When I was 18, I started to feel sad.
It was if a black cloud were hindering my judgments. I began to meticulously censor what I said and did on the schoolyard, and spent hours afterwards dissecting everyone’s reactions around me. I groomed myself to speak a certain way, sit a certain way, and feel a certain way. I had to be the best, and I had to have the best façade.
I began to believe that I would never succeed. If I didn’t get the best grades, I told myself, I was a failure. I subsequently stopped every hobby I had, tennis, writing, theatre and singing, and became embarrassed of my childhood.
When I was 12, I wrote myself a note. “Life is too short to regret things,” I said at the time. “Stay with the people that make you happy and forget the people that don’t. You only have one life. Wake up every day with a smile. Always be who you are and the rest will come.”
Somewhere along the way, I guess, this was forgotten. At 19, I dated boy after boy, always accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction—I felt misunderstood. I began to wonder why no one could make me happy.
My sadness was now beside me. I felt lost. Soon, I didn’t want to leave the house. I couldn’t be bothered to talk. I felt permanently drunk, as if a fog had permanently settled behind my eyes. I didn’t feel present, and this only made me lonelier.
My black cloud followed me as I drank. And as I drank more. And whenever I thought it had gone, whenever I thought of happier times, it’d reappear, reminding me of reasons to feel sadness. I started to crave a life without pain; I wanted to leave behind the mess I had created. I truly hated myself.
“I’m fine,” I said, when my family became concerned about me. I forced a smile.
“You should talk to someone,” my doctor said, at my first appointment.
“You need to learn to talk about yourself,” I was told by a psychologist. “You need to learn how to cry.” But I couldn’t.
“The brain looks perfectly fine,” a neurosurgeon said in his report, after I received a CAT scan and an EEG. “On a side note, patient looks unusually skinny.”
“But can’t he fucking see it?” I told my father. “Can’t anyone see this huge fucking cloud? Why can’t they see it?”
And then, for the first time, I cried.
I was on the way home from my first psychiatric appointment, with my father, having just being prescribed medication. I felt consumed, suffocated by the constraints of the car, by this cloud, and by fucking everything else in between.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to be happy.”
I’d had enough. There was so much noise. So much fucking noise. I could see, at that moment, but I couldn’t see clearly. My sadness was in the way. I was facing my pain and I was scared. I could feel its fog in front of me. It was inside of me, as I breathed in and out. I saw it on the road. It was seeping in through the air-conditioner. Out of the trees. Out of the eyes of any stranger. Sadness permeated throughout the air, an unending languor. And in that very moment, I became tired of running. I was exhausted. I cried, and I cried, and I cried.
A black cloud pouring rain.
And then something happened. I closed my eyes and I took a breath. Dad turned the volume down, placing his hand on my leg. The tears stopped. I was tired of running. At that moment, I realised that I had, in fact, forgotten a life without pain. I realised that, in fact, I wasn’t okay.
With my father’s hand on my lap, I stopped running. I embraced it; it was time that we worked together.
I used to be afraid of my sadness. I’m not anymore.
I know that it will linger; there’ll be sunny days and just as many rainy ones. I know I will laugh at times. I know I will cry. But at least I will feel. In moments when the black cloud consumes me, I’ll look back to the moment in the car when I put my hands up and said ‘help’, when I broke myself down and hit rock bottom. I’ll look back to the moment when I agreed to work with my sadness.
And if I’m patient enough, in the future, it may leave.
Maybe I’m just in a storm, filled with lighting, thunder and rain. Pure darkness. Maybe I’m in a long rainstorm that, with some extra help, will clear; a long winter giving rise to a beautiful spring.
Maybe the remnants of my sadness will lead to something brighter than ever before. And in that moment, when the water droplets now feed the seeds, where sprouts will bloom and spirits will grow, I will find myself in a field; plentiful and evergreen.
I can feel it now.
I’ll feel stronger and lighter and free. When I think back to the moment when my sadness consumed me, I’ll dance and I’ll shout. I’ll feel the sun on my skin.
Although I constantly have to remind myself that I deserve happiness, I am learning that the love and validation I once sought from others ultimately comes from within. After all, how could I let someone into my life if I truly didn’t know what that life was in the first place?
I now say what’s on my mind. I am rediscovering new hobbies again. In fact, I blew the dust off of my childhood keyboard just last week. I’m finding solace in my writing. When I feel, I’m learning not to be afraid of feeling entirely. Most importantly, though, the love that I was seeking from others, I am slowly finding in myself.
I wrote a letter to myself today, in response to the note I’d been given from my 12 year old self.
“Every day, I surprise myself with the strength I’ve shown. Every new day leads me one step closer to loving myself, both unapologetically and absolutely. I’m confident that I’m close to something brighter than ever before. I am worthy of happiness. I am special and strong.”
I’ll beat my depression.
It won’t beat me.
Louis Hanson has also written for the Guardian, The Huffington Post, Acclaim magazine and the Australia Times, is a student at the University of Melbourne and an LGBTQIA+ youth advocate.
Instagram: @louishanson & website: louishanson.com.
Image: Em Licen (Instagram: @oystel).