyed their world for a time. I just decided to dial it all the way up.

My doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock said I was a lifer. That my depression wasn’t situational, but long-term. I accepted that, at the time. I probably even bullied him into saying it. My son Henry is a lot like I was; he likes to see what happens when he crosses the line and wants to win every power struggle.

It wasn’t until I was out of a terrible relationship and in a solid one and with a good job, many years later, that I thought I’d try quitting my meds. I felt like I had made peace with a lot of it. I had an appreciation of life and nature and the universe and realized that it’s pretty magical that we even exist. I’d made a deal with myself to leave the world better off for having me in it, like a giant carbon offset credit for life. (This deal holds true today, deeply, through everything that I do.)

It was awful going off my meds. I felt like I was going crazy, but I knew it was the Effexor withdrawal. I’d get these electric zaps in my brain, like there was a wire between my ears that someone would just TWANGGGG like snapping a rubber band.

But you know what? Turns out I wasn’t a lifer. In retrospect, I think it was situational. I’ve had a question mark in my mind for a long time, trying to figure out why I went off the deep end. And what kind of a messed up thing is it for a doctor to tell a teen they’re going to be on meds for life? OR ANYONE FOR THAT MATTER. I get not wanting someone to go off their meds when the time isn’t right; that could be terrible. But I’m sharing my story for those folks who might not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Who might not know that the nasty beast Depression CAN fade out, with some work, with some life changes, with whatever. I’m not saying quit your meds today. I’m saying you can find a way out of it.

I’d claim I regret nothing if I hadn’t hurt my family so much going through it. I do regret putting them through that horror. As a parent, I don’t want to imagine the panic and desperation my poor folks must have felt. And it’s not like my sister breezed through her own teen years after the example I set. I do regret that.

But I’m the person I am today for all of that despair and anguish, though. I’m glad I felt those feelings, because I wouldn’t feel so high up now if I didn’t know how deep it goes in the other direction. It’s funny; I’ve been criticized for being too chipper and cheerful. If only they knew! — What it’s taken to get where I am. I’m proud of it. This is also why I’m sharing. Some people never find their way out of the forest. I did! Hooray!

I won’t say I don’t still get dramatic. But I’ve got a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism; more self-worth than I ever expected to have. It’s helped that I started listening to other people, and that’s built up inner stores of confidence. And it helps to laugh at myself. Not in a mean way, but in an appreciative way. The way you laugh at your kids when they’re just so totally themselves. The way you laugh at your parents when they’re just so totally themselves. And it helps me to know that it was situational. A perfect storm.

Not to say every day is rainbows and sunshine. There are days I’m not as sure of myself. But I know that I have that awesome support that’s so there when I need it to be, and I know that I want to be able to say that depression is something I went though and not something that I currently suffer from, and I know that I have a lot of people counting on me. Being essential to the world is something I needed to be. And I do feel essential. Often I hear my clients say, they don’t know what they would do without me! And of course my kids need me. And I’m happy. I’m all right. I’m in a really good place. My kids are awesome, my husband’s awesome, my business is awesome.

So in fact, while it’s not every day, most days I am busting with rainbows and sunshine!

And I’m out to make the world a better place than if there weren’t a Kate in it.

So there.