The first time I remember being depressed, I was about 12. I’d been booted from my friend group at school, and life at home was increasingly hard.
That’s when I started locking myself in my room for days at a time, coming out at night to binge on Sour Patch Kids and Entemman’s Cookies I’d order behind my parents’ backs. (Shoutout to my fellow Kozmo kids.)
It was probably around that time I first thought about suicide.
I thought about it a lot, in fact. Considered it, you might say.
But the thing is, as much as I wanted out of my life, I didn’t want out of life itself.
If only I could be different, I’d think, if I could get it together enough to work harder, be smarter, like boys, wear makeup, stop eating, stop biting my nails, stop being weird, just Stop. Being. Me.
See, as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the total and utter conviction that everything about me is wrong, and that I have not the slightest capacity to ever do anything right. (Depression has a tendency towards drama, so you’ll have to bear with me here.)
My mom tells this story about when she took me to Disneyland when I was three. Another kid and I were chosen to walk in the Princess Parade, holding the red velvet rope that trailed the dozens of desmoiselles.
This was a big moment for little Veronica.
But while the other girl walked along all smiles, your own Miss Debbie Downer was on the verge of tears the whole time. At the end of the parade, my mom asked me what was wrong.
“I was scared I was going to drop the rope,” I told her. Scared that I would ruin the parade.
Even at three, I was nearly certain that I was going to mess things up, that I would fail in front of everyone because that is what a failure does.
The feeling that I am, at my core, a failed person, is a feeling that has followed me throughout my life, a drop of a doubt in periods when I feel good; a storm when I don’t.
One year, I skipped my family reunion because I didn’t want my young cousins to see me, such a poor example of a human being hoisted upon them.
Much more than once, I’ve let the mail stack up for weeks, too afraid of what announcement of my own failure might lie in one of those envelopes.
Only the other day, I had to battle myself to look at photos I took for a piece I’m writing, certain they would be one more attestation to my utter incompetence.
That’s depression for you. Constant fear.
Fear that you’re worthless. Fear that you’re bad.
Fear that the world is bad, and there’s nothing you or anyone can do about it.
Depression is fear that someone you love is going to hurt you. Or that no one will love you at all.
Sometimes my depression is all-consuming. I can feel as it comes, a fatigue that lives inside me.
It arrives first as a hollow sensation in my bones, like they have been emptied from the inside and I am no longer weighted to the ground.
And then, boom, my vision goes. Colors fade to grey, edges become blurry. That’s when I know I’m in for it bad.
There are days I can’t show up. Friends start to talk.
She’s so flaky.
People ask how you are. You smile and say all’s good, you make a joke and everyone feels fine, except this secret inside is eating you up.
If only I could work harder, be smarter, like boys, wear makeup, stop eating, stop biting my nails, stop being weird, just Stop. Being. Me.
So you can try a different way.
I struggle with depression, you might say.
And watch people’s faces scrunch up with pity.
What a freak you’ll feel like then. Like there’s something wrong with you, a problem no one would ever want for themselves.
Or maybe it’s you nobody wants. No one likes a Debbie downer.
But you know, secrets fill you with shame and shame is a real killer. At some point in the last few months I had to admit that living with that shame might, literally, kill me.
Once I came out publicly with my mental health issues, I heard from a lot of people about their own struggles, both with the issues themselves and with their shame.
One of those people is an old grade-school friend, someone I’ve barely talked to since we graduated fifteen years ago, but who stands out in my heart as one of the best men I have ever known.
He told me that he struggles, too, but that he has tried to reframe his depression as an exercise in resilience. Like any exercise, maybe depression is the tough workout that makes us stronger.
Maybe depression has benefits, like strength, and a better ability to empathize with others.
And maybe we are lucky, for it is we who have the ability to experience the extreme joys that only come when you’ve known such lows. No darkness without light and all that, right?
I set out to write a piece showing how painful depression can be, but I wound up here, with a half-rainbow of hope, not that I will overcome my depression, but that maybe being depressed isn’t the failure I thought it was.
I want to end by addressing those of you who also struggle with depression.
For my friends who have felt like failures, like freaks, what if together we started to think of ourselves as the lucky ones?
What if we told ourselves that in our darkness, we make the light of the world brighter?
What if we dared to stop acting like we are something to be fixed, and embraced ourselves exactly as we are?
I am depressed and I am not ashamed.
I am depressed and I am proud.
I am depressed and I am exactly who I want to be.
That’s a rainbow of hope indeed.