Time heals all wounds is the biggest lie I’ve ever been told. Seeing your dad die when you’re only a kid does things to a developing psyche that wound permanently.
I’m ten. I’m swimming in the apartment pool the day before Father’s Day. I dive under water to see how long I can hold my breath. I come up for air; the pool is empty. A body floats face-down next to me. In one heart-stopping moment, I realize it’s my dad’s. Numbly, I try to help faceless people pull his body from the water. I slowly realize my mom is yelling at me to get out of the pool. I sit in a chair and cry helplessly, as blood begins to ooze from my dad’s busted lung capillaries. A stranger breathes his life into my father, my daddy. The man fails, and I lose my father forever. The next day, I sit outside by myself wondering how the sun can still shine and if I’ll ever smile again. The child in me dies.
I’m fourteen. I wonder at the empty and meaningless problems my peers face. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I worry more about death than who’s dating whom. Do my friends break into a cold sweat when someone mentions death? Do my friends panic when confronted by the draining hourglass of life? The lack of understanding and the lack of being understood tears at me. Suicide whispers to me.
I’m sixteen. I’ve begun to hate feeling. To hate suffering. So in a moment of choking sadness, I slide a knife across my skin. Momentarily, I forget the pain in my soul because of the pain in my wrist. I cut again. Deeper this time.
I force myself to watch bloody movies. The more I see, the less I care. The less I care, the less I hurt. The panic lessens. I begin to build an unfeeling shell around me. I don’t panic as much; I don’t smile as much. But suicide still beckons.
I’m twenty. I’ve fallen in love, and my safe callused cocoon is being stripped off me. Layers and layers of suppressed feelings and thoughts surface, bubbling up uncontrollably and unbidden. I haven’t felt in years, and now the fear of loss is stronger than ever before. Each moment is becoming a panic trigger. Even the happiness I feel now reminds me of the inescapable separation that lies ahead. Is death the only end to this pain?
I’m twenty-one. It’s getting harder and harder to function. My dreams are all violent and horrific. I dread sleep. I dread waking. My fiancee suggests counseling. Maybe counseling will help, but I can’t imagine how “talking” about the inevitability of death will make me feel any better when thinking about death is precisely what makes me panic. But I’m desperate. The counselor informs me that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it doesn’t always go away when sustained as a child.
For the first time, I realize that maybe my depression and anxiety are not inherent in who I am like I’ve always remembered believing.
After a therapy that forces me to remember my dad’s death over and over again, my dreams become a little better. The moments of darkness lessen. I begin to hope.
I’m twenty-four. I’m hiking in the forested mountains of South Korea. Someone runs past me yelling, “He’s not breathing!” My heart beats slowly, heavily. This is why I learned CPR. As I walk closer to the scene, I become cold. A man lies on the ground, his lips blue. A crying woman is crumpled next to him. Is this some sort of sick joke? Must I confront death, so real and familiar, now? Not now. I’m not ready. Not ready. I kneel next to his body, trying to ignore the flashes of memory fighting to dominate my mind, trying to ignore the panic clawing at my throat. I breathe my life into his bloodless mouth. Eventually, I realize I’ve failed.
As the days drift by, I realize that I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, and I didn’t let the terror immobilize me. I grappled with my darkest fears, and I survived.
I am twenty-five. I’m still alive. I’m still functioning. I can smile now, even laugh. Maybe I’m stronger now. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but time allows a person to find hope. To find strength. To find unexpected solutions. There’s not a lot I can say to a person who is suffering, but I do know that even in the darkest moments, there is always hope.