I think I can actually remember the first time I ever felt depressed. I was lying on the cool tile of the bathroom floor at home in the suburbs of Miami, staring up at the popcorn ceiling, escaping the tropical summer heat or some neglected household chore. This was a few years before at age 12, I would spend the most terrifying night of my life on that same bathroom floor, surviving Hurricane Andrew’s Category 5 winds under a mattress with my Mom and Stepdad. Nothing was really wrong on this day, no hurricane, no drama, just me seeking out a space to get lost in my thoughts.
Lying there I imagined myself spinning on this giant ball called Earth amongst billions of people, this giant ball rotating the giant sun, which was part of an entire galaxy in an infinite universe of stars, planets and matter. The realization that I was a miniscule and insignificant speck floating in this vast and endless universe immediately overwhelmed me. I felt panic grip me in my guts, rising up into my throat sucking the moisture out of my mouth. This panic suddenly had a voice, the voice said “it doesn’t matter”. The “it” the voice was talking about was everything; it was me, it was life itself, it was school, my friends, my parents. This voice became louder and louder until it basically turned every compliment that anyone ever gave me into the polar opposite of what they actually said. For example, if someone said, “you’re so beautiful!” the voice said, “You’re not beautiful enough”. If someone said, “wow you’re such a great writer!” the voice told me “you suck at this, quit now”.
Sure, I had both little and big traumas growing up, my parents were divorced, I went through one of the most infamous natural disasters of my generation, but this voice in my head came from a deeper, primal place.
As I got older I found something that made this voice go away: drugs and alcohol. Only problem is that when I wasn’t high or drunk the self-loathing would just return a hundred times worse, so I eventually began a life dedicated to finding the next time I could sneak away and numb out.
That day on the bathroom floor I hadn’t discovered this chemical solution yet. I wasn’t comforted by the idea that the both punishing and loving God from church had a plan for me. I did not trust that my Mother could understand, even though she hadn’t given me a reason not to. My instinct was to withdraw deeper into myself. I had vivid recurring dreams that I was some kind of orphan Tarzan child, covered in mud and living in the jungle trees. I wonder if the dreams were recurring because they were really fantasies, daydreams that helped me cope with the inferior feelings now plaguing me on a regular basis.
By the time any of the Just Say No, scare tactic prevention messaging ever reached my ears it was too late. I had already experienced the warm, healing sensation of red wine hitting my stomach. I had already snuck sips of Champaign at a wedding till’ I danced and passed out and I was already stealing cigarettes from adults, bathing myself in perfume to cover the smell. The messaging that often featured crack pipes, syringes and a fried egg, which was supposed to represent “my brain on drugs”, was completely unrelatable to me. I did not equate the imagery with the solution I’d found of using substances to cope with insecurity and self-doubt. Drugs were painted as a sinister menace that bad people did on a street corner, not a soothing friend that made me feel prettier, smarter and more likeable.
Our new administration has alluded to a plan to develop a “large media campaign” to address the Opioid Epidemic in our Nation. I can assure them that an alarmist, theatrical “Just Say No” style campaign is a waste of time and money. I urge them to take a look at the no-nonsense, fact-based approach the TRUTH campaign used with great efficacy to reach youth regarding the dangers of tobacco products.
One of the first times I ever heard anyone else refer to this malevolent voice I hear was Eckert Tolle. He says “Sooner or later you’ll grow fed up with the voice inside your head with its constant murmurings of discontent its fear-mongering thoughts of the future and its’ questioning of every choice you make. One day, you’ll turn to it and calmly say ‘I refuse to listen!’ That’s pretty much what I do today. When the voice tells me I suck or I’m not good enough, I say “thanks for sharing” and keep it moving!