Falling Ill at 15 Years Old: The Depression Journals of John McElhenney

john mcelhenney at Hebron Academy

Falling Ill at 15 Years Old.

Things were working out. Things were falling apart. The methamphetamine I’d taken 24 hours ago providing a frightening fully-fueled freak-out mode. I could not stop talking. I could not stop interrupting people. I was in a creative burst, a high, please don’t bring me down or alert me to the fact that my hair is on fire.

Backing up a few days, my drunk dad had come into the guest room where I was staying (stupidly) for Spring Break. He yelled something I couldn’t understand and punched me in the shoulder.

The young man who stood up on the opposite side of the bed was awash with energy, rage, and fear.

“You may not love me, but you’ll damn well respect me!” he screamed.

What’s it like for a young man who is strong due to the swim team workouts during of his sophomore year at prep school? Conflicted and overwhelmed, I wanted to kill my dad, I also needed a hug from him to reassure me he was just drunk and wouldn’t remember a moment of this in the morning.

He glared at me. I may have been stoned. The moment expanded like a slow-motion scene from a Tarantino movie, where the tension is from the long pause before the ultra-violence begins. He slammed the door on the way out, and a small framed picture fell from the wall and shattered on the 1979 shag carpet.

The next morning, after my dad left for work, I initiated a shame-spiral fueled by pot and getting anaerobic at the nearby university pool.

I returned to school in Maine a few days later without further violence.

On the morning I took the meth, I called my dad at his office. This was a reliable way to get him while he was sober.

“Dad, I’m really worried about your drinking?”

“Oh? It’s okay. I’m doing okay.”

“Dad, you’re not doing okay! You need to get help! I don’t want to lose you!”

“I’m not dying. I’m okay.”

He promised to “talk to someone” as he reassured me that he had everything under control and we got off the phone. My world spun in the small private phone booth. It was 7:48 am on a Monday morning. By Tuesday night I would be rushed to the hospital for an IV shutdown of my raging mind.

I wiped back the tears and swallowed the rage and left the phone booth to go find Andy, the resident dorm drug dealer. He sold me two hits of speed. Little blue crosses. I could almost feel the danger as I put them in my pocket and headed across the quad for breakfast and later on to class.

I swallowed both tablets of speed with a bitter cup of coffee and tried to eat some breakfast. I was a ghost before the pharma fuel kicked in. And then, before I had finished more than a few bits of runny scrambled eggs I was transformed into a rockstar with a song to sing. I never shut up. 36 hours later, mother and oldest sister by my side, I was rushed to the ill-prepared ER in Lewis-Auburn Maine’s local hospital. I was still talking excitedly. My sister kept saying, “It’s going to be okay, little brother. It’s going to be okay.”

I begged both of them, “Please be here when I wake up.” I was terrified.

The nurse inserted the IV and asked me to count backward from 10 to 1. I made it to 6.

Fade to black.

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