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Emory Grace Doster: My Story

Eleven days after my fourth birthday, my brother was born. In the six months prior, I had learned the words “down syndrome,” watched my mother sobbing facedown on the living room floor of our little apartment and begging God for a miracle, and witnessed a miracle when he was born healthy. Two months after my birthday, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the living room light on, and, led by curiosity, I wandered out of my room. Instead of finding my mom feeding my brother, I found my best friend’s mom. I didn’t think to ask why she was there. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that my mother had suffered a seizure in her sleep and had been rushed to the hospital. They found a brain tumor. It was the same size and in the same place as one that had recently killed one of our friends. She had slim chances of surviving the operation, which was happening immediately.

My grandmother arrived several days later. I sat in her lap and screamed as I watched my dad leave the house for the hospital once again. Unfortunately, that’s one of my more vivid childhood memories.

She survived the surgery and made a full recovery, losing nothing but her sense of smell and a good portion of her memories of my brother. Despite this, I was left with massive trauma, and I wouldn’t leave her side for years. I became obsessed with pleasing her and terrified of leaving her for more than a few hours. I couldn’t lose her again.

In the years following, I had days in which I felt suffocatingly empty. No matter what I did, it felt nightmarish and black. I was too young to give it a name, but in retrospect, I realize it was the beginnings of depression. Those days continually grew closer together.

At twelve years old, I started comparing myself to other girls. I picked out everything that made me different from other girls and considered those things my shortcomings. It planted the seed of self-hatred, which isn’t easy to dig out. I considered myself less than other people, then a nuisance to them, then utterly worthless. It ingrained itself in me: I felt that I meant nothing to anyone, and that I needed to get out of everyone’s way. I thought about suicide regularly, imagining how quickly people would get over my death, running through every quick and efficient way I could take my life. For me, suicide was never about getting away from my pain. It was about making other people’s lives easier.

At this point, I was self-harming, although I didn’t know I was. When someone got frustrated with me, I would pinch myself until I bruised. I would pull my hair out. Occasionally, I used pens and safety pins. It took a while before I started using razors to cut my arms.

In November of 2015, I made a legitimate suicide attempt. I had disappointed my mom, and my leftover attachment from her brain tumor told me that I was a burden on her, that she never wanted a daughter like me, that her life would be so much easier if I was gone forever. At this point, she had no idea that I struggled with depression, so it would have come as a total surprise to her if I succeeded.

Thank God I failed.

In the moments after I gave up and accepted that I couldn’t kill myself, I felt a little whisper in the back of my mind: “Your life is not yours to take.” God revealed the reason why soon after- I had a purpose. He had planned my life long before I drew my first breath, and he intended for me to exist. It didn’t matter how other people felt about me. I had to keep going because I was working towards the purpose I was created to fulfill, even if I couldn’t see what that was yet. I had to trust that my life meant something. I had to be patient.

It took several months to stop self-harming. Eventually, I stopped when I auditioned for a community play because I didn’t want the cuts to be visible in my costume. No one knew I had attempted suicide. No one knew I was struggling at all. I made up my mind to keep it to myself, and so I really only stopped cutting to erase the evidence of my glaring problems. When the show ended, I named other events I had to get through before I would allow myself to self-harm again, and eventually, I talked myself out of my self-destructive mindset.

It was a slow process, but I eventually came to a firm realization that I have intrinsic value. I am so lucky to be alive. I wanted to die; I tried to die, but God would not let me go. There is a reason for that. I still have days when I wish I was dead, but the difference now is that I have hope. My life is going to get better. There will come a day when I will not regret being alive, and that is the day I hold out for. I can’t see it yet, but I know it will come. It’s going to be so much sweeter for all my pain.

I kept everything a secret for years. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I got brave enough to talk about what I had been through, and that was only because I was recovering. It’s okay if you’re terrified to tell someone what you’re struggling with- in fact, I would say that’s normal. Just don’t stay terrified. The words were difficult to get out, especially to my teary-eyed mother, whose reaction I feared most. To my surprise, it ended up okay. She made a doctor’s appointment for me, and I made it through the consultation, even though my voice shook and my gut was tying itself in knots. The doctor sent me to therapy.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have therapy during the period when my mental health was the worst, but having it now is still incredible. I can’t forsee myself returning to that absolute darkness. I cannot advocate talking to someone enough- and I’m heavily introverted, so it sounds intimidating even to me. But I least regret therapy. There are so many fantastic things I am learning that I thought no one could teach me. I was convinced that I was so stuck in my thinking that no one could bring me out of it, and I am so glad that I was wrong about that.

When writing this article, someone confronted me and asked if I really thought I would be okay with other people knowing that I had attempted suicide. My answer was a firm “yes.” It’s not an easy thing to share, and I hope I never get comfortable with pulling all the pain to the surface, but these things happened to me for some incredible reason, and that’s not something I can keep to myself. I was not defeated, and I won’t be.

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