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I have depression and right now it is making me a sobbing basket case. My nose is so plugged up that I couldn’t smell a skunk’s carcass if you shoved it in my face, a dull roaring in my ears drowns out the traffic outside, and the salt from the tears is making my cheeks itchy. I have no idea why I’m upset; it could be that my girlfriend broke up with me, it could be the stress from my parent’s divorce, or it could be that I feel sorry for the ruddy squirrel stuck in the rain outside. Whatever the reason, depression is pressing down on every inch of my skin and I’ve got to move before I crack like an elementary school kid’s clay pot.
I walk into the living room and flip on the TV, only vaguely noticing what the actors are saying. Collapsing onto the leather couch, my sweaty skin sticks to the cushion. Shifting around I feel something small dig into the right of my spine and a second round of senseless tears starts rioting down my face. I reach behind and grasp something cold. I pick it up and hold it in front of my face. I try to give a watery smile to the red jade dragon but I just can’t make my muscles work properly. Slowly running my finger down its spine and over its head, I start to calm down. The concrete, repetitive motion sooths me and reminds me of a different time and a different place when I had first found the dragon.
It was a Monday evening three years ago when I found him. Our lease on the rental had run out so we were packing up to move again. Walking up the puke green-carpeted stairs and entering the living room was like entering an army obstacle course. Brown boxes mummified in packing tape were scattered about, begging for a distracted human to walk over and trip on them. Stacks of old, but not quite musty, books were stacked as mini sentinels around the room; clothes looked like deflated scarecrows the way they were draped over boxes and the floor; I was pretty sure that my sister’s cereal bowl was hiding behind the only chair in the room. To this day I don’t know how we didn’t lose anything in that mess. I was trying to find my pair of thick, black, fuzzy socks when I saw the little statue. It had no wings, four paws with five miniature claws, its mouth was bared in a snarl, or a smile depending on your perspective, and it was standing on a bed of roiling clouds. I liked it. I enjoyed how something so small tried to look so viscous and strong.
When I had asked Natalie if the little reptile was hers, she just shook her head. My dad didn’t own the stone dragon either. I had walked into the garage where mom was loading boxes into the moving garage -- actually it looked more like she was just directing some hired help on where to go -- and I held up the dragon in a silent question. She asked me where I found it. I couldn’t leave the little thing homeless so I took him in.
When I entered middle school homework and the ever changing social structure began to take over my life. Things like books, family time, and my little dragon were put on a shelf in the back of my mind. By eighth grade my dragon had been abandoned in one of my numerous dusty drawers. Then high school entered my world.
The beginning of my freshman year I became very sick. It started off with a small lung infection but then the coughing never went away and my asthma got worse; I didn’t have the energy to eat much and I rarely left my bed. My parents took me to my doctor’s office, to a pulmonologist, to the children’s hospital in Boston, and the local hospital. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. It had been a month since the original infection and my parents were panicking when my doctor called and asked my parents if I could come and see her soon. We went in the next day.
She had started the examination normally enough; she measured my weight and height, looked at the back of my throat, she pressed her cold stethoscope to hear my lungs. And then she asked if there was a history of depression in my family. My mom said yes, she had it. Then the doctor asked if my coughing or asthma would get worse when I had to leave the house. Mom said yes. Was I always worried about my asthma and coughing? Mom said yes. Did I have moments of anxiety? Mom said yes. I was starting to panic and worry where this inquiry was going.
The doctor then said that I had an anxiety disorder or depression and that my mind was creating my symptoms. There was nothing physically wrong with me, just emotionally.
None of it was real.
It was all in my head.
All the time my parents had to take off work, all the money that they spent, it was all because my mind created a fake sickness.
The little cracks that had been developing became fractures and I shattered.
I was a wreck. When I got home, I started sobbing, hugging myself for dear life, curled up in the corner of my bed. And I stayed that way for two days. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, my family, or my teachers because of the shame of being “depressed”. Depressed was another way of saying overemotional and weak.
Then I found my little dragon again. Somehow, he had escaped my drawer and found his way onto my desk, facing me. I just stared at him when I first say him. Then I picked him up and ran my fingers along his spine and tail. The repetitive motion made me calm down until I was able to join my family at dinner. The next day, I went to school for the first time since I had become sick. I started to carry him around with me and when I felt my eyes start to burn with sorrow, I would stroke his back and look at his snarl and try to imitate his strength.
I lift my head up to the TV when I hear the word depression. Pictures of women and men holding themselves and staring forlornly into the distance flash by the screen accompanied with the words, “Are you a victim of depression?” Am I a victim? What is a victim? Is it someone who is broken, beaten down, barely holding on? Is a victim weak? Can you ever escape being a victim?
I glance down to my little dragon and I ask him my questions. His fangs are bared in response and I can imagine I hear a snarl bubbling out of his tiny chest. I close my fist around him.
I am struggling now but I will get out of my rut. There are small cracks running through me, but I will patch them up. I will not be beaten down and I will be strong. I will not be a victim.