Your high school best friend was the first person to validate sadness for you— to ascertain its existence, its being.
Having had a middle-class upbringing, your childhood was all right; perfectly normal. There were no great traumas for you, and there was nothing that caused you irreparable damage. You had a good, safe, even happy childhood, and sadness to you before was merely a vague concept— one that was observable, but something that you never really understood. You understood things like loneliness, betrayal, and frustration, but sadness was something you barely had a grasp on. When it came, it came in brief, uncontrollable bursts, and your disposition was such that it passed quickly. Naïve, sheltered, privileged, you had no idea of the deep, dark depths that sadness could go. In a way, it was a kindness.
So when you were 16 and had been feeling sad for longer than mere moments, you turned to your best friend and asked if it was normal. The conversation went something like this: “My heart hurts sometimes when I get sad. Is that normal?” (You remember the scene: back then you had unnaturally straight hair and wore a brightly colored headband, still in your pubescent, gangly shape and high school uniform. You were reading a book or something, and when the words on the page failed to distract you from your emotions, you turned to your friend and asked her the question.) “Yes,” your best friend replied with an odd expression, “Of course that’s normal.”
“But it feels physical, you know. Real. It feels hard to breathe sometimes.”
“Yes,” your best friend insisted, and had looked at you like you were an idiot, “That’s what sadness feels like.”
This epiphany unsettled you because sadness hurt, and it was unpleasant. And it was lasting longer than you’d ever experienced. Before this, you’d never really had a chance to examine it. You’d felt it before, of course, in hurried bursts of miserable crying and in brief, aching pressures around your heart, but not long enough to begin poking at it. Sadness had always been ephemeral in its coming and going, and you expected it to always be that way. You didn’t know. You had no grasp of it, could not imagine that sadness could be transcendent. You didn’t know back then that sadness could escape the confines of your heart, that most unreliable organ, the confines of your mind, and bleed over into everyday life. You didn’t know that sadness could express itself in ways unfathomable to you, that it could come out of you in waves that weren’t tears. You didn’t know sadness could last for weeks and weeks and months upon months and come back again and again for longer and longer periods of time. You didn’t know that sadness could turn to grief unexplained and regress into a monster people call depression.
But that was then, and this is now, and you know better. You know better, and you are stronger for it.
It started quite some time ago, now, this awareness, this painful knowledge that pain could go abyss-deep. You remember it but in the kind of remembrance of painful things: hazy, distant, fogged. You remember being a freshman in university: excited, high on life, exuberant. You felt, in the months before the onset of that terrible, terrible darkness, that life could not possibly get any better— and then being proven right because life got worse. Life, in incrementing degrees, became burdensome. Heavy. Then, immobile in your dorm room bed, seemingly paralyzed by the heaviness of life itself, weak and smelly for having not eaten properly and bathed for more than two days, contemplating suicide in your every waking moment, you think: there’s something wrong with me. And there was.
(Even now, there continues to be.)
Depression, they called it. Such a clinical, unfamiliar word when you first heard it, but familiar to you, now. In the years that passed since those days in your old dorm, you have become highly acquainted with it, close to it, consumed by it. It becomes something worn to you, like a much-used afghan: dusty with muted colors, frayed at the edges.
You have come to a point in your life where this kind of pain has become a common thing, an accepted thing. It is, perhaps, something all human beings go through— this quiet, sober acceptance. Perhaps not everyone’s pain is the same, but then again, aren’t all human beings unique in their experiences? Like the flowing and the ebbing of the tide, pain comes and goes, as steady as the waves and as fathomless as the sea.
It is a constant companion.
When the waves do come it is all you can do not to drown in it. You’re not a very good swimmer, see. When the waters come, dark and deep, you drown a little. Just a little, mind, but with every passing moment you spend in the waters you are sapped of strength.
And yet, and yet—
You’re finding, discovering, that you have a lifeline among the drowning waves, a buoy. You have found that this thing isn’t, cannot be, happiness. You cannot surface from the deep abyss of depression, gasping, with a buoy of joy, despite the undeniable strength, the explosiveness, of that emotion. No. Something as sinister as depression needs something equally powerful to counteract it. You are only so lucky to have found, and continue to find, time and time again, what it is:
H o p e.
It is a potent thing, this emotion. The barest sliver of it moves man and nations. It feeds the desperate, restores the broken, sustains the weak. Hope is a living, beautiful, gorgeous thing. It can wins wars. It sheds light in the most impossible circumstances. It saves lives. And you have discovered that this is enough, is more than enough, to save you. You know now, that when darkness comes and threatens to consume you, hope remains like a small pinprick of light, made brighter in that endless darkness in contrast. You have found your lifeline, your buoy of strength. Though the waters are dark and deep, there is something to hold on to. And this you shall cling to until you are safely ashore once more.
And, grounded now, you see the drowning deep with perspective— you know you’ll have to brave the waters again but— for now, for now, you can stand on solid ground: safe. It will have to be enough— these moments when you are rock solid, steady and unshakeable. And when you swim in the abyss again you shall not fear, because you have hope. You have an anchor for your soul.
You’ll be all right. You will endure.