When Depression Feels Like Living Inside a Glass Box
I sometimes live in a glass box.
It’s not like a greenhouse where healthy things grow, twisting up until they poke out of the top, wanting to reunite with the sun and never stop rising. It’s the opposite. Nothing good grows inside of the glass box; nothing comes from the glass walls that shield me in.
It’s lonely with no one else inside of it; it’s difficult to find the exit, even if it’s staring me in the face. I stand alone inside, trembling as I bite down on my lip. I can feel the glass coming in, ready to press coldly against my skin until a shiver runs down my spine, reminding me no one but I can save me.
Through the glass, I can see people, and often I will find myself watching them. They’ll be laughing and smiling, and I find my lips curling up into something similar — but I have no idea why. While I’m surrounded by four walls, I’m still next to them — I can touch them if I want to, but they cannot touch me. Their jokes meet my eyes, but I don’t feel joyous and I don’t feel like smiling. They are living while I am dying but I don’t want them to know, so I laugh, even if laughing feels like the hardest thing to do.
Sometimes I live in a glass box, but it is I who puts me there.
When I live in the glass box, I feel alone.
It’s something I know, which makes the box feel even more like a prison. It breathes with me, grows with me and even walks with me. It appears when I least expect it, the four walls approaching from a distance. I cannot outrun the walls; I cannot try to hide from the walls. They’ll come, and I’ll fall victim to them. So I don’t run, and I wait, letting them close in on me until they connect around me.
No one notices the walls. They cannot see the glass that shields them from me. They see me, a person with a smile and a shine in my eyes, but they don’t see the person trapped in their own box. No one can see the way I fragment from the edges, the emptiness beating in my chest, and their love cannot warm my cold heart. It’s frozen shut, and protected, and embalmed by my thoughts. They don’t see my brain in overdrive as I fight the walls, fight the chill that sweeps over me even when sweat appears at my brow.
Everything feels harder when I’m inside the box. The expectations I always feel suddenly seem like a chain wrapped around my neck, wanting to suffocate me and take me further into myself. Then there is the long list of reasons that everyone else perceives as they attempt to guess why I’m so distant; I must be tired because I’m not acting as I do usually or I must be feeling under the weather. Their words attack me at every angle. They come from nowhere, and everywhere all at once; they are aimed with precision, like arrows covered in fire on a battlefield, scorching me and burning me from the outside in as they land.
In truth, I don’t feel any of those things. I feel confused, I feel misunderstood and I feel scared. And because of all of those things, I stay in my glass box — because at least my glass box is familiar and predictable. And no one needs me to come out; no one willingly wants that level of negativity in their lives. Plus, my box isn’t all that bad; at least it has the decency to remain invisible, not alerting anyone to its presence. It makes it easier to lie; it makes it easier to conceal.
My box is safe, and that’s the biggest problem. My box isn’t terrifying and it doesn’t have expectations — the box will not be disappointed by me, like so many others will. Its air isn’t debilitated with misconceptions and assumptions; it’s just sprinkled with doubt that was born inside of me and fears I gained through my years.
People don’t make me feel safe. How am I supposed to know if someone will truly come in and save me? They could attack me, drag me from the box not with their hands, but with words laced with expectations and faked understanding. I could have someone come in and hold me, but they could also come in and break me — when there isn’t all that much that remains to be broken.
They don’t understand; people, that is. They don’t see my glass because often they don’t see their own. They try, and I know and often it means something, but often it feels like knives sticking into my feet, halting me in place. I know they want me to be free, but how do they know what it is to be free when they don’t know the shackles around my ankles; how can I be free when the box has hands that wrap around my throat, silencing words and darkening my thoughts?
People say I’ll be OK tomorrow, but it isn’t helpful, even when it is meant well. Tomorrow feels miles away — it’s unreachable, and the light at the end of the tunnel that is tomorrow often isn’t there.
I am forbidden from leaving the glass box until it releases me, even when it’s dark or cold; even when it hurts my bones and makes tears fall down my cheeks. It fries my brain, making it believe it’s tried too hard for that day.
