I stare at an unzipped pouch lying on the floor, its contents spilled all over the ground.
Look at you. You can’t even get a pencil out right.
I pick up each pencil, my grip so loose I expected something to slip out of my grasp and fall again.
Only someone as stupid as you could do this.
I roll my eyes and sigh.
Shut up. I don’t have time for you.
I move faster, shoving everything back into the bag before anyone can notice. Heart pounding, I slide back into my seat and stare at my teacher, praying no one saw.
Two periods later, I sit in the back of geometry, staring at a screen with shapes and squiggles, comprehending nothing. The teacher drones on, asking the class if two triangles are similar. I whisper a “no,” unable to look at my teacher. He couldn’t have heard me, though — my voice drowned in the overwhelming waves of “yes”s.
You’re so stupid, I think. Why are you in Honors? You don’t belong here, or anywhere. All your friends are smart, and nice, and funny, and you’re not. You don’t deserve them.
No one wants you here. You’d be doing the world a favor if you died.
Shut up, I scream in my head.
I study the board for an explanation of my error. I laugh when I realize I’ve only made a simple mistsake. I erase my work, ignoring a tiny voice chiding me.
Once, I believed these words my mind whispered to my heart. I never had any doubts about their credibility because I had no reason to not believe myself. When my struggle began, I saw this and more as a wall. I didn’t know I could scale it.
The course of my life changed five years ago, during a time intended to be my childhood. My self-deprecating thoughts crept in as winter nights do — with no warning and at a pace slow enough you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late.
The more I hated myself, the more I hated others. Rejecting joy meant being selfless to me; why should I let myself be happy when others are not? When other people are watching their families get killed, or starving to death, or living under cruel dictatorships?
How dare other people be happy when horrible things went on in the world? They accepted lies with a smile while I embraced the painful truth. I believed they were weak, lost in their facade of happiness and unwilling to acknowledge suffering.
In truth, I envied them. I forgot the warmth of happiness because of how empty I felt. I envied their strength to smile despite everything. I saw happiness as a prize reserved for those who deserved it, and I did not think I did.
It does not take much to please a nine-year-old. The simple pleasures in life once filled my entire body with joy; writing, drawing, even eating a good meal turned the corners of my mouth up. Anything resembling a joke coaxed laughter out of me, but the times I laughed tapered off as I fell more and more down a pit of self-hatred, believing I deserved no joy.
To do the things I once loved meant letting myself be happy. As my motivation dwindled, so did my experiences with joy. Sadness became a crutch I leaned on to live. Its familiarity kept me comfortable, but I hated it.
I hated how sadness defined me. I hated who I became when I embraced it.
People knew me as the happy child, running around and screaming at the top of my lungs. The fearless child who dared to sprint in empty halls, who dared to exist. I did not know that child.
At ten years old, I did not know myself and I did not want to.
“I’m so tired,” I whispered.
Lack of sleep played a key factor in my perpetual weariness, but others played louder. For months, I fought to live with no guilt about selfishness. For months, I fought a war with my own mind, refusing to give in. The war drained me of all my persistence.
10-year-old me didn’t know how people died. She didn’t know how difficult killing the human body is — slashing her wrists with a kitchen knife would not end her pain, or her life. She went to bed anyway knowing it would be the last time she slept.
The next day, I went to school like any normal day, not caring about learning. It’s not like it mattered. I had one reason to be attending that day: to say goodbye to my friends, just so they would know why I wouldn’t be at school for the rest of the year.
A part of me hoped I’d find some reason to keep living throughout the school day, though I never expected to find it. My friends reacted as I’d predicted: caring enough to beg me to keep living, but failing to give me any reasons to. I came home at the end of the day, all debts fulfilled and all farewells made, ready to die.
At home I gravitated toward the computer, the source of the little happiness I had let myself indulge in. Through it, I’ve made other friends that understood my struggles and calmed me on nights my own thoughts threatened to destroy me. In the past weeks, I found a new band, Skillet, which I loved more than I loved myself.
I knew a couple of songs, and discovering more of the band’s music before dying felt like a fine plan. A couple hours before I planned to die, I plugged my earbuds into my laptop and got onto YouTube, ready to immerse myself in the music. I listened to songs I knew at first, easing myself into the unknown.
While exploring their discography, I stumbled upon a song titled “The Last Night.” I had millions of other selections, but the preview for the lyric video drew me to the song. It showcased a certain verse: “The night is so long when everything’s wrong,” a statement that defined the darkness I never had the strength to sleep through because of everything in my life going wrong.
When listening to the song for the first time, the music took me on a journey that shouted to me, “You’re not alone.” It repeated back to me all the pain I’ve felt throughout the course of the past years, and kept echoing the same message, “You don’t have to be alone anymore. You’re not alone in your struggle. You’re not alone.”
For the first time in months, I cried. I felt. I wanted to live, to get better. Everything seemed so simple to fix.
Looking back, I recognize I fought depression, a mental illness, rather than myself. Depression targets anyone it fancies, discriminating against none, and tricks people into thinking they fight themselves when they fight an invisible enemy instead. This enemy of mine surpasses any others in my life, but it also surpasses all my teachers.
I know the cold well; I wallowed in it for so many years, bared my soul to its entirety. It numbed me to the point that I couldn’t feel its frigid hold on me, but it is because of the cold that I have a deeper appreciation for the heat.
I never became immune to the cold. I almost succumbed to it then and countless times afterwards. The cold makes us forget warmth, but someone can remind us of it — even the smallest of candles can give us heat, and therefore hope. Hope that I could improve spurred me on my road to recovery. At first, I walked a lonely path, having only a tiny flame as my companion, but as the flame within me grew with confidence, I made the road wider for more people to fit.
I don’t stand on the other side of the pain I felt five years ago. I still try to justify my existence, I still berate myself needlessly for every mistake.
I may be broken, yes, but I am more whole than before.
By Rochita Ghosh
Infographic by Rochita Ghosh