The Cave in My Chest

By: Brenna Beattie

Today, I found out that someone in the gaming community, someone I admire greatly, committed suicide. It’s the second time someone I cherish has done so and the sixth time I’ve considered doing the same.

Let me start out by saying this: most people think I am the last person to think about killing myself. Most people don’t even realize I have clinical depression. But, having wild and unruly hair like a certain cheerful pink pony and the bizarre penchant for quoting silly things at the drop of a hat doesn’t stop me from having days where I physically can’t stand up or even take care of myself.

When I was nine years old, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. I also discovered that my mother was sad more days than none. We had moved into a run down, cramped townhouse and were subsisting on handouts and hand-me-downs. I remember her crying a lot. She burned her wedding photos one day. I didn’t really understand, except that Dad had married one of Mom’s friends and I had a little brother. But, somehow, I got it into my head that I was the cause of it all. I was mercilessly teased at school for looking strange, wearing funny clothes and being in Special Ed. Math, despite reading books that the sixth graders weren’t picking up yet. Surely, if my mother didn’t have such a useless, pathetic excuse for a child around, she’d be happy again.

One night in September, maybe a few days before my birthday, I handed my mother a suicide note, kicked the covers off my bed, peeled down to my underwear and opened a window. Then, I quite calmly laid down to die. I vaguely remember feeling this empty spot in my chest. I thought, “that’s why Mom doesn’t love me; I haven’t got a real heart. Now, she can get a kid who has one.”

In retrospect, it’s funny. It was September in Virginia, and naturally I survived. But, Mom panicked and the next thing I knew I was being handed to therapists and being prescribed Prozac. I wasn’t even interested in boys yet and I was on antidepressants. I began punishing myself, in odd ways. I’d force myself to stare at the dullest thing I could. I’d slap and claw myself, something I still do when angry with myself. Anything to, I hoped, force myself to stop being such a horrible person.

Eventually, I wasn’t taking them any more and my mother recovered from her own bout of depression. After a time, she remarried and I was in high school. I fell in with the gaming crowd at school and finally had friends. But I was still strange. I was still a target. I kept waking up with a hole on my chest where a heart should have been. At some point, a teacher who thought she got it, and didn’t, tried to take me under her wing. There was all this talk of “Gratitude Diaries” (I can’t even keep up with a blog), “Positive Thoughts” (I was a nerdy, awkward teenager, teetering on the Perky Goth edge of Goth), and “Glad Games” (I look nothing like Hayley Mills, just saying). Eventually I think she gave up on me.

One day, in a Special Ed. classroom, I was being teased mercilessly for my odd speech patterns (the words “genre” and “Is a frog’s backside watertight” had been tossed off) and I broke down in tears. The teacher, who knew me well enough, told me to step outside and compose myself. I did so. Hell, when I thought I was too noisy, I hid in the restroom on the emptiest end of the hall. Then, while I stood outside that classroom, readying myself to go back in, here came Miss Happy Thoughts. She began to probe me for answers. What was I doing out there? Was I calm? Did I need to speak to the principal? She thought I needed to speak to the principal. I was being cornered by someone in charge, with no proper escape and no way of answering her in a way that she was satisfied with. I started crying again, and I could feel that hollow in my chest. It was then that I began to associate that empty feeling with depression and anxiety. She frog-marched me down and I sat in the office, until the principal saw me and told me immediately to go back to class. But the damage was done. To this day, feeling cornered or trapped, especially by people I feel outrank me, sends me over the edge.

Later that day, I was talking to a friend and explaining how empty and sad I felt, that I was depressed and I’d talk to her later. She told me, quite calmly, that depression wasn’t a real disease; that I could choose to be happy. I flew into a rage as we left school and getting home that night, everything got worse. I fought with my mother and my step-father, I was banned from the internet or calling my boyfriend, and I was forced into an activity I loathed. I can’t explain why, but, suddenly I was blaming myself for my mother’s anger and my inability to handle teasing and bullying. I hid in my room and tore up all manner of things. At the time, I wanted to be a writer and an artist. I ripped apart my drawings and stories, convinced that they were even more evidence of my worthlessness. The cave in the center of my chest was all I could feel and I got this urge to run to the kitchen and drink the drain cleaner. Only, I couldn’t find it. The bottle was gone. Annoyed, I went into the bathroom and tried to cut my arms with nail scissors. I couldn’t bring myself to break the skin. To me, this was further proof of how wretched I was.

Indeed, every time I have wanted to die, I’ve failed. In college, I was in a miserable state and I found myself gazing up at the railing on the open second floor of the library at the community college and wondering if the fall would kill me. Then, I realized that killing myself wouldn’t do my loved ones any favors. They’d just have to pay for a funeral, which would sink them into debt. Bit by bit, I suppose this saved my life, if not my sanity.

But, it never filled in the cave in my chest.

A boyfriend of mine killed himself, or so the story goes. I don’t believe it myself, but that’s neither here nor there. I wanted to die. I wanted to follow him. That cave hollowed out faster and deeper than ever and lingered for months. I slept and cried and wondered what the hell was the point of anything if I only lost everything.

But, I hadn’t. I found myself tending to other people in their grief. I found that doing things we’d done together helped. And I got real help. Professional help. A lot of people pooh-pooh therapy and medication. They say that the medicine changes you. For me, that’s a good thing. It means I can function like a grown-up and not go weeks without bathing, because what’s the point. Therapy only makes people selfish. Well, a little selfishness is actually good for you. If you need to do something for yourself, you gotta do it, so you can heal. If anything, losing a loved one sunk me so deep, I found something. Like diving into an underwater cave, I found gold. I found that I could get help, that I wasn’t worthless, that I was just sick and that I could manage it and, if not recover, at least live.

The person who died inspired me to believe that I can be heard, that my voice and opinions matter. He made me laugh, bite my nails for tension and cheer. We’ve lost someone great and I have once again found that cave. I know I have to dive into my own heart, like all his fans and friends and his lovely widow, who loved and supported him. But I know that when I surface, I’m going to keep going. I’m going to heal and help others heal and carry the things I learned from him. He found his cave. It breaks my heart that he won’t surface. But, maybe he left a little treasure for all of us to find.