Adam Schwartz has spent more than a third of his life battling depression. At the age of 10, he began periods of school refusal, bouts of destruction, physical illness, endless trials with unsuccessful drug regimes and contemplation of suicide.
His newly published book mum, i wish i was dead tells the story of his journey through this illness. An excerpt is included below this email from Adam to his mother Anne when he was aged 15.
Date: 2 May 2006 (aged 15 years)
To: Anne (mum)
If you where wondering this is how I feel (sorry about the spelling) …
I hate my life right now, like I cant stand how it is. Tonight I wanted to throw my self down the stairs just to avoid another day. My life repeats it self over and over I hate it. I don’t want to go on. And if I do I am extremely worried that dangerous things will happen to myself or others.Advertisement
I will one day go to far and hurt myself terribly and if its not me it will be someone else. If they piss me off that much I will hurt them too much. I don’t enjoy any day no matter what I do and now there is school I don’t wake up and feel happy, I wake up and wish I never did. Friends I thought I had I don’t. And impressions I got from people.
I was wrong I am continuously being hurt by people over and over it doesn’t stop. I feel like shit I just want to leave everything. I don’t care if I die or I leave or everything just stops. I just cant do this any more, its been like this for six years and it shits me that nothing has changed even though I have and I hate it. I cry my self to sleep and everything for me is an effort. I get so frustrated doing things because I am always having to work for myself I cant just ever be happy. I have to work for it and no matter how hard I work or how hard I try I am still in the same position as before and every time I think its all going to be ok it isn’t and everything fucks up again.
I am so unhappy, I cant sleep because I roll around and yes I even tried reading but no it still did not work. I am so sick of how everything is in a cycle and a bad cycle nothing can be good for me. I want to wake up happy. I want to smile because I feel like smiling not because I feel I have to. I want to just enjoy my life and who I am and what I am doing and who I am with. I don’t and I haven’t.
I put on this fake smile and laugh and yes everything is good, I cant take it. I don’t want to take it anymore I cry all I do is cry, I have nothing else. Exercise only subsides the problems but they are all still there. I still cry after gym, and when I am with someone I have to hold it back. I feel like crying because I feel my life is so hard and yes I am sure people go through it but know one does at my age.
Since I was ten it has been bad and continues to get worse. I just want to fit in, I want to be happy instead of sad. I want to wake up and not feel worried about what will happen during that day and be able to fall asleep at night without tears. I don’t look forward to anything. I have no inspiration, even when we were going to the sea food restaurant I wasn’t even looking forward to it. I couldn’t have even cared less what happened and at art nothing comes.
I cant do anything anymore. Sometimes I just wish I get hit by a car or that a terrorist blows a car up into me or a bus while I am on it or anything, I just hate it all and I have for a long time. I am emotionally drained. I am still here but I feel like I am not here. My body is but my mind is dead. I am not wanting my life. I know it is only going to get worse, it always does I no longer know how I am going to deal with what I can do but the only thing I do know is that I can no longer continue like this.
I decided to write it out because I think this every night and I cant sleep so here it is, its 1:22 am and I probably wont be asleep until 2 or 3 am which sucks because all I want is my sleep and that’s something I cant get at night which leaves me physically exhausted as well as emotionally. So I have no idea of what to do but that is basically how I feel at this very moment and how I have been feeling for a long time and most likely will continue to feel this way for unfortunately a very long time. So now you have it in writing …
My parents were only gone for a few weeks, and since I loved staying with my grandparents who always spoilt me rotten, that was no hardship. My parents came back and the school year started. But almost as soon as the holidays had ended, it became clear that I was descending into another bad space.
Mum knew something wasn’t right, I knew something wasn’t right, but I still had no idea how to express it. I don’t recall being taught this at home, but in society males seem to be taught to suppress their feelings, to toughen up. If you do feel bad, you’re taught to think positively, or forget it because tomorrow is another day. That’s all well and good generally, if you have a bad moment or two. For me, the issue was that the next day was never any better. The next day was the same, if not worse. Consecutive bad days, without a break from these debilitating thoughts and feelings, take a significant toll, both physically and emotionally.
Because my closest family relationship was with my mum, she copped the worst of it. I guess it is a sign of how secure I felt with mum that I could save my worst outbursts for her, although that would have been cold comfort for her to know. I definitely took for granted that my family, and mum in particular, would always be there for me, no matter how poorly I behaved.
