This is a photo of me pretending to have fun on a snow day. It’s a total lie. I hate snow. I used to think I wanted to move to New York until I realized it’s a terrible idea to move somewhere where you hate the weather over 50% of the time. I just don’t have a good track record with snow, and it’s been like this since college. When we had the first snow of freshman year, the entire dorm was freaking out and dancing in the courtyard, and I remember just being kind of…….. annoyed. So I went back to sleep. Later in the afternoon, I sat by my window and watched sledders crash joyously into each other, feeling sad and empty because all my friends were hanging out without me.
“I bet they don’t even notice that I’m not there,” I thought moodily, staring out the window. Later, my newsfeed was flooded with cute photos of everyone, and I felt even sadder.
At the time, I thought I hated snow days because there’s so much pressure to be a jolly elf in the snow globe of the world. When I see snow, I expect to go sledding, make snow angels, participate in lighthearted snowball fights, build igloos, and just generally enjoy myself. And then usually, I end up sitting in front of my space heater with bruised knees and a runny nose, examining my body for signs of frostbite.
Honestly, I hate any holiday that comes with the pressure to have a good time, because it invariably falls short of my expectations. Take New Year’s Eve, for instance. Has anyone in the history of ever had a truly great New Year’s Eve? A casual poll of friends and coworkers suggests that no, it’s always weird. (If you have had a fun NYE, PLEASE email me so I can live vicariously.)
Here’s the expectation: me, in a sequined dress, sipping champagne on a balcony. I’m with a beautiful, dark-haired man who kisses me romantically as fireworks explode over the harbor. What harbor? I don’t know. Literally any body of water works for this fantasy. The next morning, there is sex, coffee, and breakfast in roughly that order, no hangover, and a ton of cool Polaroid pictures I can Instagram later to make everyone jealous. So that’s the expectation.
The reality? Watching the ball drop with my parents in my pajamas. No sequins. No lover. Also no champagne, because my parents are evangelical conservatives who don’t keep alcohol in the house. Nothing says Happy New Year like being completely sober and kissing your cat at midnight.
The best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had mostly revolved around me getting laid after a five-month dry spell, which I’m not going to bother describing in detail because I’m pretty sure no one wants to hear about my sex life. It was weird. It was cool for a minute, and then it was weird. (Never sleep with someone because you like their silk bathrobe. You think getting laid is worth it…… but it’s NOT. It’s NEVER WORTH IT.)
The second best New Year’s Eve I had was at a Great Gatsby party at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico with a boyfriend two weeks after I had cheated on him. His parents paid for the resort. I felt bad. Not bad enough to call off the trip. But it definitely put a damper on things. We pretended to be hopeful about “turning a new leaf” when the fireworks went off, but it didn’t really work because I drank too much and got stuck in a thought loop about how deeply weird Gatsby-themed parties are in light of the fact that Gatsby got none of the things he wanted and is literally dead in a swimming pool of his own blood at the end of the novel, and somehow people are still like, “Great party idea! Should we have jello shots?”
RIP, green light over the dock. RIP, my own high expectations, drowning slowly in the swimming pool of life. Wasn’t it the Buddha that once said that desire is the root of all suffering? I’m so not zen, but maybe he was on to something. Maybe if I stopped wanting a bedazzled, champagne-soaked New Year’s Eve with the man of my dreams, then I would actually be satisfied for a change. Maybe it’s a personal problem.
I was thinking about all this the other day when I saw the forecast for snow. And then I realized that the ACTUAL reason that I hate snow days is because I have depression. Depression that kicks into particularly high gear when it’s snowing. Why? I couldn’t say. But I finally put the pieces together – this has been an unyielding pattern since that day in the dorms. When the temperature takes dramatic plunges, so does my mental health.
Sometimes it’s worse than others. A couple years ago when I lived in Montford, it was relatively under control. I was a little sad, but I assumed it was because I watched Lost in Translation while I drank a bottle of wine. Now I wonder if the bottle of wine and sad movie was a coping mechanism for something more serious.
Because sometimes, it is serious. This particular snow day, I couldn’t get out of bed. I spent over eight hours in the fetal position, watching the light and shadows shift across my wall and crying without really knowing why. I felt like I was watching life from behind the window. I felt nothing. And that scares me.
I don’t know how to talk about depression to the people in my life. I feel like I cannot wholly claim it because it’s so intermittent; most of the time, I’m fine. And then other times, I wake up with this tremendous weight on my chest, pressing me down into my mattress. Sometimes my whole existence feels like a burden I never asked to bear. And self-isolation imposes itself in extreme: I thought about calling my boyfriend to talk, but to say what, exactly? “I feel empty, and I don’t know why?” It feels indulgent, or selfish. No one wants to hear about how sad I am.
I’ve written a number of pieces about my personal life that were published in a relatively public manner, but this is the first time that I’ve ever written about depression. And it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to write. Which surprises me. How can I write something that casually references cheating on someone I used to love (which was a genuinely awful thing to grapple with at the time) and feel okay with that level of sharing, but then struggle to write 300 honest words about my feelings?
Part of it is because of how much I use humor to mask the intensity of my feelings. The “look at how dumb I used to be, haha!” essays are my favorite because they possess inherent narrative distance, implying that while I was ONCE stupid, I’m not ANYMORE. So I can comfortably discuss subjects like cheating or how I used to snort melatonin to go to sleep at night because if anyone judges me, they’re judging a past version of me.
But to write about depression is to write from the perpetual center of an experience. It’s to write from a place of having no answers at all. What do you write about a dark place when you’re still in it? I can’t pretend that it’s something I’ve moved on from, because I haven’t, and I can’t mask it in humor, because it’s just…I don’t know, not that funny? In the end, it’s easier to just never address it and pretend it’s not a problem.
But that doesn’t do anyone any favors. I’m no jolly elf, and I’m no philosophy guru either, but I feel like the whole point of being alive is to connect over our experiences, both good and bad, and that’s impossible if all we ever talk about is the good things.
A couple weeks ago, a girl I only vaguely know posted a picture of her tattoo on Instagram. It wasn’t a great photo, but the caption was amazing. It was a short paragraph detailing her experience with medication and what it’s like to find your way back to joy after depression. It was so honest, and a great comfort to read. And for that, I am grateful. Because no matter how many times my therapist tells me I need to “accept my vulnerabilities” or whatever, it’s still fucking hard to look someone you love in the eye and say, “I’ve been really depressed,” or “I couldn’t get out of bed today,” or even just, “I need you with me right now.”
I think we need all the uncomfortable, yet comforting honesty we can get in this world. Sometimes, when it comes to being alive, that’s all we can really expect. Well, that and maybe a little champagne.