I can’t tell you the day that it happened. I didn’t wake up unhappy on a Monday morning. It was a gradual process. I’ve never felt the sensation of drowning, but I imagine that it’s much like depression. You feel yourself slowly weakening to a point where you don’t feel anything anymore. There is no unhappiness; there is no anger, there is nothing. Sure, my friends moved on and the boy that kissed me at summer camp didn’t keep in touch. Sure, an inevitable cloud of teenage angst surrounded me and I thought for sure that I hated my parents. But none of that could even begin to explain the emptiness. There was no way to pinpoint it. I was just gone.

When people asked, I couldn’t tell them what was wrong. I always answered with “I’m fine” – two words that I never use together anymore, knowing that the truth behind that phrase is a lie. I can’t even tell you the day that I realized that it happened. I suppose that it was at a point where I grew unbelievably tired of people asking that question and tired of the answer that I always gave. I’m fine.

In many ways, I truly believed that I was fine. It wasn’t until my friend count reached zero that I was capable of acknowledging it, and even then I didn’t realize that it was my fault that I was alone. My depression was like a disease that my friends believed they could catch. I pushed each and every one of them away slowly by constantly searching for sympathy and comfort, always reaching out to them not only to vent but also to question. I didn’t want them to sit back and listen, and I wanted all the advice that they didn’t have. They always asked me questions like, “what’s really wrong?” and “what happened?” When I didn’t have an answer to those, they would say things like “I’m sorry,” and “I wish I could help.” That was never enough for me, because I truly believed that they could help and weren’t trying. But they couldn’t. I was a lost cause without my own will.

I didn’t want to get better. In a sick and twisted sort of way, I wanted attention from my disease. I loved being able to tell people that there was something wrong with me. It was an excuse for all the things that I believed to be wrong with my personality. I was shy, I was quiet, I didn’t go out on the weekends, I didn’t drink, and I always said that it was only because I was depressed. I didn’t see how unrelated those things were, and I held on to the idea of depression as if it was tattooed beneath my skin. I acted as though there was no other explanation for anything in life. Depression. I’m fine. No, I can’t hang out. I’m depressed.

Eventually, my friends stopped texting me. I believed that it was because they were more interested in drinking than hanging out with me. I believed that they had all stooped to a lower level, and I was better than them for not drinking. But I was the one tearing them down the entire time. I was selfish without meaning to be, because I expected them to drop everything and take care of me.

But that’s exactly what depression does to you. You lose the mental capacity to care for others because you’re using all of your energy on yourself. I guess it really is like drowning: when the lifeguard comes to rescue you, and you’ve already been going down for what feels like forever, you grab onto him, as if trying to pull him down with you. But really you’re just trying to survive. I can’t even tell you what year it was when I started to drown. But I can tell you that last year I began to float.

I had to learn how to swim again. The first step was convincing myself that it was time to get better. For me, this came in the form of college. The prospect of having a place to start over had me reaching for the surface, and it was the help of my counselor, my new friends, and my family back home that slowly pushed me up. They didn’t even know they were saving me until they saw the change. They watched me let go and start to take strokes on my own, and today they watch me swim laps. I don’t want anyone to ever have that drowning feeling. I don’t want anyone to ever have to tread water. The ocean is huge and it’s easy to get swept away. But the view from the shore is great.

Photoshoot - Montgomery County, MD 2014
Montgomery County, MD 2014

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