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Weathering the Storm of Depression

Looking around at the chaos I had created, I lay down on the floor, completely exhausted. My consciousness floated above me, hovering, as I watched from above. Was I dead or alive? Numbness overtook my limbs in exhaustion. My body rested in the spotlight creeping in through the open door. Placed beside me were my favorite posters torn to shreds. Clothes were strewn across the room. My favorite books had fallen off the broken shelf. Empty New Amsterdam vodka bottles were broken under my bed, serving as reminders of all the mistakes I had made. The alarm clock, now on the floor, flashed 12:00 over and over. Heartbeats pounded through my ear drums. The bed was in shambles. The February breeze from the open window doesn’t destroy rooms like this. For a moment, I realized I had lost my mind. Grasping whatever awareness I had left, I froze.

During my mental breakdown, I remembered: When a squirrel senses danger or is scared, it freezes, it stays completely motionless. Sometimes it will run to a tree and climb to safety if it’s on the ground. Other times, it will circle the trunk and press its body as tightly as possible against the bark. A strange, but somehow effective way of coping.

After a wicked storm, I had my very first encounter with squirrels. The tornado sirens went off, blaring through the cabin. At the time, my sister had a deep fear of storms, so she trapped herself in the bathroom with flashlights, prepared to encounter the beast. My dad, being a typical midwestern father, stood on the edge of the shoreline, his hands placed firmly on his hips, ready to watch this “big boy” blow past us. Nature froze for a minute. You can tell the severity of a storm based on the stillness of the surrounding air before it hits. This eerie silence and motionless life warned us to be prepared.

The dark clouds rolled across the lake. They reached heights in the sky I had never seen before. Darkness grew over our heads, swallowing the horizon and everything in its path. Then, it hit. My dad turned toward the cabin with a smile and ran excitedly. By the time he got to the door, he was drenched in rainwater. The downpour drummed on the glass windows. The forceful winds blew trees over, rumbling the cabin. White caps spilled over the shore like ocean surf. Heavy raindrops struck the windows. The neighbor’s boat started floating away, banging up against our dock in sync with the waves. Crashes and shatters, followed by the flickering ceiling lights, shook the ground like an earthquake. Whistling came through the drafty windows. As quickly as it arrived, the raging storm vanished.

The next morning, we spent hours picking up fallen branches, sticks and blown-over yard games. Birds chirped and outboard motors vibrated through the channel. With sap-covered hands, I rubbed my eyes. At the base of one tree, sat a nest. It was filled with five freshly born squirrels, completely hairless. I froze. They hadn’t even opened their eyes yet. My dad came over and looked around for the mother squirrel. When she didn’t show up, we brought the nest carefully into the garage. Our goal was to care for these squirrels until the mother returned. We spent hours researching what kind of milk to feed them. With an old glass dropper, we carefully placed drops of milk into their innocent mouths. While holding those hairless squirrels, my eyes watered. Faint whines came from the yawning mouths as they began to sleep. The slow breaths pumped through their tiny stomachs like struggling balloons. Alone in this world, barely holding on, one hugged my finger as if clinging to whatever life it had left.

My world became dangerous. Anything powerful — wind, rain, birds — posed a threat. Hypervigilance shined spotlights on neighborhood activities. No one was to be trusted until these squirrels were safe. For the next few days, whenever I saw a squirrel by the tree, I observed quietly. Was that the mother? Was she dead? Do you think she even cared? Eventually, my dad thought we should return the nest to the base of the tree in case the mother came looking for them. With crushed dreams of pet baby squirrels, I caressed each of those hairless rodents with as much love as they could hold. The next day, all traces of them were gone. I never even got to see their eyes.

Back in high school, when I lost my mind, my bedroom wallpaper was filled with different pine trees and pinecones, left behind by the past residents. Being angsty, I filled the walls with my favorite posters and tapestries to cover any trace of this god-awful wallpaper. Kurt Cobain sat smoking a cigarette and playing the guitar, Schoolboy Q stood smoking a blunt with his hat tilted just so and Bob Marley rested against the wall smiling, their eyes watching over me like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. These posters had seen everything. They were my gurus, role models and guardians. They heard those painful, lonely cries at night. They heard the laughter and chaos during high school parties. They watched me stare into space for hours on end, unable to sleep. When I ripped them down in distress and collapsed to the floor, the pine tree wallpaper regained its strength, and I saw those baby squirrels resting in my gloved hands. A banner promoting The Mighty's new Self-Care Lounge group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Taking care of yourself is important, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Join the Self-Care Lounge group so you can prioritize you. Click to join.

I got up, looked in the mirror and saw my terrified face. Black tears from my mascara streamed down my red, puffy cheeks. My stoner eyes had swelled up from the pressure. I looked completely dazed and confused. My absurdly long hair was tangled across my back. With only one sock on, I kicked the dresser. Picking up my stash bag, I lit a joint and smoked out my window. The musty, earthy smell that I loved so much filled my room, and my mind took a little vacation. “L’Étranger” by Albert Camus, a book from French class, was ripped open to the page I read a thousand times. Bloody bitten-down fingers picked it up and read the fading highlighted line, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” I began to laugh.

Getty image by Grandfailure