I don’t know what depression is. I don’t know if it’s a purely chemical, genetic thing totally outside my control, or if it’s a direct reaction to my basic needs not being met by my lifestyle or the society I live in. I guess probably a little bit of both.
My first memory of depression is when I was five. Lacking the vocabulary I called it “Boredom,” and my family understandably tried to find things to entertain me with. This was frustrating, as I tried to explain that if it were that simple, I could find something myself. This was a boredom where nothing seemed interesting, where the world was closing in on me in a cold, claustrophobic grip of emptiness and meaninglessness.
I would continue to experience it regularly throughout childhood. Sometimes I would get “Stuck,” perhaps in bed or on the couch. I’d yell for help, desperately, or try to explain that no, I can’t come to the table “I’m Stuck.” Looking at me, clearly not physically stuck, my parents didn’t really know what to do to help. I couldn’t describe what I was going through, the full body paralysis brought on by an unbearable existential panic.
I was a weird kid, okay?
I’ve been depressed more often than not for about a decade now, since I was eleven. Which was luckily also around the time I discovered my passion. Like many children, I’d spent most of my childhood exploring the worlds of my imagination, filling sketchbooks with the fictional biology of alien ecosystems or constructed languages or the occasional comic following the exploits of emotionally flawed god-like beings. But at age ten, when I first read Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, it suddenly became clear to me the one thing that would always be interesting, always give purpose and meaning to my life. The construction of speculative worlds, and the intricate stories woven through them.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of writing, so my stories never saw much of the light of day. Instead, I spend truly countless hours pacing or surfing wikipedia and constructing future timelines, alien planets, and alternate universes of a complexity that would make Tolkien jealous. Outside this work, I tried my best to move through the world despite my depression, dropping out of several schools, and just being generally plagued by hopelessness and anxiety every step of my way.
Then I came to India through Global Citizen Year, and suddenly everything changed. My mind illuminated by every experience, it was everything I had ever wanted from life and my depression receded into near invisibility. I learned so much about myself in that period of about two months, the longest period I had ever gone without being depressed. I saw sides of myself I never had before, I got a grasp on who I really was and what I wanted from my future.
That didn’t last. After about two months the depression came creeping back. And at first that was disappointing, I wondered if I had done something wrong to lose that, as they say, “honeymoon period.” But I knew better than that, I knew it was natural. And before long, I started to feel grateful.
Imagine, for a minute, that that hadn’t happened. That I spend my entire seven months in India with little to no depression. And then I go back home, to the world I left behind. Wouldn’t it all come crashing down on me? Wouldn’t it all come rushing back? And what would I have been able to do, what would I have learned about how to cope with it?
I learned a lot about myself in those first couple months, seeing what I’m like without my depression, but I’ve learned even more from the months since in which I have gotten to see myself in this new environment with my depression, and found ways to cope with it. And find ways I have. I’ve learned more about dealing with depression than ever before.
I’m still depressed more often than not, but that’s kind of okay. Maybe that will go away someday, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m not gonna let it stop me from doing what I want to do with my life, and I’m not going to let it suck all joy and beauty from my world. I may be depressed, but I have managed to find things nearly every day to be excited by, to enjoy, to revel in. If you had told me, when I was sixteen, that I would someday find the ability to do that? Well, I wouldn’t have believed you. But if I had, it would’ve been a PRETTY HUGE RELIEF.