I received an interesting comment from a friend on one of my recent posts about depression. She thanked me, of course, for tackling such difficult and stigmatized subjects, but suggested that I include suggestions for young adults on how to cope with, deal with, or avoid depression. This intrigued me, because I had never really thought of A Gothic Symphony in that regard before. Without giving too much away, the story is most certainly not intended to show that depression can be overcome; it’s probably more of a character study of what it’s like to live with depression in the first place.
You see, A Gothic Symphony really is a fictionalized account of my own teenage years. Many of the events and feelings that Amy experiences are drawn directly from my own life. And I never really thought too hard about what the lesson was, what the reader was meant to get out of it. I just needed to tell this story.
If there was an intended lesson in this book, it was to showcase depression to those who perhaps don’t understand it fully. To make it clear that it feels insurmountable, overwhelming, and utterly soul-crushing. That the very nature of the disease makes it feel impossible to escape.
If there is a message … it is this: you are not alone.
But stories have impacts, and readers draw lessons from them, intended or not. And my friend made the valid point that if I wanted people without depression to learn from it, people with depression are going to read it as well. And what are they going to glean from it themselves? In describing self-harm and dealing with suicide ideation, am I condoning such actions? Am I glorifying depression?
The obvious answer is an emphatic no. I would not want anyone to pick up a razor because they read my book. I absolutely would not want someone to attempt suicide because I talk about it in my story. That isn’t what this book is for, nor what I set out to do.
But reality has a way of being a little more subtle, a little more complicated, than a simple no. Because I want to make it abundantly clear: it’s okay to be depressed. And I choose these words carefully, because there’s a difference between feeling depressed and being depressed. Everyone feels depressed sometimes; it’s the nature of human consciousness. But for those who are depressed, for whom depression is an all-consuming way of life, it’s incredibly difficult to break out of the cycle of guilt, of feeling that your depression causes others harm, and in feeling this way becoming all the more depressed.
I believe depression is, in itself, uncontrollable. You can’t choose to be depressed; nor can you choose not to be. The brain chemistry that brings it on completely changes your way of thinking, your behaviors, and your emotions. And while everyone experiences depression differently—perhaps because everyone experiences depression differently—one of the most pervasive feelings that we have is that we are utterly alone in the world: that we are unlike anyone around us, and that no one could possibly understand the struggle of getting through each and every day.
And you’re right. No one can understand what it’s like. But some of us—those of us who live with it every day—can come pretty close. And if there is a message in A Gothic Symphony for those of us who suffer, it is this: you are not alone. You don’t need to suffer in solitude. I want you to feel comfortable reaching out to the rest of us, to those who do know what it’s like.
It’s okay to be depressed; and it’s okay to ask for help. You’re not weak for needing help—you’re strong for enduring depression. It takes an emotional strength you don’t even know you have, that perhaps you can’t even admit to yourself, and certainly one that those who don’t know depression will never understand fully.
So reach out. If it takes every last ounce of strength, talk to someone. Talk to me. Write a blog, or leave a comment. I know you feel alone, but believe me, you’re not.