To be Depressed and Happy

It’s a really trippy feeling, you know.

It’s like I’m smiling while I’m drowning. It’s like hugging a knife or skipping through traffic. I don’t know. I could sit here and try and piece together many more fancy metaphors but none will truly capture the complexity of what it is like to be depressed and happy.

I suffered from childhood depression growing up. I was never formally diagnosed but leafing through my middle school diaries, it’s pretty evident. At school, I always found myself being someone’s punching bag and at home, I witnessed my mother with schizophrenia wither away from reality and my parents’ divorce play out in front of my eyes. At the vulnerable age of 11, at times I contemplated a world more peaceful and what way could I get there even if that meant hurting myself.

Luckily, my father didn’t buy into the idea of our Blackness making us invulnerable and unsusceptible to feelings. He took me to therapy on and off during my childhood and early teens.

It helped.

But probably one of the most sobering revelations I came to in my young adulthood was understanding that depression is not exactly something I will ever escape. It’s a cycle that I will conquer at times and at other times, fail. Therapy was never an end-all, be-all solution. In fact, I began to understand that therapy was just a tool to help me navigate through my depression–not end it.

Another revelation I’ve had, and I’m not sure whether to find this promising or exhausting, is that amidst my depression, I can find happiness. And this happiness doesn’t absolve my depression. The two just coexist–not peacefully may I add. It gets chaotic in my head sometimes. Behind every thought of affirmation is this sense of doubt and dread. Behind every moment where I feel like I can breathe, I’m back to feeling suffocated.

On the most important days of my life is when my depression and sense of happiness battle each other. My senior prom, I was elated to look so bomb, even though I was riding solo dolo, but the night before I woke up in tears because I had dreamed my mother was well enough to help me find a dress for prom…

On the day that I decided to tell a man that I loved him, for the first time, I felt a wave of self-doubt and this nagging voice telling me that since my wall was now down, he was going to hurt me in the worst ways.

The day that I decided to defy the rules and wear a crop top as a fat woman, I couldn’t help the inevitable feeling of self-consciousness. Every affirming “You got this. You’re beautiful” was followed by a “Girl, take that shit off.”

A couple of days before I graduated from high school, I was on the phone with my mom. She took a brief break from her usual rants of delusion–a symptom of her illness–and fell silent. It was weird. It’s like, for a moment, I felt my mom. My real mom. My mom who, once upon a time wasn’t a prisoner to her own mind, breathing on the other line. She said to me, so clearly, “I’m so proud of you. I wish I could’ve been there for you.” I just remember both of us breaking down. I just remember feeling this sense of hope like maybe she was gonna get better… then just as soon as that moment came, it left and she hung up.

In moments where I’m suppose to feel nothing but sheer happiness, there is something always there to remind me that my life is not as perfect as I would like for it to be.

I think this is now where I’m suppose to say something super encouraging like “but I’m gonna overcome my depression!” but honestly, I can’t do that right now. Life ain’t always peachy. I’ve come to accept that my depression-happiness is a part of who I am and in my cynical mind, it’s a beautiful part about me. I have no issue with admitting that sometimes I have to break to heal and I find strength in that.

But at least when I break into a thousand pieces, I form a mosaic.




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