When I was little there were gothic places in the woods where the land bent down into narrow valleys and hollows, where you felt held closely and guarded. The hemlock trees grew close together, their branches entwined, and the light was permanently soft and shadowy. As a child, I loved those places: their self-protectiveness echoed mine. Magic lived in shadows: that’s I wanted to imagine when I was 13 and still hoped that something in the world could resist shattering.

My first day feeling depressed was the day my parents announced they were splitting up. Their arguments had become increasingly intense at that point. We heard the announcement while all sitting on the beds in my siblings’ bedroom at the front of the house, which had once been the sunniest room. I plunged into a grim silence and returned to my bedroom. My parents followed me, concerned. But I said I didn’t want anything. There was nothing to want after that.

Depression then became my nameless emotional horizon. I didn’t imagine leaving it; it felt real to me; it was solid and dependable when the world around me had let me down. As time went on, it became a thing I could bond over with my equally depressed friends. It felt emotionally honest to confess my dark feelings to someone. Depression was soft and final and glimmery like the velour drapes at the edges of the stage in a theater, another shadowy space I loved.

But sometimes I’m surprised I ever romanticized it, because I remember what depressive rooms felt like: like a horrible stillness, like the deepest loneliness you could imagine, like being bad drunk and hopeless. I remember what depressive rooms felt like: like sudden outbursts of anger. Like nothing was reliable but the breakdown, the stuckness.

As a sad teenager, I became fascinated with shadows and hooded garments, developing an overactive fantasy life involving wizards and magic. I carved a wooden staff and took it for walks like a sorcerer’s apprentice. I longed for things that made me feel in control. I loathed being asked if I was fine, or even how I was doing.

I didn’t begin to have language for this until I turned 18. My first partner explained to me that depression was the word for the feelings I was describing. She added — tenderly, I would say now — that I should consider finding a therapist or another coping mechanism. But in that moment I didn’t like the thought of subjecting myself to clinicians.

So instead I spent a long time drifting in a soft and familiar darkness.

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