The promise of spring lives just out of reach beyond the recently cleaned windows of a bagel shop where my partner and I are getting breakfast. The parking lot fills in the gloomy afternoon. It's merely four degrees Celsius. The sun patiently hides behind darkened clouds.
That promise of spring, seemingly, is always out of reach. And the depression lingers. The winter does not let go. Even a breath and thick exhale holds no power over this.
We're in line. The cashier rings up orders, and fresh bagels are brought out of the ovens, tray by tray. Hot and steaming, placed into their displays by hair-net-wearing women. My partner orders because, right now, I can't regurgitate the strength to make contact with a single person in this place. It's cold. Despite the hot egg pans smoking on the other side of the glass on a greasy, needs-to-be-cleaned counter.
Then, there is it. I'm scanning the bagel shop. Customers chatter amongst each other with their meals before them. Some of their meals are untouched because they're too busy talking passionately about their lives, but me? I'm staring at the back of my partner's head as she leans against the glass, eyeing the endless choice of condiments.
I'm staring apathetically now because I've been hit by a bus.
That bus, or depression, is a specter that lives around every familiarly blind corner. It has a relentless power. I wouldn't consider it sinister, but ambivalent, and when it's present, it is present. It is a force. A vacuum turned on at full blast. I am the dirt on the ground.
She finishes ordering our food. I think about how I'll be too exhausted when we get home to even touch the hot bagel she's spent money on. I'll be too sick to think about having something run down my esophagus. It won't even have a chance to pass the large lump lodged in there.
It's curious—to anticipate my inability to complete simple tasks because of how I feel right now. Depression sets you up for failure, even perceived failure. Future failure, too. It robs you of any belief that someday you'll hold victory like a newborn baby.
She asks me if I want a drink—or maybe an order of cream cheese to go. But I say no. When you're depressed, no is the most accessible word to utter. But she doesn't know I'm depressed. One of the worst parts of this affliction is how impossible it is to articulate how it feels to others without sounding utterly melodramatic. Phrases like "I want to die" or "I wish it would just end" fall off the tongue like stones bound for still water.
And they sink.
It's a subconscious, visceral experience. Every sound loses its high-end frequency as if you're underwater. Words are muffled as if they're spoken through a wet rag tightly tied around the face. And you wring your ears out to hear the faintest of pleas. A bit of gossip from a stranger is like a slice of fresh cake when you've lost the ability to coherently understand voices.
I make a beeline for the bathroom to get away from the business of the bagel shop. But unfortunately, it's crowded and too much for me to handle.
In the background, I hear, faintly, that she's paying for our order, and it'll be ready momentarily. Unlike me, who's never ready. And every moment feels like an eternity on the outskirts of hell. When I make it down the hall, the men's bathroom is out of order, so I anxiously make a choice to use the woman's bathroom. It's not an emergency, but I do need a solitary space to collect myself before the quick drive home.
Being behind the wheel in this condition? Good thing I have a passenger.
She's waiting out there, and I can tell she's growing impatient, or maybe it's just my mind putting more pressure on me. For a second, I drop to the toilet and sit. Clench my fists and scratch at my worn jeans. In and out, I breathe. There's a song in my head, and the lyrics make no sense. There's a minor melody, but it swerves like a car with no brakes on thick winter ice, then there's a knock at the door. It's not her—some other unfortunate soul who has to cross my callous path. I leave and let them in, avert eye contact so the woman doesn't judge me for being in her bathroom and make my way back into the crowded restaurant.
She's waiting by the front door. So lovely. For the briefest moment, everything numb has shifted to feeling everything delicate and pure. Her eyes connect with mine with a relative expression of selflessness, and she still doesn't know how badly I want to die.
In the car, a pause as I shakily light a cigarette. She notices now, but she doesn't say anything. The rain tickles the dirty windshield as I put the keys in the ignition, and the wiper blade clears my sight. I inhale, roll down the window and let go of the smoke. But I can't let go of this darkness. It's a map now. A guide. A trusted source that gives me fake news about who I am.
I should never trust it, but I do, even if it wants to maim me.
We're driving now. Traffic is usual for a Monday afternoon. I put on a playlist of songs that lyrically explain what battle is actively being fought in my head. As we pause at an interaction, we're the first car. I immediately think—if it turns green on the other side, and I press down on the gas, head straight, it'll all be over. I don't even have to turn the wheel. I just need to let them hit me, but I look to my right. She's nibbling on her toasted sesame egg and veggie bagel. No delicacy. She's a mess, and it's lovely. It's so simple—how she is so focused on joyful nourishment while I, a nervous wreck, am two steps away from a panic attack on Main Street. She drops some mayonnaise on her yellow Santa Cruz shirt and curses at herself for how poorly constructed these things are, but with the edge of knowing how much she loves it.
My lips try to crack a soft smile, but they're pulled back by the idea that if I didn't tell her how I was feeling and locked myself in a room when we got home, maybe she'd forget I existed, and perhaps I could be done with it, done with everything. Done with bagels and done with writing these morbid verses. Done with flowers and done with winter. Done with everything, even the relentless splinters resulting from feeling too much, too quickly and too potently.
It's an eternal beast that lives and hides nearly behind the skull, and even on bagel runs, it shows up. Even when a particularly clever virus eats at us, it shows up. Even when we've got an unaddressed problem, it shows up. Even when she's perfect, and I'm doing what I can to be OK, it shows up.
Even when those dying stars above are aligned, and it seems like I've finally got my shit together, it shows up. It is always there, and it always will be.
What matters is loving it for what it is—a part of who I am, not the whole of who I am. One day, it'll take me, and it'll all be over. I won't have bagels anymore, and I won't have her. I won't have the written word or a song in my head, but what I will have left behind are these warnings and musings on a condition that both crippled me and helped me find a way to create art and, most importantly, through what I've made, maybe I helped a few other people to feel less alone.
That's truly the only hope that can come from this burgeoning hopelessness—that in my despair, I shone a light and showed even one other person that this affliction is not an isolated incident, that this affliction is what makes us uniquely connected.
Sadness is inherent to every seed. When the flowers come, they'll be for graves or grace. No one knows. But what matters is that you nourish the seed, bury it in love.
It’s the only way it’ll survive.
*Feature image by Jorm Sangsorn (Adobe)