Snow… I used to get up in the middle of the night and slip out into the cold, my bare feet making small footprints in the snow. I would stand there, just outside of my house, and watch as large snowflakes drifted lazily downward. I loved the smell of the air, the muffled noise of traffic in the distance, the quiet solitude of the night. When I blinked, my snow-fringed eyelashes would wet my cheeks with saltless tears.
For a moment, it would be easy. Then the cold would press in around me, and the beautiful world into which I had stepped would become harsh and antagonistic. I would stand there, shivering as icy needles pierced my feet. I was stubborn, though. I would refuse to go inside, instead wrapping my arms around my body as my teeth chattered uncontrollably. I could never see it through. Each time the physical pain would tip the scale; I would scuff out my footprints and slip back inside the house. I always left the door unlocked.
Maybe I didn’t really want to die.
No one knew that I contemplated suicide. At the time, no one even knew that I was depressed. I had everything planned out, though. When the pain grew to be too great, when the darkness grew to be too heavy, I would leave the world that I couldn’t please. I would step outside in the middle of the night, barefoot and wearing little for protection. I would lie on the ground and watch as the snowflakes fell around me, coved me, and I would close my eyes as my life slowly slipped away.
But I never locked the door.
It is difficult to explain depression to people who have never experienced it. How does one explain that slow slipping away of hope that makes death seem a better friend than life? It feels like you’re suffocating. Desperately, you gasp for breath, but your lungs don’t function. You struggle to breathe, to inhale, but you can’t. Each moment is harder than the last, and every second you wonder whether you can bear it any longer. Bit by bit, you feel a chisel chipping away at the hope in your heart until, one day, there just isn’t any left. You don’t want to die, but you can’t live.
I’ll be honest, here: I shouldn’t have been depressed. I come from a comfortable middle-class home; my parents have always been supportive, and my life has always erred on the happy side of average. What did I ever know of struggle? What did I know of want or of loss or of pain? But that’s the lie, isn’t it? If your life doesn’t spell out tragedy, you don’t have a right to suffer.
When you are suffering from depression, you are taught to be ashamed; ashamed because you hurt deeply, ashamed because you are not strong. No one ever tells you that it’s okay to be weak. No one ever tells you that it’s okay if you don’t have it all together. Instead, they tell you that you’re overreacting. “It’s all in your head,” they say. “Just get over it.” So you hide behind your smile and save your tears for the dead of night. It’s isolating.
I wish that I could say that my experience is unique, that I’m the exception to the rule, that “happy” people really don’t carry broken hearts. I wish that I could say that you can trust the smiles on the faces you see every day. I wish that I could lie to you, but I can’t. I have known so many broken people, most of which were no worse off than I. I’ve watched a girl starve herself into a skeleton. I’ve met a runaway who has spent weeks on the streets. I’ve known people so desperate to escape their lives that they turn to alcohol and narcotics. I’ve seen people forget how to laugh, watched as they’ve withered away from the inside out. One of my best friends held a gun to his head and placed his finger on the trigger…Ours is a dying generation. Depression is a disease eating away at the very heart of our people, and we have to ask ourselves, why?
Oh, but wait! We are the lucky ones, the heirs to the “American Dream” handed down to us from our forefathers, dictated to us by the television screen. “Work harder,” we are told. “Strive for more.” So we try to be everything we’re told to be with success, wealth, power. Every day we are told to be unique, to develop our own voices, and when we do, what happens? We are ostracized, rejected, abandoned. “Be yourself,” they say. “Unless you’re different,” they mean. We always have to work harder, look younger, dress sexier, be smarter; so we give up our families for our careers, and our identities for some standard of perfection that we just can’t achieve. We buy into the lies our society feeds us, but at what cost? In the pursuit of happiness, we have given up everything of value! We don’t want to die, but my friends, we already have!
I tried to be everything the world taught me to be, but I just couldn’t. The standards were set too high. I was a mistake; I was the one cast aside when quality control came through. Feeling inadequate, I told myself that I was not, and never would be, good enough. So I smiled by day and cried by night, and sometimes I used to slip out into the cold, my bare feet making small footprints in the snow.
Depression isn’t the same for everyone. My story is not everyone else’s. That’s okay, we are each different. I have a secret, though: whether our depression stems from a difficult life, tragedy, or the belief in one simple lie, it doesn’t matter. Most of us don’t really want to die. We just don’t know how to live.