You Have To Learn To Live, Not To Survive


You may not know this about me, but I have 2 different sides. There is the side that everyone else sees: the exuberant, silly boy who tends to smile and have fun. Then there’s the side that I see when I’m all alone, a side that I never want anyone to see because I’m afraid of myself and what others would think. Believe it or not, under all that happiness, under all the goofy jokes, under all the caring, is someone who is unhappy. And I don’t mean unhappy in a sense that something bad has happened to me and it will eventually pass. I mean the kind of unhappy that is a sickness; something that doesn’t just go away. Imagine being cold, and no matter how much you turn up the heat, no matter how many layers of clothes you put on, you can’t stop shivering because the cold is inside of you; it’s inside your bones and makes up your being. Eventually you become numb to the cold, and the feeling of warmth is something that is impossible for you to reach. There are some days that I feel like this, because I suffer from depression.

I have had depression for the last six years, and I want to clear up something this misconception that people have. Depression isn’t just being sad when something bad happens to you. It isn’t just being sad when a loved one passes away, when you lose a job, or when you fail in life. Depression is being sad when absolutely everything is going right in your life. You could have everything you ever wanted in your life: money, cars, an education, a loving significant other. The funny thing is… depression doesn’t care what you have in your life, or who you are, or where you are from. It doesn’t care about any of that because it is indiscriminate and can affect anyone. That is why I struggled so much with this illness.

In high school I had everything I could ever want. I had a loving group of friends, I did alright in school, theater was great, but at the same time there was a sadness inside of me that wouldn’t go away. I got so frustrated with myself because there was no clear reason for these emotions, so why was I so sad all the time? Questions began to flow into my mind like “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? What is wrong with you?” When you begin to ask questions like this, you unknowingly also search for the answers, and my brain found faults in myself that I never even knew existed. I began to dwell on my own thoughts until it consumed me; it became all I could think about. If something slightly bad happened that day, I would find a way to put the blame on myself, to find a reason why I was the cause. Day and night it was all I thought about and eventually it began to break me.

It is easy to sit back on the sidelines and ask, “Why didn’t you just talk to someone about it?” To be completely honest with you while every molecule in my body wanted to, I never tried because I was so afraid of showing my emotions. You see, I was raised in a Chinese household. Under my father’s roof and ideals, I was taught that men, especially Chinese men, do not cry. They don’t show any sort of emotion that could resemble weakness. To be a man and a good son, you needed to show emotions that were defined as masculine: being content, angry, and proud. Growing up in this house I had no idea how to show my emotions to anyone. I wanted to be a son that my father would be proud of so whenever I felt something that could potentially harm that I took all those feelings and buried them deep within me.

This sadness that I felt frightened me. I felt as if I was going crazy, and the thought of professional help was something that I never even dreamed of. We have this view on therapy and medication today that goes along the lines of: if you are taking medication or going to therapy, there is something seriously wrong with you. I was so scared of what other people would think of me when they found out that I was suffering for no reason. People often try to say that the opinions of others do not matter but in reality they do whether you like it or not and that controlled me. I became so afraid of what might happen if they found out that I began to push everyone away before they could push me away. I told myself it was better this way; the less people that are around you means the less people that will hurt you. Slowly everyone around me started to dissipate, and I found myself more alone than ever. Close friends tried to stick around and ask what was wrong. They tried to show that they cared by asking to hang out to take my mind off it, but it always followed the same routine. I would always accept, thinking that it would be good for me. And when the time came I didn’t feel like doing anything and canceled. Believe me, I wanted to see all my friends but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The friends that were once closest to me began to disappear as well. They didn’t understand what was happening and when they tried I just shut them out. They became frustrated with me because I refused to give them an explanation for my behavior. The scary thing to me was that I myself didn’t know what was going on with me; I couldn’t explain it in words. They tried to give me solutions and they tried to make me feel better but the only thing that my mind fixated on was their frustration towards me. And as sad as it sounds, even friends have a limit to how much they can put up with.

