“Uncharted Territories of Depression: My Friend’s Evil Horse” – by Dorothy Knutson
A friend of mine has been struggling with depression for almost two years now, and with her permission I have attempted to articulate her emotions and her pain in order to make it easier for some people to better understand people like her – particularly people with depression. We will call her Meg.
This was a new weight for Meg. She had always been so happy and free, but lately she just wasn’t. She didn’t know why. Depression haunts everyone differently, manipulating its way into your mind just for you. It slipped into Meg’s brain by sparking a fast addiction to thoughts she dangerously underestimated and failed to see through. It started as general sadness, but when she began to hear people ask if she was OK, which had been all she wanted, she recognized her depression’s role in that, and continued to feed it. Meg had planted a seed inside herself – which to this day she cannot source. Some people get this seed from a traumatic event or relationship, and some people just have it. Some people plant it out of curiosity or sorrow, and others are unaware of the germination until it’s too late.
The most important thing Meg wants you to know is that for every depressed individual, there is a unique type of depression. Generalize and rank them in terms of severity all you want, but each form is destructive and personal, and once it is planted in someone you cannot and you may not expect them to automatically have the tools to uproot it. She wrote and drew a lot during her darkest times, and as I tell you her story I will reference her journal. Meg decided to call the unique version she had “Trojan Horse Depression,” so we will start with the welcome party.
Meg’s mind is a fortress, but not a very good one. She grew up with no siblings to make fun of her, no incentive to break rules or to be punished, and no one to “toughen her up.” Meg was a delicate “golden child,” and any negative thoughts were permitted entry as they pleased. At first, this just meant Meg was sensitive, but when she entered high school and her stress levels swelled, more of these thoughts clouded her brain, and she didn’t know how to keep them out. The fortress was under siege.
In the early days of the onslaught, when Meg thought she was in control, she decided to jot down a dream. She wrote about her family, which consisted of a handful of nuclear families. Each a unit of their own, satisfied with their household, backing down from the crowd of distant relatives. Meg immediately saw the metaphor, and added to her description, “We are a family, so why is it awkward and painful? We are a school, so why is it awkward and painful?” She ended the entry with the following words, “there are too many people to love, and some people have to be hated and ignored. So I am by myself, with my family, hated and ignored.”
Meg felt helpless. This was when the horse arrived displaying the sympathy of the people around her. Meg recalled reasoning that if she were to admit she was under attack, perhaps someone would reach out and save her. The horse convinced her not to admit but to accept these destructive thoughts. Rather than reaching out for help, Meg would embed depression in her identity. Initially, Meg was scared to let the horse in, but to quote one of her reflections about a month after the dream, soon she would want nothing more than to “fall into the deep comfort and isolation of depression.” That’s exactly what she did.
It wouldn’t take long for her to dislike the routine of sadness, but now it was far too late, she was trapped, the horse had tricked her and made her a prisoner of her own mind. The horse was in control, and once it was deep inside her brain its belly burst with little people who liked to play games. A brush of sadness would float across her mind and they would race to snatch it up, and then laugh, holding it up to her eardrum and archiving it like an ozone layer. Between studying and sleeping she was waging a war on herself. Her “true self,” which she referenced in her journal, was locked away and completely powerless to the destruction before her. A new Meg had emerged to play with her emotions, and all she could do was watch.
The evil thoughts spread like a plague throughout her brain, and with the seed planted, a core of shame and self-hate began to grow. Meg didn’t want to be happy anymore; she was stuck. She hurt herself on the inside and outside, all to feed this precious little plant growing inside of her. The stronger the plant grew, the more she hated herself for having it, which only made it grow faster.
As sophomore year bled into junior year, Meg began distancing herself from activities that might lift her spirits and kill the plant she treasured for punishing her. She avoided most of her friends, she lashed out at her parents, and she started ignoring the good and only seeing the bad in almost every situation she found herself in. If her friends invited her to hang out they were only doing it because they thought they had to, and even though she was enrolled in the hardest classes available at her school, she managed to convince herself she wasn’t smart because she wasn’t doing as well as she could be in those classes. The plant was taking up space in her skull, pressing its thorns into her brain, and making everything twice as hard. She found herself trying not to smile to avoid squinting her eyes. She was so damaged that if she did tears would peak out to get a glimpse at what was making her so sad. There was nothing.
Her lowest points include a time she lost a casual air hockey game with her younger cousins, and became so frustrated and embarrassed that she threw the striker across the room, storming out to hide for the next twenty minutes, crying in the bathroom. She said she would never forget the looks on their faces, “it was as if they had just played a game of air hockey with a complete stranger – a stranger they didn’t want to meet.” One afternoon, she had been on her way to study in the library after hours, and seen some group of people having a better time than she’d had in almost a year. At the thought of being free from this misery, she stumbled. The plant had been threatened, and it was pulling her tight, reminding her that she would never have freedom like the other students seemed to be basking in. Her head throbbed. It was one of Meg’s clearest memories from her struggle. The sadness was so real, she thought she may never be happy again.
Meg wanted me to write that even at these lowest points, she was one of the lucky ones. Meg had a loving family, and although her parents never seemed to understand, they still lost sleep at night trying to. Meg had resources, and when she finally came clean to her mother she was sent right to therapy, and when that didn’t work she was put on medication which is still demolishing the monster she grew inside herself nearly two years ago. Meg survived.
Imagine being alone in a fight like Meg’s. Meg was waging a war, but she had some idea of how to fight it, and she was unusually self-aware. Sometimes she was able to keep the plant at bay by reasoning with herself, but still that took a lucky good day, a clear mind, and about half of her energy. It was difficult for Meg to describe her depression because she didn’t want to make it sound romantic. The metaphors of her story could have that effect, but she wanted to be clear that depression is not an adventure or a sad story. Her biggest concern in her reflection was that the horse would come knocking on the minds of other vulnerable young people as it once had with her. Meg’s story could help them to distinguish the plant from themselves, or to shut out the horse. They might be spared. As far as she can remember, her seed was planted by that horse that fooled her. She believes that the horse, though invited by her soft, vulnerable mind, was concealed in a glow fabricated by films and books that made depression look like a game. It’s not.