This essay won the 2011 Tri-County High School Literary Contest.
Depression is like being in a cage. It is a dark prison where seemingly impenetrable walls surround my body, disconnecting my mind from reality. These walls stand in the way of hope, the light which keeps me fighting.
The light of my world is covered in sheer darkness. Shadows engulf the vivid colors I once saw. But I am human, and humans adapt to the environments they choose, or are forced to live in.
So I grow accustomed to this eclipsed world. I forget the joy of seeing and feeling vivacity. Listless, I sit in the corner of my prison and conform to this darkness. Curling my limbs, I bow to the preeminent thoughts that invade my mind like an army charging their enemy.
“You are worthless.”
“Give it up.”
“What’s fighting worth if there is no victory?”
“Hope is intangible.”
“Trust no one.”
“Believe only lies.”
The thoughts turn into chaos in my mind. Feelings turn into smoke and I’m alone again. Depression creeps up on me, waiting to spring its prey at any moment. The happiest moments seem dim at most, shadowed by the looming despair.
Grace, in the form of friends, family and God, are calling my name. However, I succumb to the dead instead of the living. In that moment, I let depression define me.
In the middle of December 2010, I was checked into the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) at Akron Children’s Hospital. PHP is a ten day program designed to help at-risk teenagers who are struggling with psychiatric issues. A joint decision with my parents was made that this program would help get me back on my feet again.
I entered the program reluctant and scared. New faces appeared to stare me down.
The rigor of the program left me exhausted – seven and a half hours of individual and group therapy and other activities designed to teach us to “cope.”
What the therapists didn’t realize was how much it hurt to open up past wounds in order to let the healing begin.
Stories of isolation and desperation filled my ears and invaded my mind as group members shared their stories. I was there as I heard how their lives were filled with addiction, a desire just to be loved by others, or a desire to love themselves.
I could relate to each and every one of them. Their stories pierced my heart as I felt their pain. I questioned my own pain, whether it was even pain at all. I came home crying almost every day. I wanted it all to be over. I wanted normalcy. I wanted to go back to familiar faces. I wanted this new pain to end.
During one memorable day, all of us in PHP were taking a break. Activity group was what we called it. We all sat in a circular formation of blue and red chairs. The room was cold, as it always was, perhaps to keep us awake during therapy.
I brought in my guitar and started playing. I soon gave my guitar to another girl and we started singing Taylor Swift songs at the top of our lungs. The boys just rolled their eyes and smiled. A therapy dog named Handsome entered. His bright world was barred from life and brilliance, for he was completely deaf.
I believe that we all have barriers within us, a certain darkness that stops us from enjoying the life we are entitled to have. This darkness can be entirely emotional, in which we build our own walls within ourselves that prevent light from entering in. Also, this darkness can be entirely physical, with disabilities such as blindness or deafness that essentially embody the absence of light. We all learn to adapt to the darkness, but also to “see” in different ways. A blind peron’s world is “seen” through his/her sense of hearing.
The sense of hearing is intensified, to make colors in a black world. Deafness is a little trickier, because although deaf can see, brilliance is denied.
Handsome brought this concept to a whole other level. He conquered the “darkness” of being deaf by bringing brilliance to others’ lives. As I reached down to pet his furry head, he became a symbol of hope. Of all things, a deaf dog represented hope for my pain and for my group members’ pain, because he could not only “see” his world, but look straight through our hearts as if to say, “I’ve been there.”
I realized that even through our brokenness, hope is tangible. I saw the joy in the room, in place of hurting and chains. I heard music instead of dull silence. I saw a deaf dog bring brightness into group members’ eyes instead of tears.
I saw true smiles and laughter instead of despair. This joy filled my soul like a child who has never even known a fake smile. In that moment, we became children in spite of our problems and situations that were far beyond our age. We became children in that moment as we laughed away the pain.
True and glorious beauty shone so bright in each of my group member’s eyes. There were no prejudices, no judgment, no comparisons; only compassion and a desire to heal. I understand that light now.
Hope is tangible because even in the midst of my pain, I still found reason to laugh, to smile, to live. But not just to live, to be alive. Being alive meant fighting it with everything in me, just like Handsome fought through this disability.
Depression didn’t leave me when PHP ended, and I don’t think it ever truly will.
However, when I left PHP, I left with new weapons – new swords and armor – to fight this war within. Even now, I keep acquiring new weapons every day.
I stand up in my shadowy prison. I rise up and watch my walls crumble. Light enters my world as if I were looking straight into the sun. I run towards the light, towards glory and healing, away from this misery I once called my home. Now, home is somewhere in the distance.
I strive for healing as I continue on this journey. Hope is there. Hope is real.
Hope is tangible because I can feel it penetrate my soul even when the darkness is all around me. When my eyes see nothing but shadows, my soul looks for laughter and smiles in the moments such as that wonderful day at PHP that made life worth living.
Now, instead of dwelling on past mistakes, I look for lessons that can be learned and take off the mask of blame. I search for the seemingly insignificant moments such as seeing a smile from a stranger. These moments define me, instead of the dark prison of depression.
Light and darkness, good and evil, hope and despair; there is always a choice. This time, I choose light. I choose goodness. I choose hope.