More than sadness


"What is depression?"

"What is depression?"

The 12-year-old girl's bright eyes bored into me with such innocence I didn't know whether to cry, to hold her, or both.

"It's when you're sad all the time but you don't know why," an adult in the room commented.

I still held the girl's outstretched palm gingerly in my clammy hands. My amateur whirl at palmistry had me interpreting the dark crease of her heart line curving at the top of her palm. According to WikiHow, a heart line with chains signified depression in someone's life. Suddenly my party trick seemed more like a doom bringer.

"Well I already have anxiety," the girl stated with a self-awareness I am only starting to breach.

My friend and I exchanged a weighted look that seemed to convey the exhaustion we have come to know through our own struggles. We both looked poised to explain the reality of depression is not as simple as sadness, that sadness itself is not evil, that mental health is a complicated creature that lurks in shadows and gripes each person differently, that she would in all likelihood develop an intimacy with depression at some point as a symptom of her anxiety. Instead, I pointed to her well-defined wealth line cutting straight up to her middle finger and said she would find success throughout her life before finally releasing her palm.

Still, the question echoed in my mind.

Researching the word came up with a mixed understanding and nuance. Of course, I am talking about the mental condition and not the economic or meteorological definition, which eliminates some of the answers. However, the word seems so weighted that I worried how the 12-year-old would come to grow into her understanding of something people still confess in whispers or throw around in times of stress.

But how can I, someone who is only associated by connection to depression through anxiety supposed to talk about it? How am I supposed to address the spectrum of a mental health disease that has put people in their graves by their own hand? How should I admit to a problem still seen as a taboo weakness?

Perhaps I am not supposed to. After all, that's what therapists and psychologists are for. Yet, the silence enveloping the word and what it means to 350 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization or 6.9 percent of the adult population in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health is suffocating. 

I wish I had told the girl with bright eyes how it feels like you're a storm cloud wishing to rain but unable to do so. I wish I had told her how it's like looking at a sheet of paper ready to draw, but knowing before you begin that it would only become a crumpled waste. I wish I had told her it's like feeling alone in the middle of the playground at recess. I wish I had told her your chest can feel like a cat is always curled on top and your mind is fuzzy like you just spun in circles. I wish I had told her it's like looking at your favorite toy and feeling tired just at the thought of playing with it. I wish I had told her it's like a giant game of lava where the floor is never safe.

Yet I was silent, baffled by the question and its depth.