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Opinion

Don’t stare into the abyss, spit at it

Sadness is persistent, but articulating pain is a step in the right direction

Last December, I wrote a column about living with depression and my decision to take a semester off. The response I received upon publication was overwhelming; the emails and Facebook notifications poured in, offering nothing but support. I am still humbled by the messages that were sent my way.

When I got home, I went back to therapy. I felt great. I powered through my weekly 45-minute sessions, feeling energized and alive for the first time in my life. I was finally better. I’m proud to say I’ve been cured of my 13-year battle with depression. I am nothing but enthusiastic to be back at school, ready to tackle a fresh semester.

I’m totally kidding. That’s not what happened at all. I didn’t go home and become Katie 2.0. I went home and spent two months sitting on my couch, not showering and crying a lot. The most joy I felt this past winter was when that adorable Russian couple won gold in pairs figure skating. I took a 20-minute walk to the nearest convenience store in the middle of a snowstorm so I could buy doughnuts, because eating is the only thing that gives me any sense of peace. Eating shuts off the voices in my head.

And then, like a trope in a bad novel, spring came. I found a full-time job. I kissed someone for the first time in months. I went to Maine and lost an order of crab cakes to a flock of seagulls. I turned 21 in a Denny’s outside Rochester, because my best friend knows how much I love their breakfasts. I cried (in a good way!) at a Death Cab for Cutie concert, a Neutral Milk Hotel concert and at an Arcade Fire concert. I started to think things were really, truly starting to get better.

But spring also came with a notice that my mom and I had to vacate our apartment. I stopped being able to sleep. I would lie in bed and feel like I had ginger ale in my chest cavity, the blood in my veins carbonated and ready to bubble over. I called a suicide hotline; the operator said “Hi” in the sweetest, most comforting tone I had ever heard. I cried and cried, because when you spend years despising yourself, kindness becomes the hardest thing to accept from other people.

I was broken, again.

Something had changed, though. I started to write again. Years of therapy, of group sessions, of hospitalizations had given me self-awareness, an ability to articulate the thoughts inside my head. I was finally able to stare the monster back in the mirror and figure out what made her tick.

As I said before, I’m not cured, whatever “cured” means. I will probably live with this for the rest of my life. I have a hard time in group settings, even among my best friends, because I feel completely disconnected from what’s going on around me. It’s like looking through a window into a room you will never have access to. I’ve had trouble sleeping at night since I was in third grade, because I was always afraid of missing something; because depression has always made me feel as if I missed something somewhere along the way. Late at night, I wish I were someone else. Someone not real. But I can articulate that now. I can write about sadness and anger and what it’s like to not feel right in your own skin. And that has helped tremendously. That gives me some semblance of hope. Happiness can be overrated; peace never is.

I still hope, fervently, that one day I won’t have to see so many wonderful people struggle so desperately. I hope that everyone who wrote to me will one day be better on some level, on any level. But please, remember this: Your horrible, desperate days are just as meaningful as your most joyous ones. Your pain is important and ugly and alive, so use it to your advantage. Don’t just stare into the abyss, spit at it. Write about your broken heart, sing about your existential terror, paint your alienation. Do whatever it is you have to do to make the most of it. And if you have to crumble for a while, that’s OK. If you have to spend a few days in bed watching “The Avengers” and eating chicken nuggets, that’s OK. Just make sure you get back up again. Please, please, please get back up again. Who knows. Maybe one day this will all be worth it.

I like to think it will be.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.