Another thing they say is: I’ll be OK. It isn’t OK, and it feels like an attack that I don’t have the weapons to fight. I am stood in the middle of a gun show without a bullet or cover, knowing full well I’m about to take fire, for metal to rip through my skin and leave me with more holes than I did before I stepped into it. Although I’m not so sure that bullets hurt more than failure does, and every second I’m in the box, I feel like I’ve failed.
There hasn’t been a day I haven’t retreated from war, even if I feel cowardly when I do. I’m a country with internal political differences; I’m a city that hates the one it borders too — I’m a world at war inside of myself. And all that others notice is that I’m quiet. They don’t know the struggle I carry inside.
It becomes too much in those moments, and the tears begin to build — they burn and they throb in my eyes, blinding and taking my last sense from me. I want to blink, I want to force them back to the ducts they came, but they won’t, and I can’t make them. They paint my cheeks with whispered apologies and confusion; they hit my chest and make my lungs tighten to the point I can’t breathe, and now I’m panicking, and the help that came in the form of a friend or a lover is retreating, and I’m alone again.
How can you save the unsavable? It’s the question I ask as I grip my knees and rock side to side. It’s on my lips when I kiss you, and it’s there when I keep you at arm’s length. It rolls around my mind when we lie together, matching smiles and nothing between us. My baggage is so full no plane would have me, and I share the carry-ons with you, but not the suitcases and I don’t know why.
I love you.
You confirm you feel the same when you hold me and let my pain drop into your shirt, tears spreading over fabric, taking over your chest. In my head, I believe there is no one to save me, but here you are, and I can see and touch you and I want to grip on with all I have.
You try to help when my seams explode, and I am stood clutching at my stuffing unsure if I could ever stuff it back inside myself. You watch as it dissolves in my fingers like snow, coating my hands as I stare in shock, wondering what has happened to myself, but you simply tell me I’m beautiful when I feel like anything but. You are the arms that hold me, that push all the pieces of me back into place because you can see they are sliding out from under me; some escape through your fingers, they are falling to the floor, and I know it as you do, but you tell me I’m OK, and I want to believe you. When they meet the ground, I know they’ll shatter, and then how could I possibly be whole again? But you read that in my eyes, and pass through the glass, joining me, brushing some things away, unable to reach the rest living inside of me.
I’m scared when you leave, and so I cry again. I don’t know how long I do, but I’m tired after — tired of tears, tired of pain, and tired of the dark. I want to scream that my insides are numbed and my thoughts blurred. The walls pressing closer against my skin, kissing every inch of me, reminding me I’ll never escape. Even when you return and paint my lips in a taste I can’t quite name and make words spill from my lips like a spy who had turned, you know I’m holding back.
The glass box isn’t done with me, and I’m scared if I tell you, you’ll think I don’t try harder to escape it.
Even with you there, in reaching distance — able to be called to help — I still find I am crying without much reason or understanding. My brain is aching and my bones feel close to breaking. I’m curled up with puffy eyes and a broken heart, even though it’s beating stronger than ever, but truly I’ve never felt weaker. I don’t know if a shower will help bring me back to life, and I don’t know if food will fill me — so I lie here, unsure of what I want or what I need to do. I describe it to you that I feel like I’m on a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean, shouting with a cracked voice for you to swim to save me, but no sound reaches you, and control has slipped from my fingers, falling between my palms, and all I can do is stare. You tell me you’d never let me float away, and I hate that I don’t believe you.
I know I’m lost, no raft to save me, and my box has become an island now. I can’t see smiles or even faces—I’m completely alone. My voice has died in my throat because if I scream, no one will come — so I remain silent, suffocating under the weight of the “help me” I’m not able to say. I want to close my eyes, hoping for peace tonight, so I can rest my eyes and my mind, but I know it won’t ever completely be gone.
You turn to me, wide-eyed and full of adoration. “You doing OK?”
I feel your hand meet mine, even if I know there is sand underneath me and you can’t possibly be on my island. I let my fingers lace with yours. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Lies are always much easier when I live in the glass box, and the box takes me away to an island no one can reach me on, and the sun never shines.
Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash