A new dress hung on the door of my closet, staring at me. The stilettos were waiting for me in their box. My hair was freshly washed. The evening hadn’t even started, but my makeup was already smudged. Even the waterproof mascara was struggling to hold on as tears filled my eyes and fell down my cheeks. The more I tried to stop them, the more that seemed to arrive, and I sat helplessly on my bedroom floor. I’d like to tell you there was some big important moment that led me here. That there was a breakup or death or some unutterable loss that was responsible for how I felt. I’d like to tell you that, but I can’t.
The autumn sun touched the skyscrapers so beautifully that Pittsburgh sparkled. An unseasonably warm breeze whipped my hair around, and brilliant colors snowed down; red, gold, and orange leaves danced in the air as another year of college began. But I couldn’t see it; I couldn’t feel it. I walked numbly to my room, fell onto the bed, and began to sob. I’d like to tell you that something terrible had happened, that I’d failed a test or I was homesick. Something. Anything that would make sense. I’d like to tell you that moments such as these are few and far between. I’d like to tell you that, but I can’t.
The reason for these moments is simple and complicated at the same time: I am living with depression. That truth is just five little words, yet it’s painful to write and difficult to see staring back at me. When I was sixteen, everything changed. And at the time, I thought it changed for the worse. Feelings of hopelessness, desperation, anger, and confusion quickly became my most frequent visitors. I thought I was only allotted a certain number of tears to cry; I was wrong. For reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, depression hit me like a giant wave crashing against the shore. And just like the tide, the wave receded and then returned, thousands of times over. And here I am now, eight years later and still oftentimes caught in depression’s wave. Although I am a much stronger swimmer than I was in those dark years, sometimes I still feel as though I am drowning. Some day I think that I’ll never see the shore again.
Sometimes it seems as though it is impossible for someone who hasn’t experienced depression to ever have the hopes of truly understanding its depth and its effect. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard variations of the following:
“You have the perfect life. What could you have to be depressed about?”
“It’s just a bad day. Tomorrow will be better.”
“Can’t you just, you know, feel better?”
“Can’t you just get over it?”
To me, these types of questions are not only hurtful, but they are also incredibly ignorant. Some of this lack of understanding is only natural; if you’ve never felt depression’s weight, how could you think it was anything other than just a case of the blues? Even after eight years, I myself have struggled to articulate what depression feels like. Only now am I beginning to put words to it.
In my darkest moments, life can seem utterly and irreversibly masked by a gray lens. Colors and sounds, people and objects, love and hope, all seem to be dulled. The beauty of life is muted, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t remove the lens. The pain is within; it’s in my soul, in my heart. With every breath, it’s there.
Depression is like the pulling sensation you get when you’re driving away from someone you love, and your instincts are screaming at you to turn the car around.
It’s like the moment that comes after waking up, after those few precious moments when you don’t yet recall how much it hurts.
But ironically, depression also feels like hope to me. When the wave recedes, I see an unbreakable light that seeps through the clouds and reminds me that somewhere out there is something better. That’s because I know that my eyes aren’t the reason I see gray. It’s my depression. It is part of me, but we are not one and the same. Maybe one day all of this will be completely in the past, and maybe it won’t. Maybe the gray-colored lens will always be waiting for me. But I’ve accepted it, and more than that, I’m at peace with it. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone struggles to paint their canvases a different picture. But for those of you who feel depression’s pain like I do, know you’re not alone. Know that amidst all of the hurtful questions, there are people who know exactly how you feel and who understand how permanent it can seem. I know that our lives have beauty. We are here on purpose. We are not the gray. I know there is light behind the lens.