I Don’t Know What Happiness Looks Like

I was eight-years-old the first time I remember feeling overwhelmed by simple emotions.

I was sitting alone at my little desk in my mom’s home office working on math homework, my gangly legs swinging from the chair. I was staring at a row of multiplication problems and I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to solve them. The more I looked at them, the more it became impossible for me to focus. As my frustration grew, my brain turned into this chaotic mess of anger and sadness that took up all the space and made it so that there was no room for things like 25 x 7. It was so consuming that I couldn’t think straight. I started pressing the tip of my pencil into my arm repeatedly in an attempt to focus my mind on to a single feeling.

When I was fifteen I made a suicide plan that I wrote in a notebook next to doodles of checkerboard hearts and I hurt myself every single day.

When I was 18, I once tried drink myself away. Luckily, that is super hard to do, I was a major lightweight, and I just woke up with a killer hangover.

When I was 23, I crumbled like never before. I couldn’t do anything. I would go to work and stare at my computer screen for eight straight hours without accomplishing a single thing. I would come home and go to bed at 5 pm because when I was sleeping I didn’t have to listen to the chaos going on inside my own head. I wrote a goodbye note and carried it around with me in my purse so that I would have it on me, just in case.

And then, for the first time in my life, I actually told someone…which meant I had to tell more people…which sucked…but I don’t carry notes around with me anymore.

I know that’s a very brief summary of a lifetime, but that’s because there is nothing special about that story. Depression effects one in eight adolescents. I just happened to be statically unlucky. However, that’s exactly why I want to share it. I think it’s ironic that the illness that makes you feel most alone is one of the most shared illnesses on the planet.

At the beginning of this year, when I felt like I was losing my mind, I spent hours scouring the internet looking for anyone who felt the way that I did. While there are forums, Reddit threads, and YouTube channels on the subject, they all said the same thing.

“I felt sad. I felt out of control. I felt overwhelmed.”

These are all true, but they didn’t tell me what it felt like. We all feel sad, out of control, and overwhelmed sometimes. Those are very human responses to how insane life is. I knew what those words felt like inside of me, but that’s not what I was going through.

I recently saw the movie “Get Out”, late to the party, I know. There is this scene where the main character is hypnotized and pushed into “The Nowhere Place”. It looks somthing similar to outer space. There are stars, no gravity, and he floats through nothingness with no way to anchor himself. He can’t speak. He opens his mouth to yell for help but nothing comes out. He just drift further and further away from the light.

While depression is not at all what “Get Out” is about, the moment I saw that scene I thought to myself that’s what it feels like. It feels like you have no control, no way to ask for help, and you’ll just keep floating on forever and ever.

That was the kind of thing I was looking for during my late night internet research. I wanted to know that the way my body and mind felt was not unique, because maybe if someone else had felt the same way, they could tell me that I wouldn’t feel like that forever.

I didn’t want to hear that I wouldn’t always be sad. I wanted to hear that I wouldn’t feel like I was moving through molasses all the time.

So, that’s why I wrote down exactly what it felt like. For the past year I’ve been recording the feelings as they came along through some very poorly written poems. The first one I wrote about eleven months ago, sitting on my bathroom floor and crying while typing in the notes app on my phone. The last one I wrote three weeks ago.

And I put them in a book. (meaning a PDF I built using InDesign, don’t think this is official or anything).

I wrote them a little bit for me, but a lot for the sad souls out there who want to know what it is that they are feeling. I’m not saying that I have an answer to what depression feels like, but I do have a lot of cheesy metaphors and overused cliches to share my own experience. They won’t apply to everyone, but it’s certainly what it’s like for me.

This is the first time I have ever shared poetry outside of a classroom and certainly the first time I’ve ever shared such personal work before. So, please be gentle.

You can download the PDF below if you want to check it out.
Fair warning: It’s 26 straight pages of sadness, so skip out if that’s not your thing.

Here You Go:
I Don’t Know What Happiness Looks Like

I Don't Know