As time dragged on I began to wonder if life was really worth living. Right now it is scary for me to admit, but I was suicidal. I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore. I didn’t want to feel nothing but pain or cause anyone anymore trouble. I just wanted things to end so I could be content and everyone else would be free of my emotions. I realized that I wasn’t living life anymore; I was just barely surviving, and that to me was no better than being dead. And as I laid on my bed suffocating in my own poisonous thoughts I got a phone call. To put it bluntly, she is the reason I am alive today. I managed to push everyone away, but she was the one person that wouldn’t give up on me. When I cancel plans she would call me that night to check up on me. She would ask me to come over frequently and wouldn’t pressure me to go out, or talk about my feelings. We could just sit in silence. She just wanted to make sure I was ok, going above and beyond what a normal friend would do for someone. I slowly began to trust her. I trusted her with a side of me that people don’t usually see. All my monsters and darkness, the burden that I had been carrying for so long, that weight became lighter with her. She looked me straight in the eye and told me that I needed help. Real help. She didn’t say that I was crazy or there was something seriously wrong with me. She saw that I was a human being suffering from my own thoughts. I don’t know if there is a God out there, but if there is I thank him/her every day for the kindness that she showed me and continues to show today.

Telling my parents about my situation was one of the hardest things I had to do. I know this sounds terrible to say but seeing them cry meant a lot to me. My parents didn’t show a lot of emotions toward my brother and I, and because of this we were very distant. Seeing them cry… it showed me that they did actually care for me, and the entirety of feeling alone was a misconception because they were always there for me. I was so afraid of what they might say or do, but after telling them everything the burden that I once had become even lighter. After a bit of time, therapy, and medication the world seemed a little less cold to me. I began love the things that I once did. Seeing my friends, playing video games, just enjoying life; all that warmth washed over me, and that was the greatest feeling I have felt to this day.

To those of you who suffer from depression: I don’t have any words that can take the pain or the words away. I can’t tell you why this is happening or give you a magical fix that will make you happy once again, but I can be there for you. If you need someone to talk to about life or just goofy things I am here. If you don’t feel like talking we can just sit in silence and stare at the stars. You can practice your make up on my face or we can go play Mario Kart, just as long as you don’t pick Baby Mario because he is annoying. We can do whatever it is you want, just know that through the entirety of this, I will be here for you. You aren’t pushing me away or making me suffer, and if I wanted to leave I would have left a long time ago. I’m not giving up on you, and when you are ready to come into the world again I’ll be beside you holding your hand. This doesn’t make you crazy, and there is no shame in getting help. You are sick, just like a cold but it’s a cold for the brain that is a little harder to fix. Don’t be afraid, I know what you are going through is extremely hard, but to carry something like this all alone is impossible. I am here for you, and I’m not going anywhere.

To those of you who have depressed friends: I want to tell you not to give up on them. I understand that it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to worry about someone over and over again only getting shut out over and over again. I know it’s hard to sit there any care about someone when it doesn’t even seem like they appreciate that you are thinking about them. But people with depression tend to put up a wall, a wall where only negative words can penetrate it and all the positive ones are muted. I need you to keep on fighting. No matter how hard he/she pushes you away, you need to push back 10 times as hard. Being there for them means the world, and they may never thank you for it or show it. But I promise you that pushing back may just save a life one day.

And to everyone in general: I know this might sound a little crazy, but if I had the chance to relive life over again, I would still live the life that has depression in it. While it is a terrible illness, I learned a lot about myself and life from it. The most important thing I learned though is this: Life is precious because it ends. In the back of our minds we all know that life ends eventually. And it is because of this fact that I now try to live life to the best of my abilities. I understand that you have a lot to worry about; I am in college after all. We have to worry about bills, grades, friends, work, relationships etc. In the midst of all this we begin to forget what it is actually like to live. Yes, go work your ass off in school, work hard at your job so you can pay your bills, but never forget to live your life. Stop thinking and regretting what may happen in the future if you do something and just do it. Stop dreaming about traveling abroad or talking to that cute girl/guy in your chemistry class and just do it. Don’t be afraid to give something or someone your all. Dive headfirst into relationships and friends and enjoy the fall, all the happiness that people give you. Don’t be afraid to tell someone every day that you care about them, because life is precious and you don’t know when it is going to end. After everything that I have gone through, I want to tell you to stop worrying about what might happen in life and live it to the fullest; do not just survive.

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