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  • Lindsay S. Wheeler


The first time I told someone I was depressed, she promised to always be the second mother I thought I needed. She fed me the meds I was terrified to take, and they helped. She held my hand when I broke. To me, she could do no wrong, and I was assured that the feeling was mutual.

One summer day, I chose to publicly admit the depth of my struggle in a space that felt safe. I decided, simply, to be, and to no longer shield it from anyone. After I spoke out, the support poured in from every angle, with one exception. Despite a seemingly unbreakable 24-year relationship, I was disowned in a single 30-second phone call by the only one I truly trusted. Her fury over the way I chose to live my life was suddenly the wind in Havana that made the walls shake at night. I thought maybe we would both collapse in shambles, but in the end, I went down alone. I was an affliction to America’s most pristine family, who stood at high risk of infection in my presence. In my old, sad façade, I was touted as a saint, but the real me was just a disease. I bit my lip to hold back the tears in my temples, which ached to free the pressure of a flood inside my head. I am better than the tragedy she made of me that night, but still I crumble at the knees with hurt. Suddenly, living unapologetically was conducive to neglect. What’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done? Unlearning this mentality.

I spent many years, regrettably, not trusting the rest of you enough. You have shown up with protective wrath. You’ve read me up and down, and have declared that whoever silences me doesn’t deserve the sanctity of my words. Like the thunder that tore through my room at night, I rumbled through your feed looking for an answer. You’ve answered.

I used to pray for the storm that would mean I wouldn’t have to sleep alone, staring upward at adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars. I had lunged toward the ceiling, hyperextending my arms to secure them. I hoped the haphazard arrangement would make me seem stronger than someone who needed a night light. But hell, I needed a night light. We lit dozens of tiny candles after lightning struck the power out in my house, and huddled together in a bedroom. The soft glow of a flame wrapped itself around me like the warm blanket I pulled over my head when I was alone; comforts that wouldn’t run away at the sight of something scary.

Some days, I walk until my feet hurt before I go home to the dozens of candles I now have in my own apartment. Today was no exception. A new flower had bloomed – once clumsy at the stem – into abrupt resilience. Hope has come around again as it always does in the springtime; part of a treacherous cycle that forces out the dark months. The sun injects life into the millions of New York City ghosts who have only brushed shoulders all season. The warmth on my neck means I’ve made it through.

Hundreds of people a month talk to me about diseases of the mind - the ways in which they cope. I am surrounded by the wisdom intrinsic to others who feel too much. Still, I burn out the soles of my shoes looking for more of myself. If I walk far enough I’ll get somewhere, I believe. I will see things I've never seen before; people living out stories I can hardly conceive of. Friends who could’ve been - but by circumstance, never were - walk around me. If I’m lucky, there are twelve inches of space between us. It only takes the inevitable stumble to learn whether a person will be my friend or enemy for the seconds we are acquainted. Some hate me without knowing me, by virtue of who I am. Others perceive me as a secure person with her life completely together. Some are "homeless but not hopeless," and hold their dogs at night for warmth. They thank me for the trail mix I buy them when I pick up my prescriptions and I thank them for their courage. I have an apartment that looks at the Empire State Building and no amount of gratitude makes that difference feel okay. Walking fills me with love for the things I have. It heals the deep wounds that remain from years of trying to fix everything, from failing at it. Every molecule of every puddle I pass is from a cloud that once waited to erupt. Every speck of dirt has traveled great lengths. Even just one foot forward is a distance for something that feels so small.

This morning, the hopelessness set in again for a minute, despite sun and tulips. In a rare turn of events, I made a decision for myself. I got four letters permanently etched on an extremity that allows me to feel my feelings, bear all, and only ever come back to the pain if I want to. Writing saved me from myself. It allowed me to chew on years of adversity, and spit out words I couldn't previously find, across thousands of pages. My arm gives me dexterity to share the most intimate parts of myself; or to burn them on my driveway with a Crème Brûlée torch before they're ever read. And that's power. An “anon” once commented on one of my mental health pieces that, “this is garbage,” and still I went back looking for more. Garbage or not, it’s me.

Until the day I die, I’ll see the word “gray” on my forearm, and I’ll know that I am enough. “Gray” is my brother’s middle name, and a word that has always resonated deeply with me. Chris has been, through and through, someone who has accepted me and loved me relentlessly, despite the curveballs. And there were many. He is the most effortlessly compassionate person I know, and everyone who meets him says the same. Upon hearing something shocking or difficult, it is typical for the receiver to think, however consciously, how will this negatively affect me? Further, a common response is, “it’s okay that you are [this].” Spoken or not, unconditional love because of, not despite, who I am, has gone miles further. I recently talked to my family about motivation and priority; how rare it is to know a person motivated only by good. I've only ever seen Chris cry about matters of fairness; if someone has been treated with injustice, it breaks his heart. How precious, how novel, that is.

Life itself is a giant “gray” area; nothing is black and white. Sometimes the color in my world fades to a sad, muted gray, and I forget how vibrant things really are. But even with all its bullshit, all the hate and sadness, the pain, people like Chris still exist. And that’s enough for me. Permanently.

The ink reminds me that if I’m good enough to him, I’m good enough. And if that’s not good enough for you, then kindly find your way out. I want to be able to look down at a body I’ve neglected, a target of self-destruction, and remember that there’s color beyond it – beyond the gray and the adhesive stars. Without the gray matter between my ears, I couldn’t see frozen raindrops on trees, hear the sound of loons in the summer, remember beautiful things and terrible things, write about it to you, feel anything at all, or make decisions like the one I made today. Right after I left the chair, I passed a door on Crosby Street that read in huge lettering, “does it even matter.” Today, the words were there for me; perhaps, tomorrow, for someone else.

#depression #mentalhealth #tattoos #eatingdisorder #mentalillness #siblings #family #NewYorkcity

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