This piece was originally featured on the blog Talking Back

by Michelle Kiang

I’m writing all the time. I write when I drive, when I shower, when I eat, when I watch Friday Night Lights – which is great, by the way – when I look at my mother, when I pick up my torn-up, faded shoes from the entrance of the house, when my best friend reaches her hand over the table to touch mine, when I kiss crushes, when I don’t kiss anybody, when somebody else drives with music playing loud, when I read, when I clean dust with my hands, when my heels hurt from standing all day long, when the sun peeks through my blinds at six in the morning and I still can’t fall asleep. I am writing all the time. And yet, I have not actually written anything down in four months.

Someone recently asked me why I stopped doing the thing I love doing most.

It’s hard to tell stories when you are depressed. It’s hard to say that you are depressed. Depressed is ugly and ashamed, she holds me captive with a me-shaped indent on the couch, with bed sheets I should wash, with endless sleep and silence. I feel ugly and ashamed to be so sad that I cannot leave the house or tell my friends I love them. This is why I’ve stopped doing the thing I love most.

There are a lot of articles online with laundry lists of coping. Meditate, exercise, try your goddamn hardest to do the hardest things – things like getting out of bed and eating something (just one thing), things like answering “how are you?” texts honestly. Everything is hard these days.

I thought I was making up excuses the first three months. I journaled to-do lists when I couldn’t sleep, wrote things like: “If I can get up tomorrow before 10am and go to the coffee shop and apply for a job, and talk to somebody, anybody, it means I’m not depressed.” And because I could hope, and I could stop thought spirals of self-destruction, I think things like “No, I’m not depressed, other people have it worse.” Depression rings seductively in my head calling me self-indulgent, lazy, bitter, vain, whispering “don’t blame this on biology, don’t make up excuses for your bad behavior.”

After graduation, I received several letters from friends and noticed a common thread – my strength. Since I read those letters, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be strong. I used to think that it meant I was good at faking it, that people were surprised hearing about the traumas I endured because they contrast so much with my relatively optimistic personality. Then, when I was crying on the ground, telling my mother of the pain I had silently endured for so long, I realized that I am not faking anything. I am strong because I am vulnerable and unafraid, I have a big mouth and I use it to tell the truth. She held me in her arms, my head found the space between her neck and shoulder, and she told me that I have never backed down from a fight.

Healing and healing from something like this has never been linear. There are highs and lows, and it’s ugly. But I am writing today, I left my house today, I am gentle and forgiving, because I have to be to continue finding beauty in struggle. I write to remember: I never back down from a fight.

Abaki BeckEssay, Mental Illness