Depression found my emotions when they had nowhere left to go. It swallowed them up whole, well, all except one. It was generous enough to leave my favorite behind. Strange how anxiety can dwell in the same cramped crevice. Anxiety and depression are said to be opposites, but I find opposites can inhabit your head quite comfortably.
They were always there, somewhere, the emotions. However, whenever I felt them rising up, I pushed them back down the way I’d always done. It was easier, less tiring and less painful to leave them that way. I’ve learned to keep them in control so well that I never dreamed they would overcome me. I certainly hadn’t expected an ambush—a sudden emptiness, like a vacuum sucking both the good and the bad out of my chest, only to be filled with a surge of anger so powerful that I can only stagger back, unable to recognize myself.
I’ve learned to keep [emotions] in control so well that I never dreamed they would overcome me.
One unnecessary work call, and I want to throw my phone against the wall and swear. Can there really be this much spite and frustration in me, for something as small as this? Can there be rage trapped in my heart waiting to be unleashed?
Back and forth, it goes like this for weeks—spurts of fury and slumps of hollow apathy. I find little motivation. I fake laughter. My dark room and cold bed are warm and inviting.
I retreat into the shadows and wait for the outside to match. My love for natural light is replaced with fierce agitation at the unbearable heat, the blinding afternoon rays of what California dares to call winter. It’s hateful. It’s ridiculous.
Even in the long, lethargic nights, my mind doesn’t stop planning, calculating. Depression, the new arrival, never bumps out anxiety in its place. They simply share my brain. No exciting plans? Plenty of time to think about your next meal, then. Or your next grocery trip. Your next food binge.
Old habits don’t die hard—they don’t die at all. Not when half your mind is too numb to bother, and the other half is working in glee to keep them alive. A perfect marriage of two mental illnesses, along with a resurgent eating disorder and whatever new occupant there might be room for, and there’s plenty.
Plenty of room. That’s when I remember. I remember when my roommate comes home at the end of the day with a grin and says something that makes me smile. I remember when I hear that one friend, with that unfailing roar of laughter no matter what the mood, appropriate or not. I remember when I see the faces, even over a screen, of people who have said (in words or otherwise, once or again and again) that I matter in their lives.
I remember that there was before, and there still is, plenty of room in my heart for more than one emotion. That this new visitor temporarily dwelling inside is no bigger than the others, regular inhabitants before and during COVID: excitement, delight, passion.
I remember that there was before, and there still is, plenty of room in my heart for more than one emotion.
2020 forced my heart to make room. Its unwelcome visitors wrenched apart the taut, narrow walls and made themselves at home, but they did not find themselves alone. Like an immune system battling for its master, the existing emotions fought back, fought for their place and fought to remain. Their efforts are not wasted; their struggle has sustained me.
Depression and anxiety have not won. Sadness and Agitation—two mere soldiers next to my battalion of Laughter, Affection, Patience, Openness and Understanding. They could have never fought against them, though, if I hadn’t let them in. If I hadn’t let them in, I would’ve never learned I needed them.
Depression and anxiety have not won.
When I permitted my negative emotions, they stopped defining me. When I recognized their power, it went away. When I treated them as something that can coexist alongside things like joy, hope and excitement, they became insignificant.
Everyone wants their spotlight. Our tears. Our screams. Our cries of outrage. Let them have it for one moment, and they’ll find their natural place next to the others. Give them their moment, and they, too, will be satisfied.
Our hearts know us. They work together with our minds, our bodies. We are not designed for infinite pools of sorrow. That is the hope I hold onto—letting the emotions stay, knowing it won’t be forever. Even sadness knows boredom—and the others are pushing their way forward, eagerly awaiting their turn.
How can you make room for heavy emotions without allowing yourself to dwell on them? Is there room for joy and sadness, hope and sorrow? How do you find balance?
If you or someone you know needs help, then visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 211. You can also call The Lifeline at this number for 24/7, free and confidential support: 1-800-273-8255.
Image via Melanie Acevedo, Darling Issue No. 11