When You Were Born 'Blue'
I was born blue. I entered the world with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, and it wasn’t until a hasty removal that oxygen entered my bloodstream and I became that blotchy, mottled pink of most white babies.
If you look through photo albums from the time I was 2 until the time I was 6, you’ll notice a common theme: I look miserable. I often refused to smile for the camera, which was a principle I carried on throughout my adolescent and adult life. I’ve been told that I declined to look or acknowledge the person carrying me if I “didn’t like them” and would actually turn my face in the other direction. Sorry, Grandpa. For my aunt’s wedding, I apparently walked down the aisle as a frowning flower girl, tossing the petals to the ground with a scowl.
I can’t say why I seemed like such a miserable kid. I had a wonderful childhood. Looking through these old photos now, I can’t help but find that stoic scowl endearing. It was the start of what came to be the faint, consistent tinge of melancholy that colored my childhood. It wasn’t until years later, after being dragged to counseling as an angry 14-year-old, that I was officially diagnosed with depression. And just like that, I became another teenage statistic. I didn’t know I was depressed. I just knew that sometimes a creeping emptiness would settle into my bones and paint the world in a different light.
When I was 15, I learned depression was something that needed to be corrected. I was prescribed medication, and my body tried its best to reject it. I stopped sleeping, I stopped eating. So I tried a different medication. I became a blob. I stopped painting, I stopped writing. When I looked out my window, I just saw things in their elemental form: trees, grass, streets, flowers. I felt one level removed from everything around me, as if I were watching a film about my life from somewhere else.
This newfound apathy was, in many ways, a nice change. I was no longer affected by things. I was walking through life untouched. But it wasn’t my life anymore. My sadness, for better or worse, was a strength as much as a weakness. It permitted me to feel the entire scope of the human experience; it highlighted my joys as much as it destroyed my lows. It allowed me the vision to appreciate the beauty around me.
The beauty was, at times, devastating to absorb. It kept me under my covers on warm summer days, in lukewarm bath water when I lacked the energy and enthusiasm for life to pick myself up. It also put a strain on several relationships. I felt that unmedicated, I was too raw and too harsh for the people around me. I was all sharp edges, and I was afraid that those I held dear would cut themselves if they got too close. I remained on medication mostly for the convenience of others. So I continued to dilute myself, putting that thin layer between us as a means of protection. It seemed a reasonable tradeoff if it meant an easier life.
When I learned about minimalism, I assessed everything in my life, including the bare bones of myself. Choosing to live with less brought me down the well-paved path of living with intentionality. With less to distract me, I had to look inward. Meditation, yoga, long walks alone with my thoughts. Empty spaces and cleared schedules. It was through this slow, careful deconstruction that I made the choice to go off of my medication and face the terrifying extent of my own feelings.
It took me a long time to learn that the melancholy never goes away. I just learned to place it in a box, close the lid and put in on the top shelf of my closet. And sometimes, when I’m alone, it’s nice to take it out of the box. I can hold it gingerly between my fingers. I can appreciate that it is actually a rather beautiful shade of blue, which, if applied appropriately, provides me with a profound feeling of empathy for others. This strange, sad beauty is just as much a part of who I am as the lines of my palms, the shape of my eyes. The way my laugh sounds when I go full guttural and abandon all sense of restraint. It’s not so much the monkey on my back as the ridges in my spine. I can keep it at bay, under restraint, but it is a part of me in the same way cells are part of me.
For many people, this part of themselves is too much to bear. It is too heavy, too much anguish to take out of the box. It’s not an option to just exercise and eat well and get outside and meditate and do all of those things they prescribe you when they don’t understand that depression is not quite a disease, but an unwelcome, beloved relative arriving at your doorstep with no notice, barging its way into your life, canceling all of your plans and making a home in your bed.
Minimalism is not a prescription for your depression, and it sure as hell isn’t going to cure you of anything. There isn’t always a cure. If there was, I would be wary of the long list of muttered side effects. My answer might not be your answer, and that’s OK. I was able to use it as a tool to learn more about myself. Through self-reflection, I learned to recognize my patterns and prepare for the storm, and to remind myself that it is temporary. That it’s only who I am sometimes. I ride it out, let myself feel all of the things. I read the Sylvia, the Virginia, the Anne. I watch the sad movies, listen to the sad songs. I take the long baths. I sleep. I am kind to myself, patient with myself. It ends, it lets me go, and I move forward.
When I cleared out the excess in my life, I was left alone with myself. My sad, cynical, hot-headed, kind-hearted, happy little self. And it was enough.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian