I’ve never seen anyone jump in front of a Metro train, but it seems to happen more frequently in the DC area than I would like to admit. And most times when it does, people grumble about the delays and inconvenience, myself included.
Sometimes, I think of what was going through that person’s mind. And when I walk down the stairs to the platform, and then along the raised, bumped edge to get through the crowd, I think how easy it would be to just fall or jump to my right. In a split second, I would be no more.
But then I think about the train driver – how they can see the entire scene play out, and there’s nothing they can do about it. If they try to brake, it may only put the passengers at risk, whereas the jumper knew the consequence of their actions. And even though the driver is not responsible, that is something they must take with them for the rest of their life.
Mental health, an often overlooked sector of health care, is so important to surviving the daily grind. It is why we shouldn’t take for granted that someone won’t jump in front of that train. And we should always ask why. When the mind starts to reason ending life, then it can reason a lot of things.
Depression runs in my family so I’ve seen and felt it firsthand. Fortunately, diabetes has kept me balanced in terms of emotions and reason. It helps put things in perspective and reminds me why I should value life.
In fact, when I was in the hospital after being diagnosed, I actually thought that if I had successfully ended my life in college when I was severely depressed, I would have never met diabetes. But that thought only makes me stronger. I am glad that I met diabetes, although I still think that it’s ruined my life in many respects, but I wouldn’t be the resilient person I am today if I didn’t have to manage it.
Depression Around the Bend
But that doesn’t mean those itchy feelings of despair don’t appear every now and then. When one is depressed, one goes to a different part of the mind and shuts away anything that might provide a viable alternative for escape.
I don’t know what it is about wanting to stay in that dark, forlorn space. I don’t know why we lose the will to fight our way out of the pit without a ladder. But whether I am feeling overwhelmed by life or suddenly despondent, I can feel myself giving up.
I take baby steps at first. I shrug off social invitations; I lose interest in hobbies; I don’t mind if I fail on a work project. I suddenly become indifferent to the consequences of my actions. I suddenly become indifferent to life.
It’s easy. I ride the train, watching each stop go by, but I never get off. And it all started with one simple thought. I just don’t feel like trying today.
I don’t know how to stop it sometimes. It feels like it’s getting out of control. I feel terrible when I wake up and when I go to bed. My writing seems destitute. I have trouble putting together coherent sentences at work. I seem frustrated, tired, and drained. And I am not happy. I am mad at myself for letting it get this far and for letting myself go.
I don’t know if I’m gaining weight, but I feel like I am. I don’t know if my terrible blood sugar levels are just a result of hormones or bad eating habits, but I blame myself anyway. I don’t need the bagels, cupcakes, muffins, or croissants in the kitchen. I don’t need the peanut butter cookies I baked for myself this past weekend.
I suddenly feel worthless, like a pen drop on a piece of paper. I do a good job and I’m trying to make contributions to the world and my community. But I am plagued by a chronic disease and never-ending financial debt. What do I have to give to this world?
I try to put things in perspective, reminding myself that even though I pay too much for rent, I have too many student loans, and the cost of living here is high, I still live a comfortable, independent, and free life. I have an education; I have a full-time job with benefits; I have family and friends; I don’t have a terminal illness; and I’m not in the middle of a war.
I think about changing my routine. I commit to giving up sweets, running three times a week, creating a financial budget, joining organizations outside of work, volunteering for important causes, re-connecting with old friends, and getting up an hour earlier each day to write.
But sometimes, this isn’t enough because what I lack is the motivation and seeing the worth in myself. This is a tough place to be in. For some people, it’s a daily battle. For others like me, it’s once in a while. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Recognizing that I don’t want to be that person in front of the train is the first step to remembering the value in living.
It takes time – sometimes days, weeks, and even years. It’s not necessarily a battle that will ever be won, but I once had hope that I would get better at it, and it wouldn’t be so hard.
A Glimpse From 1993
So the last time these feelings hit, I reflected back to my childhood self. Because I bet that young girl wouldn’t see life the same way. She couldn’t. Her brain was hardly developed at that point.
I wondered what was going on in my mind back then. How did I organize the days? I know I couldn’t wait to grow up. I know I couldn’t wait to grow tall so I could reach the tops of the kitchen cabinets. I know I used to list the different activities I could play on any given day. My younger brother and I used to rate this list, and that’s how we decided how we would spend the summer days.
But the best memories are of the days when we played make-believe. Across the street in the church yard or in the backyard among berry bushes, we pretended to be mad scientists, famous chefs, and Batman and Batgirl. There were no rules or obligations. The whole world was open to us, and for us, that was enough.
So much has changed in the 22 years since my parents bought their first house, the house they still call home. Those lists might even be collecting dust in a bin of old school papers because unlike my more simplistic self now, I used to keep everything.
I spent the better part of Labor Day weekend last year weeding through old boxes of t-shirts, exams, and scrapbooks. I started going through a box of trinkets that included items like a perfume bottle shaped like a bear, a ceramic mug with my classmates’ names painted on it, and a locked coin bank shaped like a safe seen in one those old-school Westerns. I even remembered the lock combination, and the fact that I needed a quarter to lift the broken lever necessary to open it.
There were still a few coins in the corresponding 1, 5, 10, and 25 cent slots. I pulled out the tiny drawer in the bottom and crumpled next to a ripped one dollar bill was a $20 bill from 1993. It didn’t surprise me. Before I had a bank account, I used to hide money all over my bedroom – behind picture frames, at the bottom of flower pots, and of course in my piggy bank.
I am certain that when I packed up my bedroom before college, I probably found that $20 bill, a remnant from my childhood self, and decided to keep it there in the hopes that my older adult self would find it and be surprised. Nine years later, I was.
Because $20 is not a lot to a 27-year-old. It probably wasn’t a lot to an 18-year-old. But it was a lot to that six-year-old. And I kept it all these years not for the monetary value, but for the value of its existence.
So I unfolded the furrowed bill, put it in another locked trinket I had found, packed it in my suitcase, and took it back with me to DC.
Note: Back in DC when I opened that locked trinket my grandparents had given to me from Gulf Shores, Alabama, I discovered a current $20 bill next to the 1993 version. I decided to keep it there.