For those who have met me, what I am about to say may come as a surprise. I like to think of myself as a bubbly, outgoing, friendly person. I am often seen with a smile plastered on my face. So unless you know me—and I mean really know me—you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that I, Brittany Hancock, was clinically depressed for years following my father’s untimely death. You also may not know that I struggle with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), or that I have separation anxiety. Why would you, though? Who, of anyone, likes to go around wearing their heart on their sleeve and their mental disorder on their forehead? I’m sure there are some people who have no problem telling the world that they are depressed, but I, up until now, was not one of those people.
I am more than my mental disorder. I know that now. It’s time that we stop being so afraid to invite others into our experience for fear of being judged, misunderstood, or ignored, because, chances are, people have their own issues they’re going through and are too afraid to speak the words that constantly echo in their mind. But it’s time we shared what it really means to be depressed. Not just to say “I’m depressed”, but to actually see it on paper. To hold it in your hands. To hear it in the words that people speak, to let it ring in your ears. To bring all the thoughts and feelings that fill your heart and brain, that constantly weigh you down, pulling at your ankles, to the surface so that you can breathe again—really breathe again. It’s hard enough to understand what someone is going though, but even more-so when they are so ashamed of the emotions they are experiencing that they keep them bottled up. It’s okay to cry when you’re down. It’s okay to be alone when you don’t feel like entertaining. It’s okay to need people when you don’t trust yourself to be alone. It’s okay to smile when something brightens your day. It’s okay to scream when you’re angry with life. It’s okay to laugh when you feel like you shouldn’t. It’s okay. It’s all okay. And even if it doesn’t feel like it now, I guarantee you that it will be.
A common phrase (that has perhaps been beaten to death) is: “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel”. But what people don’t tell you is how long that tunnel really is. And, trust me, it can be loooooong. But you will get to the end of the tunnel. You will see the light. You will remember what it’s like to be happy. First, let yourself feel what you need to feel in order to get through that pain. Don’t feel like you need to keep it inside, that you should be ashamed of the darker thoughts running through your mind, that you can’t tell anyone. Share as much as you want or as little as you want, but do share. Don’t keep everything in. Because, as much as people will tell you “I can relate”—even if they have been through the EXACT SAME THING—they can’t. They can’t imagine what you’re going through. What you went through. How you feel. How you felt. How you’ve changed because of it. They simply can’t.
So show them.
For now, I’ll show you. The following is a non-fiction narrative written from my perspective. It is a true account of some of the events that took place following my dad’s death. I wish I knew then that it was okay to bring others into my depression and share my thoughts and feelings. I hope that, by sharing this with you, you will see that it can get very dark, very quickly when you feel like no one is around to help you. But there are people who care. You just have to give them the chance. This is me at my lowest low, my darkest time. This is my depression:
Doing It Now
By Brittany Hancock
“Do you have to go?” I asked, holding onto the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. I could hear the rain whipping against the window. The image of tires spinning and metal scraping on asphalt flashed in my mind.
“I haven’t been home in three days. My mom will be wondering where I am.” He pulled his coat off the hanger and stretched his arms through the sleeves. As he did, he brushed my hand that desperately clung to the piece of red and black fabric aside, letting it fall to my hip.
I looked to the window. I could see the rain now, but barely. It moved quickly, pouring into the sunken window of my basement apartment. “The weather is bad.”
“I’ll be fine. I can call you on the drive home.”
My eyes watered, but I didn’t take them off the rain.
He placed a finger on my chin and turned my head to face his. He leaned in and pressed his mouth to mine, his kiss lingering on my lips long after he stepped out into the rain, the door closing behind him with a uneven thud that mimicked that of my stuttering heart.
I reached to turn the lock into place, but froze as soon as my hand touched the cold metal.
I thought about December 21st, 2012.
* * *
I finally fell asleep at four in the morning. I spent the entirety of the night before reading a book I’ve long since forgotten the name to, afraid that this would be the last chance I had to finish it.
When the dreaded morning finally came, I was startled awake by the sound of the front door closing. I had been preparing for this day for months, but nothing prepared me for what had happened next.
