When I was young, I carried my depression like a separate entity, a burden I was unwilling to bear but seemed cursed to carry regardless. When people say ‘depression’, this is all that I heard: the finality of nailing the coffin lid shut; the murkiness of dark water that hides the things that it drowns; and the terrible sound that best intentions make when misunderstanding makes them a blade.
But what is unheard, I found, is too big to be spoken, something we can’t pronounce: luminescence in dark opals, subtext and suspense; it’s the beauty in things that shouldn’t be beautiful, like people who love the world enough to make its pain their own.
This is difficult to believe in truth, I know; I can only promise that all of my words here are uncompromisingly honest. It took me twenty years alone in the dark, playing at cartography, mapping myself, to learn and to accept my silence and stillness and shadow; this is when the unspoken speaks and says: this – you – too, are beautiful.
But for those who, shoulders breaking with the strain of carrying all this torment, have lost their compass, I will try, here, to write down a few of the navigational lodestones – south, north and the setting sun – that helped me find my bearings.
There was a time – such a long cold time – in which I saw in the darkness within me a terror I tried to leash. Its existence was a monster to me, fanged and clawed, snapping up without logical catalyst to draw a veil over my face and excise me from the world.
In this, I made of peace or connection a god that the chasm withheld, and in time I let the distant light of my yearning for it be swallowed up completely.
I made myself at home in the void. The apathy it offered me became a medication, and I courted substance abuse; the false sense of liberation from anything coarse and painful – in fact, from everything – was a side effect I craved the way some people crave affection.
But this is not a life. I say this with the sympathy of someone who knows how the dark can become a haven; how much easier everything seems when the world that appears not to care for you can be turned into nothing but the passing of time. And it feels like freedom from all that pain. Like embracing the crushing entirety of everything cruel and silent is a way to make you a part of it, caressed instead of devoured. But this, too, is a falsehood; and the apathy is all that keeps the knowledge of this from eating you where you hide.
A cage that is gilded in darkness is still a cage, however familiar – however beloved – its bars can become to a prisoner.
See, what I thought was acceptance that made of the dark a mantle, a crown, instead of a blade, was in truth a subtle assassination, a quiet and welcomed devouring. I had not found a way to survive my own life; I had let something in me, something that is me, take me over and rule me, to keep from living the life that I’d given up on. I forgot – or never realised – that I also had armies within me: the warrior parts, defiant and brave, that the smothering black had hidden from me the way I now hid from the world.
Let me tell you this: if you are floundering now in a darkness that seems like an endless ocean, it is not an ocean. And you are not alone. And you have kept your head above water, against all odds, for all this time; which is not an easy feat – god no, anything but. This is a thing to be proud of. This is a strength that is rare.
Take that strength to the chasm and use it like a pocketknife. A small weapon; but then, the darkness is also small – it is only surrender and hopelessness that make it feel gargantuan. Neither is the monster, I eventually learnt, truly a curse or a nemesis. (You will never find peace in the hatred of part of yourself.) In fact, it is what has proven to you the formidable strength that you wield; it has shown you every emotion there is to be felt; it has made your compassion into something of staggering beauty, and in this, too, is strength. In all of this is a wound to wear like a war medal, proud and determined.
So: it will never be easy. And the temptation to slide back into apathy’s arms will lurk and grow on the worse days. This monstrous thing, this darkness, is a facet of who you are; a wolfish part to be tamed to your will, to be learnt and loved like all of the sparks and circuits that make up you. Ride its resurgence; dust off your knees and pick yourself up when you fall. You have done this many times before. You will not falter now.
But most importantly, never see in your battle scars an ugliness to be hidden. They are badges of honour, and their likeness is worn by the countless other warriors who share the chasm with you.
‘When you live in the dark for so long, you begin to love it. And it loves you back, and isn’t that the point? you think; the face turns to shadows, and just as well. It accepts, it heals, it allows. But it also devours.’ – Raymond Carver, Late Fragment
‘Repeat after me: I am not a problem to be solved. I am worthy. I am worthy. I am neither the mistake nor the punishment.’ – Sierra DeMulder, Mantra to Overcome Depression
‘A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. From the Latin root monstrum, a divine messenger of catastrophe, then adapted by the Old French to mean an animal of myriad origins: centaur, griffin, satyr. To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.’ – Ocean Vuong, A Letter to My Mother that She Will Never Read