Someone once told me that when they trained to become a lifeguard, they had to swim around a pool with a weight tied around them. I have no idea if this is true. I don’t even remember who told me, but I know it was in high school and I know that in high school people tend to exaggerate.
But imagine that. Swimming with a weight tied around your ankle. A five pound weight. A ten. A twenty. An anchor. Imagine swimming. Imagine that you are a strong swimmer. You are confident of your abilities. But it will be tiring. It will be exhausting, won’t it? After a while, your breath will become shallow. Your limbs will tire. The water will splash closer and closer to your face. Your gasping breaths will draw chlorine as well as air. You will cough and sputter.
Nearby, people will swim, wondering why you struggle so. Because the current is not strong. The waves are small and manageable.
And you are a strong swimmer.
They will know this. People. Your friends. Your family. Your coworkers. Your fellow swimmers. They will not know about the anchor around your ankle. Why, they will wonder, are you so defeated by waves so small? Why do you seem to be drowning, when the pool is so shallow?
This is depression.
When you are depressed, you will be tired always. Not because you have worked a twelve hour shift or because you have run a marathon or because you are old and sick. Because your bed is quicksand. Because sleep means you don’t have to think. Because thinking is a spiral of tunneled vision and walking through gelatin. The air will be thicker. Things will move slower.
“Fighting depression,” they call it. “I am fighting depression.” “My cousin, he fights with depression.” That is the phrase. It is an accurate one. Depression is a battle, fought every day and in every instance. Depression makes a smile painful. Depression makes ice cream taste less sweet, the sun shine with less warmth, the movie less funny. There is no enjoyment. Not all the way. There is always part of you pulled down. Anchored. Some days are better than others. But always you fight it.
You will not know how to explain to people that simply getting out of bed was a battle. You will be embarrassed to tell them that you took seven baths on your day off, but you have not truly washed yourself in a week. You will sleep, but you will not rest.
You will want to tell people. You will want to talk. You will want them to understand. But the words will sound shallow and silly in your head. How could you ever explain what you don’t understand?
Yes I know. I know I shouldn’t be this sad. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know this isn’t that big of a deal. I’m so sorry. I wish I were some other way. Some other person. Please. Please don’t leave me. I may drown. I don’t want to drown alone.
You will answer arguments in your head that you will never give people the chance to give you. You will shy away from the judgement and impatience that you believe people will give you, and so you will never give them the opportunity to prove you wrong.
You will know this, but it won’t matter. You will know that it gets better. You will know that one day this will be better. You will know that, but it won’t matter.
It doesn’t matter.
You will know things will be better. You will know that. You will know you can make them better. But Christ, you will be so tired. So goddamn tired. It won’t always matter. You won’t know if it’s worth it. To keep fighting. Does knowing that one day you will reach the shore give you the strength to keep swimming?
You will want to die, but suicide won’t necessarily be a part of it. Not for every depression case. Maybe you will want to die, but you won’t want to kill yourself. You wouldn’t want to poison your friends and family that way. To hurt them. To leave their lives a wreckage. And maybe you will know better than to glorify suicide. You will know that 13 Reasons Why is utter bullshit and suicide isn’t a grand romantic gesture, it’s decades of hurt for those left behind.
But maybe you will think about what would happen if a bus were to hit you. If you were to get a rest. If you got to stop. If you could just stop swimming. Let the water close around you. Let the weight drag you down. Let your arms stop struggling, let the deep burn in your calves subside as you grow still.
These will be idle thoughts. Never taken seriously. After all, you’re a strong swimmer. You aren’t the kind to give up or give in. But the fact that you will have these thoughts at all. It’s the price of being tired. It’s the price of fighting depression. Of being a fighter.
You will not be able to explain this. Friends will wonder why you don’t text them, don’t love them, don’t reach out to them. How can you explain that it is so difficult to yell hello when pool water is sloshing in your ears and the taste of chemicals and snot is in your mouth and you cannot remember the last time you got a good, clear breath? How can you explain that you are embarrassed? That the voice in your head judges so loudly that you cannot believe they won’t judge you as well?
How can you explain that you never wanted to be this person? The sad person? The sad friend? But that you have tried, and you cannot make it stop. It won’t. You will fight.
You will swim on. You will survive. You will fight. You will cut the anchor from around your kicking legs.
You will reach painted concrete and discarded flip-flops, pulling yourself out of the pool. You will drag your aching arms out of the water, and twist onto your back. The water will pool around you, drying on the sunbaked stone. You will breathe deeply. Greedily. Gratefully. You will live.