I had what I would consider a relatively happy childhood, comparatively. Objectively, it was pretty rotten, but y’know, when you’re a child, you really don’t know the difference. I had food, I had a place to live, I had parents – none of these things could be called ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but I had them. And, as oblivious as I was, I was content. I had my world.
My world was full of good and bad things – security and terror – but it was my world. It was what I knew. And I was surrounded by people who shared my experience, as imperfect as it was. There was comfort in this.
I remember when the depression started. I was somewhere between 10 and 12 – I don’t remember the exact year. It’s not exactly as if I woke up one day, said to myself “man, I’m depressed”, and then wrote it down in a calendar. It snuck up on me. Isn’t that what it always does: sneak up on you?
But I remember some of the earliest times when I was truly depressed.
I used to go to the Toledo-Lucas County public library a lot with my parents. This was before they redid it around 2000. It was a large, boxy structure, with creepy art deco styling, and far more books than they knew where to put them. I was walking across the main lobby – with its marble floors and wooden accents and desks, and I saw two girls, about my age or a little older, walking out of the library. They were probably pretty, but that didn’t matter.
That’s all it took. I was depressed for days after. The kind of depression that swims in front of your vision and seems to be a living, breathing mass of nearly visible fog. I read my books and could barely do anything else.
I think that is when I realized that the gulf was too wide. Or that it existed at all.
It is perhaps the worst feeling in the world to be biologically driven to want something that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you will never, ever, ever have.
But there are other elements to this as well. You know those girls? I don’t remember their faces. I don’t remember what they were wearing except it was shorts. I didn’t know their names. But I remember them.
They don’t remember me. They never saw me.
A woman once accused me of “saying whatever it will take”. I objected at the time, because I didn’t see it as true. I still don’t. But I can see her point, because in a sense, I guess I did. It wasn’t an attempt to manipulate. It was simply me trying to behave in the way I thought I needed to in order to be accepted by her. It didn’t matter who she was – I don’t even remember her name, and I don’t care. But I remember what she said to me.
She doesn’t. I’m just one of probably a significant number of men who made their way through her life in one way or another. I was passed off as a jerk and she moved on.
It never occurred to her that I wasn’t being a jerk. It never occurred to her that I just didn’t know any other way. I was expected to behave in a certain way, so I did. Because being myself was not, and never would be, acceptable.
It still isn’t.
Ever since then, depression and anxiety have been my near constant companion.
And the honest truth is: I can tell people this is the case. They’ll try to understand. They’ll make noises about how they wish it could be better. And they probably even mean it. But at the end of the day, the fog never lifts.
Those two girls never saw me. Never looked, and never saw. And that has played itself out, over and over again, for the next thirty years.