My life has always been weird. I feel like I’ve always had to explain myself. Always about something. First: I’m South African Indian America. I’ve grown up in many places over the years, mostly in America. During elementary school I was in a different school almost every year. The longest I had been in a school during that time was a year and a half, and we were living in South Africa.
As a young child, I was moved around a lot; I had to make new friends at every new school, and I was answering the same questions all the time. Where did you move from? Why did you move? What happened to your friends? That last one was always a kicker. What friends? I mean, when you are that young (back in the 90's) you didn’t have a way to stay connected with other kids. I mean, what 5 year old is calling their friend to talk on the phone? I didn’t want to talk to my friends, I wanted to play games… run around outside with them, do kid things. Which isn’t talking on the phone. Or writing letters.
So I didn’t have friends. Being an Indian kid growing up in America, I also had to answer where I was from, where my parents were from. In the Indian communities in America, I also had to answer what kind of Indian I was. A lot of people don't expect to hear "South African Indian," there's some explaining needed there. Being an Indian American kid at school in South Africa, I had to answer "why was I in South Africa?" "Why did my parents move back?" "Would I be moving back?" "What's it like over there?"
The list goes on and on.
Sometimes when I tell people that I’m an introvert and that I’m not outgoing, I get the response back of… "What? I thought you would be outgoing and you’re so personable." Honestly, I don't even know what that means, but that's not how I am deep down. I can put on the extrovert suit, I have spent a long time learning how to be that way. It didn't come naturally to me. I don't really think I started to be that way until the middle of high school.
Funny story. One of my friend's parents told me when I was in high school, and started to be a little more talkative, that they thought I didn't like them. I had known them since middle school (11 or 12 years old) and only started talking, and joking around with them when I was 15 or 16. I reassured them that that's just how I am, I really liked them and I was sorry that they thought I didn't. I really liked them, they were awesome, but sometimes I have a hard time connecting to people initially.
I prefer to be alone and in the quiet or secluded with my headphones and music. I enjoy social media and the internet over in-person events. This was always tough to deal with as a child. I was shy, I didn’t know how to put on that extrovert suit yet. I was quiet, I liked quiet because my head can be so noisy. I liked the corners and often would rather eat lunch alone. Because why make friends when you’re going to move away soon? Why bother? It was pointless.
Throughout my public school, and even my college life, the friends I made came to me. I did not seek them out, I did not initiate contact or friendship. It has only been in the last two years of my life that I have initiated friendships, that I have been the one to reach out and start the conversation.
My early life was constantly changing; my constants were my parents and sister. When I was 7, my brother was born that was a huge change. I went from being the youngest to the middle child. I'm not sure that had much of an impact though, I don't remember being jealous of his existence or disliking being the middle child. I enjoyed the role of middle child, my parents were concentrated on my new born brother and let me be. To the idea of having a younger brother, it was exciting, the idea that I had someone younger than me that I could potentially care for and look out for. I took on the role of caretaker. I like that role.
I am an over-protective older sister. I remember my first instances of anxiety involving my fear that when I was around my younger brother that I was going to hurt him, or drop him if I was holding him. I was scared of things falling on him, or him breaking something (Not because I didn't want him breaking something, but because I hated that feeling after you break something... and I didn't want him to feel that.) Those are the first instances of anxiety that I remember. I didn't start looking at them as anxiety until recently when I started to recognize that my depression may have started years before I thought it did.
Earlier this year it hit me. It was during a NAMI End the Silence presentation I was observing (End the Silence is an awesome program where presenters talk about mental health in school, to parents, to teachers and students). The presenter was talking about her son when he was young. He was depressed as young as 5.
I started thinking of myself at that age... it started to hit me then. Maybe I've been depressed longer than I realized. I didn't want to make friends when I was younger. Partly because of all the moving, and what was the point? But also, I didn't think I was worth anything. I started questioning myself more. Did I not want to make friends? Did I enjoy being alone? Was I trying to avoiding the pain that comes with knowing you'll not see that friend again? Did I really think I wasn't worth their time?
Right now I have come to this conclusion: I didn't want to bother the other kids. I didn't want to be friends with them because I was probably going to move, I didn't want to be a burden. I didn't want them to get used to me being around, because it would just hurt them when I left, or worse maybe they would't even care. My self-worth was next to nothing. That's not the fault of anyone. That's just where my brain took me. It makes sense to me now.
I have severe sleep apnea, and my sleep doctor told me it was just the structure of my nasal cavity – that I could have been diagnosed as young as 5. I started using a bi-pap at 26. Its been a major change in my life. I can't even imagine how tired I've been my whole life. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression. This leads me to see the plausibility that I was depressed long before I hit middle school and puberty.
The realization that I've possibly been depressed longer than I thought hit me harder than I expected it would. It changed how I remembered my childhood. The weird cloud over certain events started making sense. The times I remember getting embarrassed – I would run and hide for hours – started to make more sense. I would shut down, hide and pretend I didn't exist. Eventually I would come out of hiding but it was only because I got hungry, or people left, or I had to go do something. I'm starting to understand why I was so shy, that I was anxious all the time, that I was fearful, depressed, angry, and didn't know how to handle any of it.
It's a hard life to live when you're constantly trying to make sure everyone can understand you. Growing up feeling like you owe everyone an explanation of your life. It's hard to wrap my head around that now. I don't owe anyone an explanation of who I am or my life. No one is entitled to know anything about me.
Even in writing this post, I am sitting here thinking, "I need to explain why having to explain myself and being depressed from a young age are connected." I don't really have to connect those. But I feel like I must.