I had already decided that I wasn’t leaving the house. That much was certain. I was going to sit in my room all day with my phone on loud and wait for the end.
The end of what?
Well, the end of the world.
The end of the Mayan calendar had the world in a frenzy, convincing us that an apocalyptic event was set to occur on the 21st of December, 2012. Of course the day had come and gone like any other, but my eighteen-year-old brain was certain that the day would end differently than it did. A little more permanently.
I ran down the stairs so quickly that I was certain I’d lose my footing and fall to the bottom. I steadied myself on the hardwood and ran for the front door, propelling myself through it, forgetting to protect my bare feet from the frozen ground outside.
The ice cold asphalt felt like broken glass on my feet, but that didn’t stop me. I turned the corner of the townhouse complex and ran towards the van that was making its way out of the parking lot.
The taillights flashed red as the vehicle came to a halt, my hands smacking against the defrosting back window and sliding against the moisture.
My mom stepped out of the vehicle as I slowly made my way over to her using the side of the van as my guide, screamingly aware of the cuts that began forming on the soles of my feet.
“You have to come back,” I shouted, despite her being a mere two feet away from me, panic bubbling inside of me. My sister who was on the passenger side came up behind me and put her coat around my bare arms. I didn’t realized until that moment that I was wearing only shorts and a tank top.
“Brittany, go back inside. Everything will be fine. I will call you as soon as I get to work.”
“No. You didn’t let me say it.” I was still shouting, my words now drenched in the panic that dripped from my frozen-blue lips. “You have to stay. We have to stay together.” My limbs were shaking, but not from the vicious wind that whipped against my partially-clothed body.
My mom looked to my sister, not really certain of what to say or do next. Since my dad’s death, my mom often looked to my sister for guidance, not fully prepared to be the sole parental figure in this broken family.
“Please,” I cried. “You’ll die.” My sister wrapped her arms around my shivering body.
“Okay,” she said finally, motioning for my sister to take me back to the house. “I’ll be right in.”
As we made our way back down the path that led to my front door, I turned around every so often to make sure my mom wasn’t trying to sneak off. When I saw the van’s headlights shut off and could no longer hear the engine running, I breathed a visible sigh of relief into the bitter air.
My mom followed my sister and me into the house and went to the kitchen as my sister walked me over to the couch. I could hear the water running in the kitchen sink. My mom joined us in the living room, a cordless phone tucked under her arm and a warm washcloth in her hand. She handed my sister the washcloth—who began to wipe my frostbitten feet clean of the earth that clung to my skin—and sat down next to me on the couch.
She made three calls that day.
She called her manager to let her know she would not make it in to work and that she would see them tomorrow. She called the school to tell them my sister was sick at home and would not be in class.
And she called Susan.
* * *
“Be safe. Don’t die. I love you.”
“Can you explain that a bit?” she pressed, eyes scanning my face for any sort of reaction. I squeezed my lips together, not really certain of how I could explain it. It was just something I said now. I had to say it. I had to.
“Why don’t we talk about the ‘don’t die’?”
“Well, that seems rather obvious,” was my snarky reply.
Susan tapped her pen against the metal of the clipboard, waiting for me to elaborate, despite already knowing the answer from the countless sessions we shared prior.
“Well, my dad’s dead. So, there’s that.”
She nodded in response as if it was brand new information and not the reason I’d been going there for the last two years.
I continued, “And, well, there’s Amy. I guess she’s really why I say it.”
“Amy?” Susan’s voice startled me. “You’ve never mentioned Amy before.” She nodded as she flipped through the pages on her clipboard, confirming that that there was no mention of Amy prior to that moment, as if reassuring herself that she was worth the ninety bucks an hour she charged my mom twice a month.
I ignored her interruption and continued to tell her about the phone call that took place the morning after my dad drowned.
“When he died… I called her afterwards to tell her what happened—to tell her that he was gone—and when I told her that my last words to him were ‘I don’t want to die,’ she said, ‘don’t you wish you said something better, like I love you?’. And I guess that’s kind of stuck with me,” I paused, looking down at the chipped, blue nail polish on my fingernails.
