Back in my junior of high school, I sat in the back row of my AP Literature class. It was common to find me laughing with friends in class at the time. It was also common to find me struggling to keep my eyes open. For some reason, that year was a series of battles to stay focused in any of my classes.
There was one day in particular when I just couldn’t stay awake. Whether it was a lack of sleep or something else, I found myself checking out mentally. It was like blinking—I closed my eyes for a moment and the next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake by my teacher. Mrs. Baker, bless her soul, kindly told me it was time for lunch, never uttering a word of falling asleep in class. It’s a funny story I can laugh about now, but it’s also a reflection of a daily struggle I go through, that many people go through.
We’ve all been asked, “Are you okay?”
And we’ve all answered at least once, “I’m fine, just tired.”
It used to be my go-to explanation as to why I was sluggish or quiet or whatever else I was apparently not supposed to be. It was an excuse to get people off my back, but then it became genuinely true. I was tired, I am tired. Day in and day out. Whether I get half an hour of sleep or twelve, it doesn’t matter. I’m tired physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I’m in a constant battle, at war with my own mind and body.
Most days I get through without a problem, but there are mornings when I take over an hour or two just to get out of bed. Those days, my legs are chained to weights and breathing feels like a luxury. Any notion of productivity is effectively counteracted by a barrage of frustration and self-pity.
Despite my best efforts, it’s a bitter cycle I go through. I have this desire to feel joy while being in people’s company, yet I long for the comfort of solitude at the same time. I want to spend time with friends, yet I never seem to have the energy or will to leave the house unless necessary. I like being alone, yet I feel as if I’m suffocating in loneliness.
Some would say it’s all in my head, and maybe it is. But does that make what I feel any less real?
I used to hate going to family gatherings because I felt like I was always overlooked, as irrational and petty as it seems. I’m sad to say that there was even a time when I harbored resentment toward my cousins because of this. Because I felt they were getting more attention than me, attention I deserved but didn’t get. I was the smartest, the most religious, the best-behaved. I was the most successful… at least I thought I was at the time. I used to be so prideful and envious (though I admit these wicked thoughts resurface from time to time).
So why not change? Why not do something about your depression? Just think happier thoughts.
It’s not simple. I wish it were.
It’s like this:
I am sitting on a ledge staring down at a void below. There’s a certain hitch in my breath and a rush of adrenaline that courses through me. There’s a sense of excitement and fear knowing how easily I could slip. I’ve stared into the deep emptiness of that abyss with a voice whispering in my ear, daring me to jump.
What terrifies me though is that a part of me wants to take the plunge, to forget about the world and my problems.
It’s not something I’m proud of, and I won’t go into too much detail, but my mind has gone to dark places, slipped into the shadowy corners my subconscious. I rooted for the villains, the demons, the monsters. I admired the confidence they radiated, the power and control they wielded.
I held myself a prisoner in a windowless room with the door open ajar, just enough to let a bit of sunshine through. I sometimes ventured out to enjoy it when I longed for its warmth. But I never stayed long. I always eventually found my way back to the cold, safe embrace of my cage.
I spiraled down deeper and deeper into this pattern, all the while afraid no one would ever notice or care enough to look. Afraid to say a word, I accepted my descent and let things be.
Things piled up as I did nothing, numb to it all. There was homework to finish, job applications to complete, a house to clean, books to read, so many ideas and stories to write. Instead, I drowned in anxiety, wallowed in doubt and apathy.
The lowest points in my life were when “apathetic” was the first word that came to mind when I described myself. I felt so fake at times, like a hollow tin soldier wound up and simply going through the motions.
In 2015, during my sophomore year in college, my aunt/godmother visited. My parents were at work and my siblings were at school, but I had the day off. She and I sat at the kitchen table in light conversation.
Then she asked, “What happened? I remember when you were younger, you were more outgoing, crazier then.”
My initial thought: Of course I wasn’t that carefree kid anymore. I grew up.
But her words stayed with me long after she flew back home to Dubai.
What did happen? Where did that happy girl go?
Contemplating these words, I became a different person, did things out of character, but I grew tired of living like that. The excitement of going to raves and staying out late into the night with friends wore off.
I used to curl up in bed at night—sometimes even during the day when no one was home—and argue with myself to the point of tears. They were initially out of sadness and self-pity, but then they became tears of frustration and rage.
Why couldn’t I just be content? When did I turn into someone so bitter, so angry, so full of sadness and hate?
I never intended to tell anyone this. I was afraid that people would dismiss my story as a stunt to get noticed, that they’d think I was riding some sort of “depression/anxiety trend.”
But I’ve mostly stayed silent because I feel guilty. It’s why I’m hesitant to seek counseling. Who am I to feel this way? I have a family who supports my creative endeavors and career ambitions. I have a roof over my head, a job, a car, food on the table. I am smart and capable, yet there is an empty feeling inside me. Some days I feel it more than others, but it’s always there.
Just a few months ago, while my parents were out, my sister and I lounged on the couch at home. I love her to death because we can talk about anything, dive into these deep conversations.
She’s a behavioral neuroscience student; she likes psychology. She asked me what it was like, to describe how I felt. I told her it sucked because I know I’m loved and cared for, but I don’t fully feel that love and care. To put it simply, my head knew it, but my heart didn’t.
I know there are those out there who are in the same boat as me, many sailing on stormier seas. What we feel isn’t something we should be ashamed of. That’s the whole reason so many of us are sharing our stories, isn’t it? No matter where you are mentally, you aren’t alone.
It can be especially hard when you come from a Christian family and a Christian community. I can already hear some of my relatives.
“Leave it all to God. Give you burdens to Him. He will steer you down th right path. You’re just going through a spiritual battle.”
I know they mean well, but honestly, it doesn’t help. They feel like empty words, a dismissal of what I feel.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want even a little bit of sympathy, but that doesn’t mean I want to be treated any differently. I just want to start an honest conversation, to share a big part of me that isn’t going away any time soon.
I write this, however, from a good place. Things have gotten better. They are getting better.
I do still have unwanted, intrusive thoughts. I’ll still check out mentally when out with friends or coworkers, but I’m working on it. Right now, I’m focusing on me, inching toward my goals in life. It’s a slow process, sure, but I won’t go anywhere if I stand still.
I don’t have a happy ever after for you but neither is this a tragic ending. This is simply an unfinished story I am still writing.
Keep fighting, friends.