We only hear stories with happy endings, where someone's life was tough and sad until they found...something. A lover, a friend, a religion, a sport. A book, a hobby, a job, some crystals. Maybe they cheat death, maybe they lose someone close? Maybe they become a parent, maybe they save a life? Always, they gain a new perspective. They learn a new way to see the world and hey presto! The sadness is gone.
'Well just do that' think the people who hear you talk of desolation and emptiness. 'What will it be that fixes you?'
Stories of lifelong struggle that culminate in nothing positive aren't as interesting, so we don't hear those. No one wants to write a character arc that dips into a depressive state during adolescence and then just...stays that way. A protagonist who crawls through life, weighed down by exhaustion and hopelessness, and then later just dies, is no protagonist at all really. We are just too early in our stories, believe our ever benevolent peers. They'll help us find it, they think, they'll figure out what our saving grace will be.
'Have you tried this? What about this? This? This? Well then it's probably this.' The useless chant drones on.
Medication?! No that's never how the story ends. In fact, usually there's a twist and the medication was causing everything all along! That's how the stories we hear always go, so that must be what's always true.
'You say the pills help? That they're the only thing that's kept you alive until now?' 'Oh you poor silly girl, that's no story!' 'No no, you'll meet a man maybe, here I'll introduce you to some, he'll show you a better path. Love will release you from the grasp of those evil pills.' 'Or maybe you'll become vegan?! That's a cool ending. There will be a chemical in your food that's attacking your brain, maybe. It could be in the tap water?! Wow, when you figure it out it's going to be so simple! You'll wish you'd only though of it before!'
When our media always gives us that happy ending, we always expect one. So an illness that causes sadness, that permanently strips joy and hope, or pounds our bodies with unrelenting anxiety, isn't even thinkable. Often, those of us who suffer will also wait for that life changing finale. 'Wow I'm cured! You know I was probably fine all along, I don't even need these stupid pills any more.' Is the thought process of many in the weeks before they end their lives.
For those of us who know that neither the truth nor optimism can save us, our trudge through life is weighed even more heavily by every pursed lip, every eye roll. Most often we hide. All of it. Our symptoms, our medication. Our reality. It stays hidden and so those simple stories stay the only thing you know.
To create a mask that's cheery and endearing is exhausting, of course, but not compared to trying to convince you that life is not a story book when you so desperately want to believe it is. Placing so much of our energy on to you, to make you feel comfortable, not out of your depth, is a risk to our health. The time always comes when we're close to the edge, the battle near lost to exhaustion, and we must make a choice.
Do we isolate ourselves? Hole up in a room to hide our unexplainable pain? To have gravity and optimism fail us whenever we try to get up? Do we ignore your calls, miss your deadlines? The fact that you will think us rude and incompetent yet another shame to bear. Do we take this feeling of loneliness and double it by making our physical self join our mental self, on the outskirts of society?
Or, do we risk these last shreds of energy that we have on you? Do we show ourselves for what we are, broken, unfixable, hopeless? Knowing that the mask we've worn this far has seduced you so you'll think it's our struggle that's the lie.
Our isolation is far safer than a stab to the heart. In solitude we can't be faced with the reality that you do not see us, that you've never truly seen us. In solitude, with misery as our only companion, at least we know who we are.
And so the story holds and you believe it. We hold a surface above ourselves that's shiny and bright for you to see, and lock away the rest. We give you our energy, even when we can't afford it, because we must, because only you could release us from it. And you get to keep your hope. To you the darkness will always be just what comes before the light. To you the fairy tale will stay real. Oh, we sacrifice so much for you and you will never know. What a burden you are to us, so that we don't have to be one to you.