As I stared at the flaking polish, she spoke again, bringing my attention back to the topic at hand. “What were you expecting to get out of calling Amy?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
I don’t know. I guess I was expecting to have my friend comfort me. To tell me that everything was going to be okay. To tell me that I wasn’t alone in all of this. To tell me that she would be there for me no matter what.
I guess I was just expecting her to make me feel better, not to make me regret the last moments of my father’s life over and over again.
I shrugged my shoulders again.
“So is that why you say it? ‘Be safe. Don’t die. I love you’?” she asked, pen at the ready.
“I don’t want to make the same mistake and have my last words to someone I care about be something that I could possibly regret. That I wish I could change.”
“What would happen if those weren’t your last words to them?”
I looked up and my eyes connected with hers. The whites of her eyes are stained with red as if she hasn’t been sleeping these last couple of days. I wondered what my tired eyes must have looked like to her. I wondered if she noticed that mine were also bloodshot from the nightmares that kept me awake. I wondered if anyone noticed because I didn’t dare tell anyone.
I felt like a burden to those around me.
Even strangers that I encountered were drawn into my realm of depression, forced to listen to me recount my story in hopes that I would finally come to terms with it. It’s not their job, their responsibility, to knit back together the unravelling sweater that is my life. Why did I need to take antidepressants in order to make me happy? The fact that I got to live should make me happy. But, how can I be happy when all I see after I’ve closed my eyes is his head falling forward and connecting with the water, his last breath escaping his lips?
Her eyes bore into mine, waiting for my answer so she could write it down on the paper attached to her clipboard.
“Then they die.”
* * *
His skin was as cold as the lake that stole him from me. His face washed clean of the crimson that once painted his cheeks. As my dad lain in his casket, I was overtaken with thoughts that would soon devour both the waking and sleeping states of my future days.
My body had become a prison. My arms outstretched through the bars, pleading the guard to let me out. I wanted to be taken back in time, before I was tossed in this cell—before I was afraid all the time. Afraid of death. Afraid that the Grim Reaper was waiting for me around the corner. Afraid to be alone because I couldn’t stand the overwhelming silence that consumed me.
I was afraid.
The half-empty bottle of Tylenol that rattled at the bottom of my purse was unnerving. It’d send me spiralling into a lake of morbid thoughts of what would happen if I swallowed too many. I didn’t want to die. Not by my own hands, at least. Death simply seemed easier than life, especially a life spent as a prisoner of my own shell. Once I’d considered it, I wondered if someone else would turn my musings into a reality and put me in a casket of my own.
I could feel it around me. The ice cold water. Pressing down on my body, waves crashing over my head; the air in my lungs trapped with nowhere to go.
I tried to scream for my dad, but the words were swept away by the undertow that grabbed at my ankles, pulling me under.
I could feel him. His hands were on my back, pushing me forward as he tried to get us back to land. It was no use, though. He pushed me forward and the waves pushed me back.
“I don’t want to die,” I cried. He said nothing.
Just kept pushing.
Until, suddenly, I couldn’t feel him anymore.
The next time I saw him his head was under water.
The time after that?
I looked at him as he slept in his casket.
No, I thought. He’s not sleeping.
Whose decision was it anyway? Was it God's? Or was it simply fate that chose whose survival should take place in that moment? And why was it me who lived? Was it that Dad had bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts? Did they think that because I was unencumbered by all of these issues that I would be the suitable, worthier choice? I guess I fooled them. It took all of six months before my father’s imperfections surfaced in me, each of them a child in water coming up for air.
We dressed him in his favourite shirt. It had a Spitfire plane on it. The same shirt that now sits in the bottom of my mom’s closet, collecting dust.
I brushed my hand against the soft material, running my hand over his still chest, remembering the last time he wore it before then. How his lungs shook the fabric as it hung from his body, his contagious laugh echoing through the hallway.
My mom told my sister and me to give him a kiss. To hold his hand. To tell him we love him.
To say goodbye.
A tear fell from my eye as I pressed my lips to his cold, colourless cheek. They used to be so rosy. So warm. As I pulled away, the tear that I shed slid down his face and it looked like he was crying.
I felt my mom’s hand on my back and I flinched, but she didn’t notice.
“Wait outside for me, please. I’d like to be alone with your father.”
