Your buttocks are cold and aching because you’ve been pressing them for too long against those filthy concrete steps on the hallway, in front of the elevator. There are cigarette stumps and ashes all over the place, but that does not bother you in the least. You’re happy that human transit is sparse on the 4th floor, though you hear the elevator set in motion every now and then. It doesn’t make much sense, since it’s Saturday night, but nothing seems to make any sense lately, so, you’re okay with that. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s all good.
Except it’s not. Actually, it’s just the perfect time for another bout of closeted weeping and self-loathing. Besides, you’re seething with anger and you wish you could have broken at least three or four of those countless glass jars that have been piling up in your kitchen throughout time. That, however, can’t happen as easily as you snap your fingers, especially since you don’t have the wherewithal to fulfill whatever might bring you a tad of alleviation. Your main flaw could be the fact that maybe you’re a little bit too considerate. You know your roommate would suspect there’s something wrong if she saw you leave the room with a book in one hand, a couple of glass jars in the other one – and, on top of that, a broom and a dustpan on your underarm. That’s because you’re infelicitously aware that it doesn’t rank among the janitor’s duties to clean the debris of your anger management issues. You have to suck it up – it is morally and socially inacceptable for you to let off some steam, which you’ll have to repress some more, since you don’t have the guts or the energy to get dressed, take your jars with you and get the job done outside, next to some stinky garbage cans.
But you cannot spend another second in this smothering room, with this being whose breath sounds and giggles are driving you crazy and who always complains about your music volume. I mean, it’s absurd; you’re always wearing your headphones, the volume was only 30% and – you might want to grab a chair – she was wearing hers, too. How can she possibly hear through two pairs of headphones?! Could she by any chance be a cat, to have such fine hearing?! As far as you remember, cats had never been this annoying and overly sensitive; neither did they giggle 24/7, nor did they bend your ear incessantly with their cheap bullshit on staying positive no matter what. So, you’re leaving the room with the book in your hand and your key in your pocket.
It’s a good thing you’re all alone right now, but… maybe you’re not that alone, after all. Your thoughts chaperon you wherever you go and you can’t just simply block them out of your mind. There aren’t any other concrete steps within your reach, so, this is the closest thing to a haven you could get – you’d better make the most of it. You’re tremendously lucky to have gotten rid of those blood pressure-elevating breath sounds and giggles.
After the bout of weeping and self-loathing is seemingly over, you somehow manage to find the strength to open that book you took with you when you left the room – The Noonday Demon – An Anatomy of Depression, by Andrew Solomon. You’ve been ingesting the first 200 pages with bated breath and you can’t wait to proceed with your reading. There’s this special chapter dedicated to depression in relation with certain geographical areas and population groups and now you’ve reached the part where the main focus is on Greenland. That’s when you start caving in again to your own depression, because you remember how much you wish you could travel to Greenland someday and how remote from factual and achievable reality that actually is. You recall that story about Susan, the Danish host of your friend who works in Copenhagen and whom you visited about a month ago. Susan is a retired Danish journalist who spent most of her professional life delving into the Eskimo culture – a most fascinating commitment, which culminated in her publishing a book on this topic, going on tour all over Denmark to promote it, signing autographs and spending weekends in various capital cities of Europe. You also recall how, during that brief stay of yours in Copenhagen, you spent one night in Susan’s room, while she was out of country, visiting her son in Brussels. There were so many books on her shelves, so many albums on Greenland, with amazingly scented sheets of shiny, sliding paper. You couldn’t grasp a word, for they were all written in Danish, but you still found everything in that room utterly mesmerizing.
And then you remember how frustrating it is that you cannot travel like Susan does; that you cannot dedicate a decade of your life to the study of the Inuit or Inca culture; that you cannot afford one of those colorful, cozy houses from Nyhavn, Copenhagen. That you might have just messed up big time whenever it came to life decisions.
You are stuck in mediocrity, yet somehow, you’re allergic to the word “thrive”. There’s a sense of despondency in it, something which makes you shun or secretly plan the murder of all the people associated with it. Their more or less perfect smiles are displays of triumph which simply make you sick in the stomach. You also feel nauseous whenever you hear words such as “leadership”, “soft skills” or “personal development”. You hate those people who thrive, but, paradoxically, you look up to people like Susan or that friend of yours who lives in Copenhagen – not particularly gifted or hard-working, but clever enough to make the right choices and take advantage of the right opportunities. But you know why? Because she’s never spent a moment of her life weeping and self-loathing on some filthy concrete steps in the hallway of a student dorm. No – decidedly, life wasn’t too light on her, either; her father has recently passed away in an absurd manner, run over by a car on the crosswalk. But by that time, she had already managed to find some balance that helped her keep her head above water during harsh times. Her cousin, who’s a closer friend to you than she is, keeps telling you that she didn’t expect you to be so weak that you can’t snap out of the claws of depression. You tell her in turn that depression is different disease from the common cold, which generally goes away on its own in a week – but you can’t get through to her. Although she insists that she also fights depression time and again, she’s lived a life of serendipity and self-indulgence that has barred her capacity to relate to truly depressed people’s struggle. You’ve grown tired of playing the same old tune that grief and depression are not the same thing, though they might overlap up to some point. It is normal for your heart to beat faster when you go for a morning jog or when you’re anxiously waiting for your exam results. But when your heart beats ridiculously fast even at rest, with no prior exertion or emotional distress, that might as well indicate that you have heart failure. Does it mean that all people who have heart failure are weak and, therefore, responsible for their condition? Does it mean that depression is some sort of scarlet letter attached to the forehead of the feebleminded?
I keep wondering, in a rather Sisyphean way, why people cannot fathom the immense strength it takes for someone struggling with a depressive breakdown to keep up a good front and to be at least a partially functioning human being. Has any “normal” person – at least by the current standards – ever envisioned what it feels like to repress all those feelings of inadequacy and all that overpowering rage, because you know that no one deserves to be harmed on account of your personal issues? You could have chosen to break those glass jars in the middle of the room or on the hallway, but before proceeding to that, you thought it over and realized that no one’s actually guilty for your breakdowns. That’s on you and only you. As a result, you chose to set matters straight with yourself, sitting on some cold concrete steps and forestalling your negative feelings from interacting with the cocoon of normality floating all around you.
You are at war with yourself. You might endanger (in fact, you do endanger) your inner safety and you might hate yourself for the rest of your life – but you’re far from being weak. You didn’t pick up the phone to vent to anyone, though you could have benefited from that; you didn’t put an emotional load on anyone’s back. You didn’t ask for help, because you knew the help you need the most lies within your own self – the one you’ve been battering and abusing and slowly torturing on a daily basis.
You are not weak, because you chose to go your own way and carry all your burdens on your already scoliotic and used-up spine. You don’t have many friends ready to help you, but that’s okay, too. A hip replacement surgery is to no avail to someone who urgently needs a heart transplant. When you were born, nature endowed you with plenty of stem cells, which can basically replace any given type of tissue in the human body. What if you used some of them so as to regenerate your optics on reality? Or in case that fails, buy a better mirror and stare a little longer in it. Your old one could have had some surreptitious cracks, which accounted for the distorted image you’ve been foolishly taken as real for so long. Funny as it may sound, some basic geometric optics could eventually prove your salvation. So, it is now probably legit to wonder – who’d have thought that physics is the key to allaying our obscure and indomitable psychic afflictions?…