At 26, I’ve done a lot of living. Some of it has been good: I went to Florida for a music festival, I ate falafel in the old city of Jersualem, I spent a summer working on the Vans Warped Tour, I did a backflip for the first time, I got a full-time job in the music industry, I got my first apartment. Some of it has been bad: I went to Florida for my great-uncle’s funeral, I had a panic attack while hiking up an ancient mountain, I was kicked out of my sorority house mid-semester, I went through four knee surgeries, and I struggled for years to find a job I loved that paid the bills. But all of the living I’ve done- the good and the bad- has shaped me to be the person I am today.
And at 26, I have a lot of living left to do. There are places to go and people to meet and I’d like to see and meet as many of them as I can. I still have my battles with mental illness- sometimes the fight against depression feels more like a war- but I want to get through them, and while I’m not sure I’ll “win”, I know I want to survive.
But when I was 14, I hadn’t done much living, and I didn’t realize how much living I had left to do. When I found myself caught in the undertow of depression for the first time I didn’t realize swimming up to the surface- let alone getting out of the water- was a possibility. I began hurting myself, and though my parents quickly made sure I saw a therapist, things didn’t get better right away. I was put on medication just after Thanksgiving and while that made it easier to function on a daily basis (I could get out of bed, brush my teeth, and do my homework), it didn’t make the idea of living any more desirable.
On Christmas that year, I wanted to see hope and I wanted to see joy. I thought maybe there was joy in material gifts (there wasn’t) or time with family (there was stress) or time with friends (I had none); I hoped that the joy I might find would last through the next day, and perhaps even longer. I didn’t find joy on Christmas Day and when I woke up on December 26, I wondered if I ever would. At first I felt sad but mostly, I felt nothing.
And then things got bad. I think it was a fight with my parents, and I think it was about something that was pretty minuscule, but I can’t remember the details. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the words that were said (or rather, yelled) matter so much as the fact that in that moment I was sure the world was over. I could’ve recognized even back then that what happened wasn’t itself the end of the world, but the thing about depression is that even the most minor things feel like the end of the world and so you’re acutely aware of the fact that you could never make it through the worst, and eventually you wonder if it’s worth trying to make it through anything at all.
I escaped to my bedroom, my chest heaving with sobs and my breath short as my mind was over capacity with thoughts, the most overpowering being that I wanted to die. I would take pills- my parents’ medicine cabinet was full of them- and I would take as many as I possibly could and… that would be that. I sat on my bed with a pen and notebook (a brand new one that had been a Christmas gift) and wrote a letter to say goodbye.
I’ve always been one to listen to music while writing, and while writing that letter I put in my headphones and pressed play on the playlist I’d made for nights like this. Song after song played but the sounds and the words just washed over me without sinking in, until I heard the opening notes of blink-182‘s “Adam’s Song.”
If you’ve heard “Adam’s Song” before, you know how devastating it is. The song is written in the form of a suicide note, and it’s very raw and very real and it was exactly what I was feeling in that moment.
I never thought I’d die alone
I laughed the loudest, who’d have known?
I trace the cord back to the wall
No wonder, it was never plugged in at all
I took my time, I hurried up
The choice was mine, I didn’t think enough
I’m too depressed to go on
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone
I had decided I wanted to die, but with this song I felt less alone in that. The song ended and I pressed repeat again and again and again, listening half a dozen or so times. So many songs sing of hope but even when Mark Hoppus decides in the final chorus that “tomorrow holds such better days”, there was acknowledgement in the tone of his voice that hope wasn’t there just yet. I didn’t feel better but I felt understood, and so I cried. I cried because I was hurting and I cried because of how the song resonated with me and I cried because as the tears rolled down my cheeks, I felt each one, hot and wet, and that meant I was capable of feeling something.
I never took the pills; instead I turned out the lights and laid my head down and went to sleep.
For several years, I couldn’t listen to “Adam’s Song.” If I heard so much as the first few notes, I was immediately brought back to the night I wanted to die, and for a long time, I still did. Any reminder of that night was too painful because I was sure if I ever reached that point again, I wouldn’t be able to make it through. I listened to lots of music and I listened to plenty of sad songs and I listened to blink-182’s discography many times over, but when I got to Enema of the State, I pressed “skip” when “Adam’s Song” came on.
I wanted music that would make me feel better, and “Adam’s Song” felt like a reminder of when things were at their worst. Sure, I’d done some living since I was 14, but I wasn’t confident I was ready to tackle the rest of life just yet. Though life was full of ups and downs, I never quite felt like I was “better” (whatever “better” means) and I never felt like I could talk about the night I wanted to die for the first time.
Following my fourth knee surgery this spring, I was in a point of complete uncertainty with my career and my personal life was less than successful; once again I wanted to die. I was miserable and I was certain- so, so certain- that even if things did work out in my career and my personal life, I would always be miserable. I began to accept that perhaps things weren’t meant to work out for me in any area of my life and started thinking, again, about how I might say goodbye.
And then- things started working out. I got stronger and the pain in my knee went away (for the most part). I made progress in my career and I made new friends, meanwhile getting closer to people I’d known for ages. But the most beautiful part of it all was that I had hope. I found myself believing in the possibility that things could get better- even better than they were today- so long as I was around to see them.
I still struggle with my mental health; over the past month and a half I’ve experienced some of the worst anxiety of my life. Some days I fear things will never get better on that front – that I’ll forever be stuck alternating between panic attack and anticipating when the next one will hit – but some days I feel surrounded by love and proud of my accomplishments and most importantly, proud of myself for surviving.
As I’m writing this, it’s December 19 – one week before December 26, 2017. Yesterday I listened to “Adam’s Song” in its entirety for the first time in over a decade, and while I was overcome with memories of that night many years ago, I also found myself with a different perspective on what had unfolded. For a long time, when I looked back on the night of December 26, 2005, it was burned in my mind as the night I wanted to die. But now I look back and I see it in a new light. I wanted to take those pills, but I heard “Adam’s Song” and never did. The way I see it now, December 26, 2005 was the night I decided to live.