Winter, Florida, 2014. In what seemed like just another cold day, in the close-knit town of Homestead, swiftly turned into one that changed my life, forever.
It was pitch-black outside. After having sipped a cup of warm, dark brown coffee, and being at a glance distance of my portable heater, I found myself checking my Twitter feed on my small laptop, curled up like a couch potato.
Euphoric and on top of the world is how I felt because it was just one of those days. However, nearing one a.m., I got an abrupt and unexpected phone call: It was my dad.
“Get here quick. Something happened to Sabrina!” (She was a dog I’ve had since early childhood.)
Upon arriving at my parent’s house, histrionically, I soon learned the real reason why he called.
“Come inside, we need to talk about something,” greeted my crying mother in Spanish.
Entering the house felt like jumping into a pool of cold water. Making my way into the living room, slower than a one-legged dog on tranquilizers, I could see my dad. At a glance, it looked more serious than just my dog having died.
I mean, I could tell by the various five dollar international phone cards on the old wooden table. Sitting down, next to my sister, I learned my grandfather passed away, about 30 minutes earlier.
With that, in a blink of an eye, my life would spiral down — like a 40s Japanese warplane.
To me, my grandfather was someone who I highly admired. He was a respected Colombian, Vietnam veteran and a former sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease. Strangely enough, less than a month ago, things were fine when I visited him on vacation, along with my grandmother, in Colombia.
Nevertheless, airline websites rapidly seized my computer screen, and funeral arrangements were already underway.
To many, the death of a loved one can be too much to bite on at once. I wish I were that lucky. Unfortunately, to my horror, it didn’t end there!
Things were about to get worse.
48 hours after my grandfather’s death, we received another phone call: It came from the same area code “+304”. Without a second to spare, my mother picked up. Left in a state of manic disgust, she informed us that my grandmother had just died.
“Here we go again,” I thought to myself.
Feeling sick to my stomach, I hurried to hug both my parents, grasping onto them with intense agitation. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t find any words to convey for what had just happened.
My entire family was left devastated, but for me, it was the blow that broke the broom. For some reason, I chose not to go to the funeral. I had never gone to a funeral before or had a close relative pass away; I guess I was still in shock or denial.
The death took a huge toll on the Christmas spirit that was promptly approaching. For the first time, New Year’s had arrived, yet drinking wasn’t on the table — despite our Colombian culture. It was weird, indeed.
As time passed, months to be exact, my mood began to fluctuate. It’s like my brain couldn’t decide whether to be incredibly upbeat or depressed. Whether to skip meals or binge eat. Whether sleep was an option or not.
At this point, I had given up on myself, life, and everything, in general.
You could’ve smashed a van through my room, and my response would be “I wonder if my clothes have dried yet.”
However, finally, putting my ego at risk, and after six months of suffering with persistent melancholy and suicidal idealization — or whatever you want to call it — I soon came to an unsettling consideration. It was time to see a psychiatrist.
Although it happened years ago, I still rake the ashes from time to time. I can remember most of it, through unnerving flashbacks. The day of my doctor’s appointment was a time I wouldn’t forget.
Let’s see; it went a little like this: I remember slamming the door of my gray Nissan shut. Racing thoughts had quickly taken over. Within a walking distance of the doctor’s office, I began doubting but ended up making it all the way to the office.
Over 20 people occupied the waiting room, most with their head down, staring at the shiny floor. Immediately I noticed all the patients were seemingly ordinary people. Not the ‘batsh*t crazies’ that are portrayed in movies or television, as stigmatized all too frequently, sadly enough.
Tapping my fingers on the chair, nervously, minutes felt like hours. I was nearly jumping out of my skin, itching for them to call my name. And finally, following 35 consecutive minutes, it was my turn.
“How are you, Jose? Why don’t you go ahead and have a seat.” said the psychiatrist.
During my first appointment, a lot of ground was covered. The doctor determined that my grandparents’ death were instrumental as to the cause of my depressive symptoms. The final verdict, theoretically, was “manic-depression”, better known as bipolar disorder.
Those past six months with mood swings were brutal. Like many would agree, having depression feels like you’re drowning, except there’s no water. And worst of all, you feel like a stranger to everyone — including yourself.
However, dozens of white round pills later, antidepressants had treated my symptoms successfully. Although confusion still plagues my mind, I stand lucky for being alive today. I came an inch close to suicide several times.
Fortunately, after the doctor’s visit, which finally gave me a stepping stone to overcome my depression, things got a whole lot better.
I still don’t know what funerals look like in person, but I know it’s something I soon will have to face. Admittedly, I never could’ve envisioned how much my grandparents’ death would impact me. But at least I’ve made a conscious effort to move on and tackle my severe depression.
Death taught me that life is charmingly unpredictable. It forced me to value everyone and everything around me. My story is probably just one of millions of depression sufferers.
Once in a while, I tend to recall my favorite quote from Michael McMillan: “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”