Depression isn’t only for adults, and as much as people want to think that childhood should get an exemption from all the nastiness life has to offer, it doesn’t.
As a matter of fact depression is certainly not the only mental health abnormality that children can experience, but it is the one I can speak about from experience because I was a depressed child.
I want to talk about that a little bit. I’m going to be candid but not go into too much detail.
[TW: Discussion of depression, and suicidal-thoughts]
My life didn’t have any truly significantly abnormal events that immediately proceeded my depression, even if some of them could have been seen as sort of traumatic in a way (moving, parents not fighting but still living apart temporarily). In the interest of honesty, there is one potential exception which is that my younger brother (who was 5 at the time, hardly a threat) did cause me some minor wounds with a nail, and a kitchen (possibly paring) knife. It felt like a big deal at the time, because all injuries did, but really it wasn’t.
So knowing that, there isn’t anything I can think of which would account for how I felt.
This is going to sound either ridiculous or horrifying, but the first time I remember wanting to die was my sixth birthday party. Laugh if you want, but please remember I only wish I could be joking, and it wouldn’t be a very funny joke.
Speaking of wishes, what I wished for that birthday, was to explode and disappear, right then, right there. You have no idea how fast my mind back-peddled, as fast as thoughts can move I was thinking to myself over and over again “no, no, no, no, that’s not really what I want, I take it back, I take it back” I still believed wishes could come true.
I’d been told that wishes didn’t come true if you told someone, but I didn’t tell anyone.
I can’t remember if that’s because I’d ‘waffled’ and wanted it to become true, or because I was too scared of what someone might think…
Probably the latter, I was six after all. I had scared myself though, and I didn’t want to think about it anymore.
Still I couldn’t seem to stop. While I knew that some kids said things like “if I died you’d be sorry” I thought maybe people wouldn’t really be sorry if I died. The depression you see already had me thinking I wasn’t worth crying over.
My family used to take camping trips in the summer, and we’d go rock climbing. (My dad was in search and rescue, he knew how to properly secure ropes, and we had proper harnesses with one parent up at the top and one parent at the bottom holding the rope.)
I started thinking about the cliffs, and I really wanted to go camping and enjoy things, I was upset at myself for wrecking that fun, but when I couldn’t stop thinking about them I told my parents they shouldn’t take me.
They tried to brush off my sudden lack of enthusiasm, so I eventually told them outright that if they took me near the cliffs I would jump. That they took seriously.
Say what you want, that I can’t remember, that kids can’t possibly think that way. –Well, that’s nice, but as much as I wish it weren’t true, it is. Even if you don’t believe me it won’t make it any less true nor give me back my childhood.
Do you remember being seven and the things you cared about? Did you want toys, videogames, a bike? Well I wanted those too, but when I lay in bed at night I thought about cliffs, and falling, and not existing, and running into traffic.
It’s actually rather sickening to remember, I was so damned young, I knew almost nothing of life. Unfortunately knowing things or experiencing things isn’t a prerequisite for depression, and when it strikes in children they are merciless to themselves.
My parents put me into counseling immediately, and I think that is the best thing that they could have possibly done.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
Because they felt like I was too young, my parents didn’t want to put me on any medications. I can’t comment if this is good thing or a bad thing for someone in that situation, it was simply the choice they made.
Though they did want me to learn as many skills for coping with my emotions as possible, I learned an early version of CBT, and I went into both individual talk therapy, as well as group therapy. (mostly with kids who were in foster-care or had experienced some type of trauma)
My depression persisted, but at least I had words for what I was experiencing, and methods to push back against the overwhelming flood of negative self talk that utterly permeated my life.
Most of it feels like a different life now. I really don’t know why I felt that way, I just did.
What does it mean though for a child to be so depressed? Well, as far as I can tell, nothing. I think it may just be a variation in human experience, some people are exceptionally happy during their childhoods, I was exceptionally– err– not happy.
When you get past the shock of just how young I was, and the fact that it wasn’t just a mild depression it really isn’t anything amazing.
It was depression, it was the same experience which other depressed people I told about it related to.
What I’m getting at when I mention that is that it wasn’t anything super special just felt by kids, and it wasn’t lesser or more, it was just depression, inconveniently experienced at a much younger age than is typical.
It changed a lot of who I might have been to experience this, but realistically I not only don’t know who I would have been if I could have not felt it, I also don’t know that there’s any way I could have avoided having that experience. Perhaps it’s just genetic for me?
It’s okay though. I don’t really regret that this was my childhood, I may have when I was younger, but at this point I’m just glad to have made it through it, and feel better. At this point I only have short bouts of depression, and I actually know what being neither depressed nor happy feels like. (Something I didn’t even conceive of existing while I was depressed. Middle grounds? Are you speaking english, because that sounds like nonsense!?)
This is my life, like it or lump it, my childhood got eaten by depression, and now that I’m an adult I’m okay with that.
I’m not sure what it’s like for other children who were depressed, but this is my experience.
Thanks for reading.