I have been waiting for over a month to tell my boyfriend of over six months that I love him, and the closest that I’ve come to feeling the moment was “right” was last night as we walked home from an outdoor jazz concert. The music wasn’t magical, nor was the ambiance quite what I had envisioned as the backdrop to finally saying those three big words.
We were half-holding hands as a result of the awkwardness of the large shoulder bag full of grassy sheets I was carrying, and there was a glaring bright advertisement for H&M breathing down our necks. But although we were surrounded by other park-goers and in a neighborhood that was the exact opposite of the tree-lined blocks of Lakeview where I live, it felt like we were in our own mini bubble in the weekend chaos of downtown Chicago. I tried to maneuver my bag so I could be closer to him as we walked, and I tripped into his chest when he looked down at me and said, “You are my favorite person in the world.” He said it softly and simply. A fact. In that moment, I wanted to tell him that I love him. And in that moment I loved him so much. But I didn’t tell him. I didn’t say I love you because that moment was not perfect. I didn’t say I love you because he was telling me that I was his favorite person in the world shortly after I had been crying at the park. Shortly after he apologized for his lack of understanding and frustrated digs he had made at our failed sushi dinner date the night before, when I was also crying. I’m crying all of the time these days because I am somewhere in the chasm of a long bout of depression.
I’m trying what feels like every possible solution or medication I can find, and no matter what I do everything is hard. And when everything is hard and you’re crying all the time, it’s easy to watch the weeks slip by without one perfect night to tell the person you care for most in the world how you feel.
Sugar-coating anxiety and depression benefits no one. Whether we have struggled directly or felt the impact through friends or family, we have all been stung by depression’s abrupt and indiscriminate attack on the sufferer’s brain chemistry. As most of us now know, depression can make those afflicted think in extremes. This isn’t an opinion or excuse or convenient explanation for irrational cognitive processing (acting “crazy”)—the effect of depression on how people perceive their surroundings and internalize reality has been scientifically demonstrated as involuntarily different than healthy-minded individuals.
Depression can make you think that since your boyfriend couldn’t read your mind on your dinner date and know that you wanted to order dishes that you could share, rather than your own personal entrees, you should probably break up now because there is no chance that he will ever truly understand you. Depression will convince you on that night when all of your friends happened to be busy with other plans that you are unlovable and the world is better off without you. And even when you’ve battled this demon rerouting the “normal” responses in your brain to the extreme ones for years, and can recognize when depression is tampering with your mind, you cannot always control the emotional reaction that follows. I know that this is not rational, you tell yourself. I know that my boyfriend loves me and my friends want me in their lives… so why can’t I stop crying? Why can I not shut off this voice in my head telling me that I’m worthless? Why, no matter how hard I try or how far I’ve come, do I always find myself back in this dark and hopeless place?
I wish I had all of the answers, but I don’t. In fact, it would be entirely understandable to view depression as unredeemable. What good could possibly come from such an awful, ugly disease, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States every year? I will never argue that I am glad I have depression, nor that I am glad depression exists. It has caused immeasurable pain to the most important people in my life, and far too many bright and wonderful people have been robbed of their light as a result of its self-esteem decimation. Depression blows. But its effect on my life has not been exclusively negative. I have a few platitudes that have helped me cope, and sometimes I can even see the world as brighter than it might have otherwise been.
My greatest solace is that depression has, albeit by force, deepened my ability to value the moments I do wind up with. When plans are upended, when social anxiety sends me running out the door of a party carrying my shoes, when boyfriends wipe tears instead of clinking glasses at the bar, when the scariest breakdowns lead to the deepest, most vulnerable conversations… that’s when I’ve learned that life does not happen in the moments that I’ve planned, but in the moments that have been disarranged by emotions and forces beyond my control.
Later that night, my kind and loving boyfriend squeezed me tightly into his chest as I cried tears of sadness that I couldn’t explain because I don’t understand them myself. And he held me on the couch until I had exhausted myself and did not have an ounce of emotion to give back. That moment, that love, was more expressive than my storybook-planned lakeside Navy Pier firework “I love you” ever could have been.
Moments that are easy for most—eating sushi, a vacation in Mexico, a housewarming party—can destabilize and crumble in the blink of an eye when my depression is at its worst. But I now embrace those messy moments with a resolve and assuredness that I have only found in myself because of my depression.
I used to doubt myself, and should myself. You should be able to stop crying at dinner and pull yourself together like a fun girlfriend. You should stop being such a pathetic fucking loser and go back inside to the party like a normal person. But shattered perfect plans can be pieced back together in unexpected ways. And in those worst and darkest moments, I can remind myself that it’s just a moment. There will be another moment after it that will probably continue to hurt. But eventually this series of moments will end, and I know that the pain and despair I am experiencing does not define my life, but rather a moment of it.
My solace won’t be others’ solace. But finding a fragment of meaning in my depression, a genuine source of growth that I would not have otherwise realized, has given me the strength to face another day when simply existing feels hopeless.