In which Daniel is possibly brave or possibly foolish, or both, or neither.
To my dear reader,
The first time I realized that I liked a boy was in 4th grade. I was an awkward, unsociable child, and my 4th grade teacher was aware of this. When a boy from another school transferred into my homeroom class, she took the opportunity to force me to play with him.
Begrudgingly, we went out to the soccer field together during recess and, against both our wills, began to play with a Frisbee. My first throw went wildly amiss, forcing him to run across the field to catch it, and this is the moment that became burned in my mind – the boy sprinting, the sun turning the field into an ocean of precious light around him.
Of course, it was not like this, but this is the truth I created. I watched, transfixed, as he leapt to catch the Frisbee, and I childishly thought something like this:
How lovely you are.
I love you.
I did not, of course, love him. The boy made other friends, and I have long since forgotten those feelings. But what matters is that this was when I was suddenly, horribly aware of how he could never feel this way about me; how this fact would come crushing down upon me forever. This was, I think, when I began to become clinically depressed.
“How terribly young you were!” some exclaim. “How can you know that you were clinically depressed at such an age?”
I can never know for certain. But for those that wish to apportion blame for my inaction, give it to my love of fantasy. I assumed that the shuddering nausea with me from morning to night was simply the symptom of a hero waiting to be chosen for adventure. Surely, I thought, a giant will knock on my door or a witch will appear on my windowsill. If only I wait, my story will begin and I will not feel as if I am drowning every moment of every day.
But I confess that I was wrong. No giants knocked or witches appeared and every moment of every day was like drowning. I remember waking up on a school day 15 minutes past my alarm, and bursting into panicked tears. Surely I will be late, I thought, and then I shall be punished and I shall do poorly in school because that is what happens to children who are late. And then once I no longer have academic success I will have nothing but my books and this terrible feeling of drowning that never leaves me.
My mother did her best to console me, but we both knew perfectly well that I could arrive at school on time. Still, I cried.
I recently learned from the video linked below that a curious effect of depression is that it shrinks the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotions. This effectively causes many depressed people to lose both clear memory and clear emotions. Everything, effectively, becomes a gray fog – and this is exactly what I felt.
I researched depression ravenously, but despite this knowledge, was certain that, somehow, my depression would simply fade. If not in elementary school, then in middle school. If not in middle school, then in high school, college, when I learned to play piano, when I did well on my SAT or ACT or something else inane and trivial. Practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent. Repeat the same mistakes over again and they become who you are.
I distanced myself from it. Every time I would cry for no reason or wake up in the middle of the night in inexplicable panic, I thought, this is simply chemical imbalance in your brain, not who you are. But so much of me went into separating who I thought I was from what I thought I wasn’t that it didn’t matter; I became it anyway.
Coming into my final year at college, I had become aware of how much time I had squandered. I could not bear to let this last year go to waste. My appointment at the university’s Counseling, Health and Wellness Services on Thursday, October 1st, 2015 marked the first time that I sought professional help. This, then, was the story I had been waiting for, and there was no one to choose me but myself.
I often feel guilty, given my fortune. I have a loving family, a plump dog, a good education, and more tea than I could possibly drink. I am a gay, multi-ethnic Jew with opportunity – in most other times and places I would be ostracized or persecuted. Others have faced much worse than I and fared better. But this is the nature of depression; no matter my fortune, it is always there – the most dependable thing in my life.
But I am not here to be sad or angry or guilty. I am here to say that this is a real part of me that has existed since that day in 4th grade. To deny it would be foolish and wrong. Surely, there will be readers who cry out that my words are untrue or dangerous, that I exaggerate my sadness or simply seek attention. For those people, I have no words. My time is too precious to waste on them.
For everyone else, I will say this: my experience is one of many, so I claim no universality. I simply claim that I find truth preferable to lies. I simply claim that those who listen are few and far between, and if you are one, know that you are as precious as light. I have chosen this story for you.
How lovely you are.
I love you.
With all due respect,