“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,” my mother said. “Put yourself in the way of beauty.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Those who have read her biography or watched the movie adaptation may know that Cheryl suffered from depression and substance addiction. A remarkable woman who, despite battling mental health decided to walk America’s Pacific Crest Trail and put herself in the way of beauty. Whilst I cannot walk 1000 miles across challenging terrain, every day I strive to learn more about our enthralling living planet. I am, after all, a scientist and I am mesmerised by every detail, from microscopic ‘water bears’ to our vast open marine ecosystem which covers 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface.
In turn I have always welcomed life’s simplicity, from the satisfying burn of Tabasco sauce against my tongue to the gentle melody playing through my earphones. Yet whilst I have clutched on to my child-like curiosity about the world, it seems I have fallen through Alice’s Looking Glass.
Many people envision depression as someone who walks around embraced by a dense grey cloud of sadness, masking any sunshine. Depression for me has always felt like it lived beneath the surface of my skin, like an extra layer of iron which hardens my skin and makes me stronger, but also occasionally rises to the surface, exposing itself to the world’s harsh conditions causing corrosion and rusting away my optimism.
I was mostly your average happy child, maybe one a bit too committed to saving the world. I would always be found waiting to tackle the next crashing wave, scrambling through the rock pools with my identification key, feeding my obsession for dinosaurs or playing house with my friends. Whilst these pieces fit a normal childhood, I also had a morbid curiosity and intrusive thoughts for as long as I can remember. I was also very much a cry baby, screaming for anyone to understand how I feel.
Whilst depression can often leave me in pieces and make me doubt myself, depression can also be my friend in disguise. It is always when I have reached my lowest point that I get the motivation to move forward and surprise myself, like viewing my life through a lenticular lens. My dark alliance encouraged me to leave my home town, strive for my undergraduate degree, go travelling, and achieve my post-graduate degree.
But what is it to be human? We are social creatures, we have developed language, thought and culture. I believe because of my reoccurring depression I was always a social individual with an interest in human behaviour, seeking out the quirks and oddities in people. But over time I have grown jaded, and too often I feel like I am a lamb living among wolves. People for whom I would walk through fire and risk everything take a single bite out of my ripened heart and throw it aside until it grows rotten and sour.
Despite this wonderful cognitive ability, I observe and experience loved ones discarding each other like old dishcloths. I have now grown feral, getting prepared to bite the hand of anyone who gets too close. I push them away thinking they deserve better than me, for that poor person who must ‘put up’ with me and then feel completely guilt-ridden when my actions bury my loved ones in an avalanche caused by my self-hatred; stuck in never-ending circles. I don’t feel at home in this world any more, but I continue to fill my lungs with new experiences, and keep the fire burning within my heart because despite everything, you must put yourself in the way of beauty.
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