The song came in to my life during my high school years. There weren’t many things I enjoyed about those years. High school, for any teenage girl is rough. Theres so many moving pieces like puberty, body image, fitting in, boys (for some of us) and trying to manage school and whatever activities come our way. But when you struggle with beasts like depression and anxiety it can be downright ugly. This Death Cab for Cutie song was one my older sister and I shared after a dark episode I had had. The song opens with “Love of mine, someday you will die, but Ill be close behind and Ill follow you into the dark.” They lyrics became our unspoken vow. I felt like this was her promise to me. A promise that I have hung on to since the day we listened to it together.
As I replay my mental health journey through the years its hard to not get overwhelmed. Ten plus years of therapy and treatment, trying all kinds of medications, countless breakdowns, two psychiatric facilities and all kinds of shit in between. However, when I replay some of the darkest moments of this story there is one person that repeatedly shows up. That person would be my older sister, Riley.
When I think of my sister and I, my mind naturally spits out “complete opposites.” Riley is two years older than I am. So when she went off to high school, naturally we grew apart. I watched her transform in to a young woman as I stayed put in my middle school hell hole. I was the girl that never knew where I was going to sit at lunch. I didn’t really have friends, I traveled for soccer all the time, and wore soccer shorts and baggy sweatshirts to school every day. I always felt out of place. Riley, on the other hand was (and still is) beautiful. She was popular and smart as all get out. She had a boyfriend before I even knew what boys were and was going to prom as a freshman in high school. Riley was carefree, light, and loving. I was intense, anxious, and dark. Again, complete opposites.
There were many times through our high school years and even in to Riley’s first two years of college that were not easy for us. In my 27 years of life I can fully look back and say I have surely not made things easy for her. I can’t tell you how many times Riley came to my rescue. She has been the one to pull me out of bed. She has been the one to hug me through tears that I didn’t have an explanation for. She’s been the one to give me tough love when I needed the push to get beyond my anxious bouts. She has been the one to continue to write me love notes when I haven’t been able accept or feel love at all. Just like our song says, she has followed me in to the dark.
But it wasn’t until this last month, when she came to visit that I realized how much of my life I owe to her. I had only been out of the hospital for 3 weeks at this point. My body was still recovering from the shock of a lot of medications. I was still trying to catch up on sleep and gain a normal appetite back. I hadn’t had coffee (which has always been a lifeline for me) since before being admitted to the hospital. My new psychiatrist said I really needed to avoid anything that could add to my anxiety.. aka Caffeine. This did not help my morning mood whatsoever. I had also just gotten back to Raleigh since getting out of the hospital, as I had spent the next few weeks with my parents in Virginia. I knew it was time to spread my wings a little and start getting back to my life. Riley had planned to come stay with me for the first few days to help me adjust. And adjusting was exactly what I was still doing. I still couldn’t get through a day without some sort of episode. My panic attacks were down to only one a week but at least once a day my nerves, my self talk, or a good cry got the best of me. No one, has ever witnessed a panic attack other than my mother and my sister so I knew I had nothing to hide while she was here. The very first day, through tears and a shaking body I whispered “what am I going to do when you leave? You cannot leave me.”
As soon as the words came out of my mouth I closed my eyes and hung my head. As I usually do in panic I got as small as I could. Curling myself in to a ball and holding myself tight usually feels best. For some reason it feels logical that the tighter I squeeze and hold myself, the faster I can stop the full body shaking. Tears continued to flow and my attempt at counting breaths, a three second inhale, followed by a three second exhale, had turned to shit.
I usually don’t like to be touched or held during panic. I couldn’t even look at my own sister. It is in these attacks that I feel the most shame and embarrassment for what I am going through. I remember the familiar feelings of fear, disappointment, and disgust engulfing me. Who have I become? How pathetic and fragile have I become? I can’t get through a day without my sister coming to my rescue. The entire weight of the world sat right on my chest.
Riley took a deep breath and she sat next to me. She didn’t say I don’t know. She didn’t say we will figure it out. She didn’t say “Emm don’t worry its all going to be OK.” She knew all too well, it wasn’t OK.
She put one hand on my back to steady me and said, “Well, I am here now. It’s not fun, and it’s not fair but right now, this is where you are.”
I let out what was a mix between a cry and a sigh. There was something about her not only understanding but also point blank acknowledging that this is exactly where I was in my life right now. A place of pain, a place of fear, and a place of panic.
I could see that she saw it in my eyes. She felt it in the one hand she kept placed on my back. She didn’t move. She was not only following me in to my dark this time, she was guiding me.
We all need that someone who will follow us in to the dark. After 27 years of living, 12 years of therapy, and 2 psych wards, I can confidently say there has been only one thing that has kept me going. That is the love and the power of the people who have been willing and will continue to be willing to follow me in to the dark.
I can confidently say I owe my life to my older sister Riley. The love, the strength, and the care that she has shown me over my 27 years of life, especially in my darkest hours is something I will never be able to repay. However she is not the only one who has followed me in to the dark. The chorus of the Death Cab for Cutie song goes on to say “If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied, and illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs. If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I’ll follow you into the dark.”
Over the past few months I have learned how important this message is. In order to survive we must find the person or people that will, without a doubt, follow you in to the dark.