I looked him one last time before my sister guided me out of the room.
We pressed our ears against the closed door and strained to hear the one-sided conversation that took place on the other side, but there was no laughter filling the halls.
There was only silence.
After a seemingly endless car ride home, I saw his Pathfinder parked in the driveway and unconsciously thought, “Dad’s home!” It took only seconds for Reality to chime in and candidly remind me that my dad wasn’t home. He never would be again.
* * *
I ran to the car, the rain continuing to fall around me as my feet splashed through the puddled driveway. As his car backed out onto the street, I felt my heart plummet lower and lower until it reached the pit of my stomach.
I began to scream, begging him to turn around and come back. He couldn’t hear me, though; his music blared through the street. I ran out and threw myself against the side of his car, forcing him to slam on the brakes and step out of the vehicle.
“What are you doing?” He put his arms around me, attempting to shelter me from the freezing rain that enveloped my body.
“You have to come back.” I wanted to explain myself, but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know how I could explain the sinking feeling in my chest that if he got behind the wheel it would be for the very last time. I didn’t know how to reach inside myself for the words that I needed him to hear.
“I’ll call you when I’m home. It will be okay.” I shook my head fervently, unable to shake the image of his car sliding off the highway and into a ditch out of my mind.
The rain masked the tears that poured from my eyes as I gripped his waist, knuckles turning white. The glow from the headlights wrapped around us as my eyes pleaded with his, hoping he would understand. Hoping that he would try.
I stood there clutching the fabric of his shirt for longer than I should have had to, begging him to stay. Begging him to come back inside. Begging him to be there for me.
He pulled the car back into the driveway and tucked me under his arm as he walked me back to the house. He slowly removed the sopping wet clothes from my shivering body and hung them up to dry. Guiding me into the bedroom, he lifted the sheets while I climbed in bed. He went to the living room to call his mother to tell her he was staying with me that night.
After he hung up the phone he crawled into the bed that my bones had sunken into and placed his hand on my chest, but I was numb to his touch. It felt as though I was drowning in the bedsheets and he made no effort to save me.
He didn’t ask any questions.
He didn’t speak any words.
The only sound that aired between us was the rapping of the rain as it struck the window above my bed.
He fell asleep with his arm floating above me, the tips of my fingers desperately reaching for his but never finding their way.
I watched his tired eyes flutter as he drifted further away from me—further from my grasp.
He was right next to me.
I never felt more alone.
* * *
I woke up this morning next to Jacob. His arm wrapped tightly around my body, his fingers intertwined with mine, having fallen asleep the night before talking about how I think the only reason I haven’t had a full blown panic attack about everything going on in my life is because of him. Thinking about him all day had kept me from freaking out about the uncertainties of my life because I knew that one thing was absolutely guaranteed: at the end of the day, I’m his and he’s mine.
And I love him so damn much.
I’m on the phone with my friend giving her advice when I realize how far I’ve come from chasing people out into the cold grip of death. She is recently a new mother and terrified of everything going wrong.
“I’m afraid that he will die. That I’ll make one wrong move and lose him,” she tells me. I hear him coo on the other line and can picture her holding him in his arms as he wriggles about.
“You’re allowed to think ‘worst case scenario’ and try to find a positive in it,” I tell her. “It’s our way of preparing ourselves that we will have to find a way to move on if our worst nightmares turn into a reality. But no matter what, these questions won’t change what’s going to happen or what has already happened. You have to find a way to keep living and hope that you’ll find a way to get through whatever life throws at you. You have to surround yourself with people who will be there for you because they want to, not because they have to.”
“Is that what you did?” she asks, not needing to specify that she was referring to my dad and how I coped in the years that followed his death.
I think about the Tylenol that sits at the bottom of my purse and how it no longer scares me for it to be there. I think about my ex and how he would never try to get to the root of the situation, and how alone I felt when I needed him the most. I think about how glad I am that I finally realized I deserve to be with someone who wouldn’t think twice about staying the night if it would ease my mind. I think about Jacob who is waiting in my bed for me to finish my phone call and curl up in his arms so he can ask me about my day.
“Not at first,” I say finally. “But I’m doing it now.”