For a moment I let myself stare at his name, bolded in black font, unopened on my lock screen.
Just sitting there, like nothing had changed. Like we’d never stopped talking, like there had never been a year of radio silence between us.
I opened it and read it and immediately laughed. Gut-deep laughed. One thing had not changed, and it was his humor.
And suddenly he wasn’t so scary. Fear’s grip didn’t feel quite as tight.
He was just a person.
Just a name bolded in black font.
. . .
“I’m so proud of you,” she typed. “You faced your fear, and you ended up laughing.”
I told her I wanted to cry.
Because this wasn’t really about me breaking 18 months of silence.
In the words of Jamie Tworkowski, I have become a haunted house. I’ve seen people come and go. I’ve let people return and people leave to never come back. I’ve locked doors, trapping ghosts inside, and I’ve opened windows, telling them to go.
That moment, though, wasn’t about telling his ghost to go.
The door had stayed closed for so long that I hadn’t realized the ghost had already gone. In fact, it’d been gone for a while. This was just flinging open the door and realizing so.
No, this was about telling something else to leave, once and for all.
“See?” She typed back. “The monsters turned out to be just trees.”
. . .
I know my depression’s coming back when their songs are on repeat.
And for over a week now, it’s the only thing I’ve been listening to.
It kept me in bed most of last week. Depression takes different forms for me depending on what triggers it. Depression never really goes away for me, and I know I’m always a step away from the edge. I know how easy it is for me to fall back.
It’s why I stick so closely to routine. It’s why I run. It’s why I write the way I do.
Things trigger it, but there’ve been times, like last week, that I just feel it, no explanation. It comes, and it hovers.
I went to my parents’ house and it came over me almost instantly. I didn’t wake up early like I have been all summer, or run the entire week, or write. I didn’t want to think. The only way I’ve ever been able to describe it, the way depression feels, is like a weight on my chest, but on the inside. Like an anvil crushing my insides.
It doesn’t always feel that way, though.
Most of the time, it attacks my mind. I didn’t know that at the time a few years ago and thought something was wrong with me. And then I started seeing my therapist this time last year and she showed me a chart of types of negative thinking. And when you wind up checking off almost every bullet point as one you’re susceptible too, you realize you aren’t as crazy as you thought.
Which means I have to be extremely careful what I let go through my mind. I have to be aware of myself enough to know when I’m tired or hungry and when I’m most prone to thinking negative thoughts and ultimately spiraling. I have to be even more cautious who I let speak into me, and who I reach out to.
On my phone I have a small list of people. At the top of the note is the word “stayers.” These are the people I text when it gets dark. Or the ones I reach out to when I need help or encouragement or advice. They’re the ones I grab hands with when the forest gets dark.
And then there’s running.
Running’s taught me your mind gives up first, not your body.
Which means all the things that make me feel less than and so not good enough, originate in my mind.
I’ve realized how driven by fear I’ve become. Depression finds its fuel from all the fear hiding.
It’s not really ghosts I’m fighting anymore — it’s the fear that gives them bodies and rooms to stay in. Fear opens the front door to the let them in, shuts them in the room and gives them a key to come and go as they please. Gives them a bed and tells them to stay awhile.
And when I say ghosts, a ghost can be anything to you. A kitchen sink to you is not a kitchen sink to me, yeah?
And so you take your weapons, gather what you can find, because sometimes to stay alive you’ve gotta kill your mind.
And on the days that get really dark, the days I feel it creeping back, or even the really good days and I overthink and overanalyze and over-question, that. That becomes the anthem.
Over and over until I believe it.
Shutting it down, telling it that my feelings are valid but not always facts, and tie it to a tree, telling it that it belongs to me, it’s not a noose but a leash and it must obey me.
The day I texted the boy and broke the radio silence, that was going face-to-face with fear, not him. Fear that he hated me, which made me terrified to ever see him. I was ashamed because I hurt him, which in turn left behind not only the fear of running into him but the fear of hurting people again. Hurting my close friends again. The people I care about the most. Which in turn gave birth to closing myself off to vulnerability and honesty, because this experience told me that being honest equals hurting someone.
I can’t just tell ghosts to go anymore, because something else will always come to replace an extinguished one.
That’s what must go.
I do know, though, that this is not easy. I’m not blind to how dark it can get. I know I don’t fight a darkness as dark as others. I have friends dealing with far more darker things, things that have gone from ghosts in the closet to true monsters. And these monsters are not going away overnight, or next week, or maybe even next year.
What they don’t realize is they are such brave souls. It’s an honor to walk with them, because they don’t realize how much I admire them for their courage to keep living, even when everything in their bones are saying death is the better option.
I know one thing for certain, and that is we do not go at this alone.
I listen to those songs I talked about above because that’s the entire anthem of their albums.
We’re broken people.
I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down.
I know where you stand, silent in the trees.
Peace will win, and fear will lose.
Fight it, take the pain, ignite it.
Shadows will scream that I’m alone, but I know we’ve made it this far, kid.
Remember the morning is when night is dead.
The sun will rise and we will try again.
Stay alive for me.
I’ve been listening to them since 2015. I threw their albums on repeat until their songs felt like heartbeats.
I’m a massive believer in art and music’s power.
And in all of those moments, it was singing victory before victory could even be had.
Over and over, an anthem.
That maybe I’ll never quite make it out of the woods, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe down in the forest is exactly where I, we, are supposed to be and stay. Helping others out of the woods. Helping people find anthems in the forest. Among the trees, singing loudly, leading them out.
down in the forest, we’ll sing a chorus
one that everybody knows.
hands held higher
we’ll be on fire
singing songs that nobody wrote.
. . .
All those ghosts, those vacant rooms and rooms you don’t want to talk about and rooms you pretend aren’t there and rooms too full to even open the door to?
They’re in the process of going. They’re in the process of being purged, of slowly and surely cracking their doors and windows and letting light flood in.
And it all matters. The crying and feeling stuck to your bed, the throwing away letters and deleting screenshots and old Facebook posts, clicking unfriend and unfollow, of all the people who have walked out and the ones you’ve walked out on.
I’m not sure if it’ll help you, these allegories, but it helps me. It helps me remember ghosts can go and there are flickers of light in the forest, and we’re all screaming at the sky an unmistakable song: hope wins. Stay alive.
Leading people out of the dark with our voices.
A voice for the people who have none.
Are we out of the woods yet?