Any question directed to me, even an innocuous enquiry about how I was going or what I was doing, would send me right off. It sounds crazy, but I felt judged or ridiculed. Most nights of the week, mum, dad, Nathan and I would sit down for dinner and talk. One night, as we were sitting at the table eating our meal, something was said that annoyed me. It can’t have been so significant because I don’t even remember what the comment was. Whether it was about school, food, girls, my weight or whatever else may have triggered me, I am not entirely sure. Nonetheless, something was said that sent me over the edge. Whatever it was, I lost it. I snapped. Standing up and slamming my fists on the table, I called them fucking idiots and said, ‘I’m done with all your shit; I’m leaving’. I was very angry and I swore as I stormed to my room, wedging something into the door to keep them out.
I’d always had my moments but I’d never acted like this before. My parents didn’t try to stop me because I was a big child and they couldn’t restrain me. They were also probably shocked by the outburst and unsure of what to do. I’m sure they knocked on my door as they went to bed. However, I am unsure of my response. Once I knew everyone had gone to sleep, I left. I attempted to sneak out of the house without anyone knowing. I didn’t want to be in this home anymore. It was coming into autumn so the night was chilly. Our house is up near the sea and there is a long strip of grass close to the cliffs where it is pleasant to take in the view during the daytime. Now it was dark and freezing cold, and I was out there alone. I settled down on the gym equipment at the local reserve and looked up at the stars.
Although it felt like time had stopped, I mustn’t have been out there for too long as my parents heard the front door and were obviously worried and had come looking for me. Luckily I wasn’t as quiet leaving as I had thought. They found me lying in silence. Dad was there but I don’t recall him saying anything. I don’t know what could have even been said. Mum was talking frantically, trying to find out what was happening to me. I wasn’t responding at all, only tears were rolling down my cheeks. Eventually, I poured out my heart. I wasn’t happy. I wanted to die. I didn’t know why or what to do. Saying this out loud made me finally realise something was very wrong. When they got me back home, my mother said, ‘This is beyond me. I don’t know what to do about your situation. I’m not skilled.’ She said she would take me to see the GP in the morning, but that even she may not be able to help me either and she may refer me onto someone else. We still didn’t know what we were dealing with. We still didn’t know it was depression.
Strangely, it was comforting to have a name for the way I felt. It’s terrible when you are suffering from something that feels so innately wrong, but no one acknowledges it. No one knows what it is, no one sees it, there’s no scan for it, there’s nothing to determine what it is. Yet here is a doctor, an obvious professional in his field, saying, ‘This is what you have, this is what it means, and these are the treatment options’. You go, ‘Okay, it’s something that can be treated. It’s not just me. It’s not my fault; it’s not something I did or that someone else did.’ The diagnosis alleviated some of the burden because I had no idea why I was feeling this way. The suggestion was made that it was a chemical imbalance, and at last that was something I could grapple with. Not just a name but an explanation as well. It was a huge relief.
This psychiatrist asked all the right questions and he explained what was going on. The acknowledgement of mental illness in adolescents is relatively new. The idea has been around for perhaps 20 years. Most of these emotional upsets were attributed to growing up: ‘just a stage he’s going through’. Now, instead of having the label ‘teenage angst’, my problems were given a different label. That didn’t bother me. People complain about labelling and it turns them off. ‘So and so is depressed; another person is bipolar; someone else has ADD.’
But the labels are about the diseases, not the person, and it’s important to name them and speak about them.
Watch Adam's interview for Mamamia TV's Resilience series below. Post continues after video.
My condition was described as acute, and I needed to be put on medication immediately. Acute means that you not only have suicidal thoughts but that you will act on them, and I didn’t feel I could stop myself from acting out my thoughts. I wasn’t afraid of dying. The fear is about continuing to live as you are. That’s what drives you to it. It feels like the only way to get the misery to stop is to kill yourself.
Outsiders often believe that suicide is a selfish act, claiming that those who succumb are only thinking about themselves, not how their actions will devastate their friends, family and loved ones. But when you are depressed, your capacity to be rational is undermined. No matter how much my mother told me she loved me, a lot of the time I thought she was only saying it because she had to; a line mothers are expected to take. I didn’t actually believe her. My understanding of reality was seriously distorted.
This is an extract from Mum, I wish I Was Dead by Adam Schwartz with Aviva Lowy, you can purchase the book here