She was wearing long sleeves.
We were in the first few days of June, and she was wearing long sleeves.
She was sitting in the corner wearing long sleeves in June, and my mother and I had joked with her and her friend about something. Her smile made you smile because it made the corner she sat in not seem so dark.
“Do you know why she was wearing the long-sleeved shirt?” my mother had asked me sometime after we had left her.
“She takes a razor blade to the skin all up and down her arms. She thinks the physical pain will distract her from the emotional pain.”
I was in the seventh grade.
That’s when I started noticing how many people were wearing long sleeves in June.
The kid in the black coat walking through the sticky heat at Six Flags.
My best friend’s oldest sister.
The choir minister’s daughter at my church.
My youngest cousin.
People were hurting.
They were hurting to the point at which someone or something had convinced them that the only way to escape the pain would be when they broke their way out of it through the soft skin on their forearms and shoulders and thighs.
And then I heard words like “suicide” and “depression.”
I didn’t know this pain.
I couldn’t fathom the ripping and tearing of my own body like the sawing of prison cell bars just so that I didn’t have to hurt on the inside anymore.
But I knew I wanted to write love on their arms almost as badly as they wanted to scar themselves for relief’s sake.
So I bought the shirts that would start the conversations.
I went to the concert benefits.
I ran the 5K.
And when people asked why, I told them that I had never known depression first hand; they needed to know that I wasn’t that girl sitting there in that room in that big church wearing the long sleeves in June.
They needed to know that I hadn’t been swallowed up.
I hadn’t clung to razor blades, I had clung to the carpet of my mother’s closet.
I didn’t bleed, I cried until I felt better.
I drove straight and never imagined what it would be like to veer off.
I hadn’t been swallowed up, and living wasn’t too hard.
I just wanted to see that smile that lit up the dark corners that people were sitting in.
But then long sleeves in June stopped looking strange to me.
Because I had seen scarred arms and thighs;
I had read the stories;
I had sat down in torn green chairs under the dim lights of a hospital waiting room when kids I had known since they were six had swallowed pills instead of speaking up;
I had driven my good friend to a psychiatric ward when she had called saying she needed to be taken somewhere for the sake of living a little longer.
“Depression” wasn’t a word I had to look up anymore. It was my next door neighbor.
And then it asked if it could move in.
I’m not in seventh grade anymore, I’m a junior in college, and brushing my teeth makes me tired; making phone calls to schedule hair appointments wears me out; I’d rather sit at home on a Friday night with my family than drive thirty minutes to see a good friend because seeing even a good friend means having to make conversation, and making conversation is hard now.
OR I’m throwing things around because I stubbed my toe; I’m huffing and puffing because I got invited to a Super Bowl party when people should know that I’m not in the mood to talk; I’m furious and shouting because my friend asked me to come talk to her about what she’s going through over coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
THEN AGAIN, I’m feeling absolutely nothing; someone blows me off– I don’t care; a boy at school smiles and tries to talk to me– I smile and keep walking; a good friend falls off my radar again— I am entirely unphased; no excitement, no butterflies, no pain, feeling nothing and not wishing I could while knowing something is wrong.
I’ve sat down at my computer for the past four weeks wanting desperately to feel the skin on my finger tips brushing over the keys. Instead, I get sick.
I think I got swallowed up.
I don’t cling to my mother’s carpet, I float around not making sense when I talk.
I cry every time I get in the car and when I lay my head down to sleep at night.
I drive straight, but I wonder.
I don’t know if I got swallowed up or not, but living got hard.
Because I need to know why it’s okay that I know girls who make themselves sick after every meal just because eating is the only thing they feel they have control of in their lives anymore; I need to know why my grandmother’s bones whine and whisper secrets and beg for rest after all the years of holding her together; I need to know why my cousin could do the things that she did and leave us without a word when I thought the progress we had made meant something; I need to know why we don’t leave holes in each others’ lives when we are gone, why death is the only absence that wakes people up and gives the lives we lived meaning; I need to know why the boy who came in and learned me and freed me and loved me so well could turn around and tell me that, at the end of the day, when he really thought about it, he would rather experience life with anybody who wasn’t me, that I kept him from experiencing the things he wanted to live through– that his life in the past four months has been significantly better without me.
There is an apathy we wake up to every morning that is suffocating, heavy in the air around us. I knew it. I saw it. I’d fallen victim to it. But I had refused to become it.
Until I started breathing it in.
I knew the pain now.
And the worst part about the whole thing was how unlike Christ it made me feel.
He wouldn’t have begrudgingly gone over to someone’s house who had called out to Him for comfort in His company; He wouldn’t have yelled at His mother and sister and shut down on them in the middle of what had started out as an enjoyable lunch; He wouldn’t have sunk into the familiarity of His bed and let phone calls make Him sad—– He would have gotten up and risen above and fought through and pushed Himself to choose joy every morning. Because He would’ve known it was a choice, and He would’ve known that sometimes it would be an easy one and sometimes it would be a lot harder than just waking up and saying, “Today is a good day, no matter what.”
At some point, it became less of a resentment towards depression, less shrinking away into a further defeat at realizing I had been defeated, less mind and heart wishing that I could get up and rise above and fight through and push myself like He would, and it became more of a practiced activity.
Because that’s what beating depression looks like: practice.
When you don’t want to go to the party and see the people you’ve come to love and the people you know truly love you just because it might be intimidating and tiring: do it anyway.
When you don’t want to show up and be there for your friend who’s hurting like you are just because you can stand back and see the way out for them: do it anyway.
When you don’t want to go out alone and meet strangers like you used to love doing just because it isn’t as easy anymore and makes you feel heavy: do it anyway.
Do it anyway.
All of it.
Every little thing that looks hard that you used to love so much you were convinced it was the gravity that kept you here– do it anyway.
Choose happiness. Every day.
Until the day you wake up and breathing is easy again.
Because it will be easy again.
I hope you know that.
But I do now.