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When the black sea of depression threatens to overwhelm you, can you remember who you truly are?
One of the top 5 entries for August’s Muse of the Month writing theme, with the cue “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am”, taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
That is when I saw her; my neighbour’s teenaged daughter, precariously perched on the railing of her balcony adjacent to mine. Her eyes met mine, even as my throat birthed a shocked scream.
“Don’t scream or I’ll jump now,” she said, her eyebrows raised in a warning.
“Okay…Okay I won’t…Don’t jump okay.” My voice was shaking and I felt my heart drop to my stomach.
“I will jump. That’s what I’m here for. I’ll do it after you go back in.”
She was really young. Fourteen, or fifteen, long black hair, and dressed in a night shirt and harem pants. I had to do something, I couldn’t let her jump.
“Can we talk for a while?” I asked, hoping she would say yes.
“You can’t talk me out of it.”
“No…No. I just want to talk. Can you just get off the railing, back into the balcony. Please. For as long as we are talking?”
She seemed to think about it for a few seconds and then warily stepped in. I heaved a silent sigh of relief.
“Where are your parents?”
“At work. They come home really late.”
“Is that why you’re doing this? You feel they aren’t with you enough?”
“Because nobody loves me. Not just my parents. I feel so alone.” Tears began streaming down her face.
“You must have friends. In school?”
“No one that understands me. And I’m a loser you know. I’m not as cool as them. Not very intelligent either. They go out and have fun, and I always get left behind. I’m boring. All I do is read books. And I don’t even look pretty like the other girls. I’m fat and ugly. No one likes me. I’m just so stupid and worthless.”
“You like books?”
“Nice. I knew a girl like you once. She liked to read a lot too. And she also felt really lonely. She thought she was a failure. She didn’t like herself at all, and thought that others hated her too.”
“What happened to her?”
“Well, one day she used a kitchen knife to cut her veins. Luckily, her parents found her in time. She was saved. They took her to a psychiatrist, and she was diagnosed with depression.”
“She was mad?”
“No. Depression is not madness. It’s like being sick, sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes there is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, or hormones. There are many reasons. But it’s not madness. There are medicines and counselling. People can get better.”
“Did the girl get better?”
“Yeah! She did. She grew up and she studied literature in college. She read the works of some other writers, like Sylvia Plath, who also battled with depression. It helped her to know that she was not alone. There are others like her too. She also realized that her identity and worth do not depend on how ‘cool’ or pretty she is. She is a pretty good writer herself now.”
“Do you think I have depression?”
“It could be. We won’t know until you go see a psychiatrist. You should tell your parents.”
There was silence for a few minutes. She stared out into the darkness. There was a light there in her eyes now, that wasn’t there a few minutes ago, as if the will to live had taken residence in them.
“Will you help me tell them?”
“Sure!” I smiled at her and she smiled back.
“Do you want to sleep at my place tonight?” I asked. “I can’t sleep, and I’d love your company. Leave a message for your parents and come over. I can show you my collection of books.”
“Okay,” she said.
Later that night, when her parents came home, we told them together. They were shocked and upset. But thankfully, they understood. They promised to take her to the psychiatrist.
As I turned to leave, she stopped me with a question.
“That girl you were telling me about…It was you, wasn’t it?”
I nodded silently and smiled to let her know that she would always have a friend in me.
I lay in bed, thinking back to my days fighting depression. Some part of it still hasn’t left me. Some days I feel I am on a cliff, staring down into a black sea that just wants to swallow me. But every time I prevail. As I drifted off to sleep, I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
Pic credit: Suzanne Nilsson (Used under a CC license)