I collect fears like dead butterflies tacked in glass cases. Oh, my sweet catalogue of fears: of what others think of me, of not being good enough, of my plane cracking open to the cold, ferocious sky.
I’m so accustomed to these sweat-gilded anxieties I almost feel comfortable with them. But to be fully at ease with my fear would, of course, transcend it. And yet to externalize fear, to anthropomorphize it, is to deny its truth: fear is a construct of the mind. This is why your fear may not look like mine. And this is why my biggest, baddest fear is my mind itself.
When I was a freshman in college in the roadside ditch of depression, I fantasized about dying all the time: walking to class, lying in bed, eating pizza. At 18 I had death on the brain. Sometimes I daydreamed about traveling the world or winning a Grammy for a song I wrote in the shower, but always there was my death glistening like an escape hatch. During the thirteen years I wrestled with depression my mind was a terrifying place.
But I never seriously thought about killing myself. Just knowing that I could, if my brain got bad enough, made me feel strangely powerful: to confront my pumping arteries, my rhythmic lungs, and to laugh wildly at death. Still, I never made a plan to hurt myself. I mostly just cried and drank and slept.
One January night in Pennsylvania, when all the powder snow had rotted to slush, I came close though. I was home on break from college. The cold shut me indoors. I smelled like old laundry, because there was no reason for me to wash my hair or wear anything other than pajamas, since I had nowhere to be.
Part of me loved the hibernation, and part of me knew how dangerous it was. My energy wadded up: I was angry and miserable, and guilty for feeling angry and miserable, and I wanted to explode but I didn’t know how, so I glued myself to my bed and I slept. Then one night I woke up shaking.I was on my bathroom floor with a Daisy razor perched at my wrist. My breath came in sharp gasps, my face was slick with tears. I made guttural, animal noises, trying to let out all the shitty feelings inside me. I wanted to slice my skin. I wanted to hurt physically, not just hurt invisibly. I wanted to release the pressure in me and see the drops of blood and know that I had done it and I deserved it and that then I could exhale on the current of immediate physical pain. I foolishly thought I could cut open and release whatever was wrong inside me.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t cut myself.
Mostly because I was exhausted. On the bathroom floor in Pennsylvania, my parents asleep in their bedroom, my upper lip was raw and tender from mucus. After who knows how long, I eventually unhinged my knees, as if in slow motion, and stood up. My baggy T-shirt and flannel pajama pants were sticky with sweat. I walked back to my bedroom and tried once again to sleep away the thing I couldn’t define or hold or fix.
Years later, people now often say, “You’re always smiling; you’re always so happy.” There is a great irony to these statements. I practice Reiki and yoga and meditation and take St. John’s Wort, which have helped my mind radically shift. And yet every few months depression scrawls back across my neurons. I’m afraid that I’ll forget what joy feels like. I’m afraid I’ll slide back into the ditch, where the world will shimmer beautifully and I won’t be able to see the beauty. I’m scared, sure, but I’m betting on myself. I’ve crawled out of the ditch before—I can do it again.
Melissa Carroll is a writer, yoga teacher, and creative writing instructor at The University of Tampa. She is the editor of Going OM: Real-Life Stories on and off the Yoga Mat (Viva Editions) and the author of The Karma Machine (YellowJacket Press), which received the Peter Meinke Prize. Melissa has been featured in Publisher’s Weekly, Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and many literary journals. For more information, visit her website.