By Katy Vernon
On Twitter, I call myself "a singer of sad songs on a happy instrument."
I've realized lately that this is more than a cutesy tag about my singing and ukulele playing. It also says a lot about who I am and how I've tried to cope in my ongoing battle with depression.
I have always felt like the "sad girl." My early life was rocked by the deaths of both my mother and father, and grief is still overwhelmingly present in my life. I also had the crappy luck to develop a condition called endometriosis, which means I live with chronic pain as well. (My heart goes out to anyone dealing with daily pain. It makes you crazy!)
This dangerous mix of emotional and physical pain led me to self-medicate with alcohol, which only made things worse in the long run. I drank because I was in pain. I drank when I was sad. I drank when I was lonely, angry or nervous. I drank because it allowed me to manipulate how I felt. And that was the key. It wasn’t necessarily about how much I drank, but why. I needed to feel better. And alcohol helped, until it didn’t anymore. Eventually, it stopped making me feel good, and with all of my other health issues, my body couldn't tolerate it any longer.
I have always wanted to be the happy little instrument in this world. But sad songs kept coming out. And they still do, perhaps because I have struggled so much. Not just with mental health and substance use disorders, but with even thinking about them as disorders or diseases. When something is inside your own head (i.e. part of the brain is functioning improperly), it is so difficult to separate disordered feelings from our own character. The mind lies to you, and tells you it's your fault. Even asking for help or acknowledging a problem feels negative, like it’s attention-seeking.
But, with the help of others, I have learned the truth about these health conditions, and I am taking steps to get well. It started with sobering up and realizing that I was merely numbing myself. And it continues today as I look closer at my mental pain, which has come more into focus as I’ve gotten further removed from drinking.
The truth is that on my worst days, I can't imagine the future and don't want to face another day. That hurts so much, but also makes me realize that it isn't me, that it isn't real—and that I need to do something to change. It hurts so much. I just have to hug my kids and take it one day at a time. For them. For the little voice inside of me that tells me I'll get better.
I met someone new recently at a meeting that I attend to support my sobriety. She immediately said I seemed really sad. I never hear that. People usually say I'm funny or sweet or they like my accent. But she somehow got right to heart of it and told me to get help for my depression. (No one will tell you the truth like people in recovery, which is one reason I’m so grateful for recovery support groups.)
Not long ago, with the encouragement of my new friend and mentor, I sat in a doctor’s room and told my truth.
I have a long way to go in my journey to be well, but now I'm sharing my truth here for anyone who thinks they are alone in such struggles. For anyone who thinks life is rosy, fine and fun for everyone else. It’s not. We all need help sometimes.
Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.