I, like all of you, have a story to tell. Some of you might be afraid to tell it. Some of you might not think it's worth sharing. And others of you might think that a happy ending is unachievable. But I have some good news: There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, life won't always be happy-go-lucky, and things will get tough. But I believe that things get better, and if you believe that with me... I know that they will. If you take the time to read this, I hope it gives you a new understanding of the strength that lies within all of us.
This is my battle with depression:
I lived in a world where expectations surrounded me. I had to have the perfect family, the perfect body, the perfect story... When I was a child, I had to be the best ballet dancer to go to the best ballet school. As I grew older, I had to make the best grades and attend the best university. When I arrived at school, I had to be in the best sorority and join the best organizations on campus. I lived in a world where reality didn't align with the expectations set for me. And it broke me in half.
When I was six-years-old, I woke up on the daybed in the guest bedroom of my home with the gut feeling that something was wrong. I don't know if it was a bad dream, the ice cream I had before bed, or the fact that the History channel was on playing a re-run of a documentary about the history of the Roman Empire, but something wasn't right. I lived in a moderately-sized home in Charleston, West Virginia with my mother. I went searching through the house looking for her for about twenty minutes before coming to the conclusion: my mom isn't home.
I remember knocking on the door of my neighbors house at 3:30 in the morning and watching from the window as my mom came back, only to grab her bags and lock the door, without saying goodbye.
I went to live with my grandmother and was reunited with my mother a few years later. In the meantime, I attended the funeral of my father who was murdered in his own home in Bridgeport, Ohio.
My life was shattered before I was even 8 years old. I knew I would never have a perfect family or a perfect story. These opportunities were stripped from me, due to circumstances completely out of my control. I wondered what people would think if they knew the truth - I came from a broken family. So I ignored these experiences, skipped the grieving, and tried to move on. Parts of my childhood are a complete blur because my mind has completely erased memories from this stage of my life.
Just before my 10th birthday, I was told by a dance instructor that I needed to watch my weight. It was the first time I used google without my mother's permission to search "how to make yourself throw up." Since that day, June 14, 2005, I have struggled with my appearance so much that the amount I worry makes me physically ill. I have never seen a picture of myself that I am satisfied with my appearance.
I was 13-years-old when my lifelong dream of being a ballerina came crumbling before my eyes. The dance studio was full of tutus and exhausted bodies, and I was one of them. Rehearsal was long and a performance was just around the corner - not just any performance, the show that would prove to my instructor that I was ready for the company. The show that would prove I was the best.
I heard a crack.. and then a snap.
My heel bone was broken and my achilles tendon was nearly snapped. My dancing career, as I knew it, was over. A wheelchair and crutches became my new best friends for the next ten months as I struggled to find a new identifier. Dance was my life. I would never be the best, ever.
I had a redeeming moment. The first day of my tenth grade year, I noticed that all of my classes were with eleventh grade students. After meeting with the principal and my mother, we made the executive decision that I would graduate from high school a year early. Finally, other people would be impressed with Madison McGhee... and I became a somebody again.
Georgetown, here I come.
I am a 16-year-old graduating from high school, I thought to myself, I can continue on to a top-ranked university and be the best.
Instead of going to school, I moved to Florida, to pursue a boy who I thought was in love with me (and maybe he was). The regret I felt after making this decision and watching my mother and two best friends drive away, leaving me in Brandon, Florida to fend for myself, was nauseating. What have I done? What will people think? Have I thrown away my perfect future and hopes of living a perfect life? I had failed the expectations of others (that I would attend school).
On the 16 hour drive from Tampa, Florida to Charleston, West Virginia in August of 2012, I cried. It finally hit me. I was depressed. I was subconsciously suppressing everything that had ever happened to me - from the heartbreak I felt from being in love to the unfortunate situations I endured as a child. All at once, I couldn't hold it in any longer. I not only battled with depression but the realization that I was a "psychiatric case."
For two and a half years, I wouldn't tell anyone of this realization. I moved to Charleston, South Carolina to attend a school where I knew absolutely no one. I thought a fresh start would make these feelings of depression and anxiety go away. But again, the expectations of others started to get to me.
I couldn't grasp what I was feeling and it only made things worse. I was so unhappy with myself that I thought fitting the mold others made for me would give me a sense of pride or accomplishment.
I look back on my time in school and (almost) every decision made - what organization to join, who to be friends with, where to go, what to do - is rooted in the selfish idea that it will make others appreciate me more or think of me as somebody important.
I have hidden the fact that during the summer of 2013 I contemplated suicide every night except July 23 because one person spent my birthday evening celebrating with me. I put on a smile every morning like I did a pair of shoes because I didn't want anyone to know that I wasn't happy with myself. Most of you reading this are probably in shock. I made everyone believe that life had a crush on me and I rocked like a big boulder.
In the fall of 2013, things got much worse. It was hard to leave my bed. I lost all motivation and drive for anything I had ever pretended to care about. People started to notice, and I couldn't let that happen. I started to force myself to get involved and be more active. This is when I started a petition for a 24/7 library on my college's campus. Around that time I also applied for positions within my sorority, at which time I was not appointed to a single one.
The following semester, I applied to be an orientation intern, ran for Student Body Secretary, and was nominated to be a homecoming representative for a fraternity on campus. I didn't win any of the previously listed titles. I doubted myself, my self-image, and self-worth more than ever at this point.
To top it off, in the spring of 2014, I was cyber bullied by a group of girls who just a few weeks prior I considered my best friends at school. They posted on Twitter and Facebook and gained a following. People I considered my friends were "liking" these posts and giving them their approval. My world had crashed on top of me, and I thought, once again, that it was time to end it. But then I had it. I came up with an idea to make myself seem even more impressive and even more worthy.
So here I am, graduating from college at a mere 19-years-old. My source of happiness came from my reputation and the way others treated me. There was nothing more important to me, because I had lost everything else.
Since the summer of 2014, I have slowly started developing a genuine smile. I owe this to my friends, mentors, and family who supported me even when they had no idea any of this was happening in my own mind. They showed me how to live in the moment, how to laugh through the pain, and how to understand that sadness can be temporary.
I understand that it's hard to comprehend the idea that someone is depressed when they don't show the usual signs of depression. I live a normal life, hang out with people regularly, don't abuse drugs or alcohol, shower on a regular basis. My social media is happy and positive. But depression is an internal struggle, and it looks different to different people.
I am not cured. I am not better. But the simple realization that I have a support system, if I simply have the courage to step out, admit my struggles, and ask for help, has sparked a new sense of understanding that I can do this. I can overcome these emotions and be myself. I matter because I say I matter.
I'm sure I will get criticism for this post and some of you won't understand. So what is the point?
You might not have experienced exactly what I went through. But someone thinks they're not important. They try to be someone they're not to please people. It has become exhausting and you don't know where to turn. You wonder if it will ever end or if you will have to live this way forever, wearing a mask to hide the fact that you're not okay all the time. There's a light at the end of the tunnel: I care. And I want to love you and be there for you, whoever you are and whatever you've been through, because you matter.
It won't get easier over night. I still struggle daily with my thoughts and how to please others. But at some point you'll start to notice that you've been smiling a little bit more, laughing a little bit louder, and dreaming authentic dreams. You stop living for others and realize that you're making decisions for yourself. In that moment, you've conquered it. And you will keep conquering it, one smile at a time, every single day.
This is a story I never in a million years wanted to tell, let alone publish on the internet. But I have to step out of my comfort zone as I strive to become more comfortable with myself. I would love to hear your story or how you have overcome depression!