For a while I didn’t see the point anymore. I was stuck in a job stacking grocery shelves. Every night, I returned to an empty apartment that stank. I didn’t like the people I hung out with. I only hung out with them because I was sure nobody else would want my company.
I even toyed with the idea of just killing myself, as I couldn’t see much hope for improvement. The only reason I didn’t commit suicide was because I was too much of a coward to end it all. And I hated myself for it.
The big problem was that I couldn’t really talk about my problems. I wasn’t in touch with my emotions and struggled to find the words to describe them. As a result, when I went to see the psychologist, we’d often just end up staring at each other. I was unable to express myself at all. They had no idea how to get me out of this.
Finally, one of them said, “If you can’t say it, why don’t you write about it.” I asked her what I should write about. “Well, your problems would be a good place to start.” I told her that I didn’t think that I could do that. “Can’t you try?“ she asked. I replied that I couldn’t.
She looked at me. I looked at her. I could smell liquor and sweat from my clothes. Her name was Susan. I felt as if she was depressed as well. You can see it when that happens. There’s something about the eyes which give it away. A combination of poorly concealed frustrations and strain.
“Fine, then write about something else. Tell me a story,” she said. “Can you do that?” I nodded hesitantly. “What should I write about?” I asked. She glanced at a painting she had on the wall of Mount Fuji. A walk in the mountains.
I’d never really tried writing before. My school didn’t really encourage it. They didn’t really encourage me at all, to be honest. Most of them had given up on me the same way the counsellors did. I didn’t know where to start.
So I started drinking, with the notebook on the table. I didn’t stop until I was unconscious. The next day was the same, though I did draw a little on one corner of the page. What did I know about mountains?
It was only on the night before I was supposed to see her again that I finally started. I was drunk. It didn’t matter. Or perhaps it did. I started to search for motivation to write about walking in the mountains or how I imagined it would be. This managed to awaken something in me.
It made me ask questions. What would it be like like to walk on the mountains? And from there it made me ask other questions. A whole tirade of them. Now, questions are nothing new. I asked hundreds of questions every day. Why me? Why does nobody care? Why does nobody love me? The problem with these questions, however, was that they were entirely self-indulgent.
This question was different. This made me think and explore something which wasn’t about me.
Not that I was aware of that at the time. But Susan was aware. She realised that something had changed. And so she gave me some more stories. And I wrote them. And something had begun to change.
Every story she made me write allowed me to explore something new. It might have been a place, a thought or an emotion. And as I explored them, I was filled with a sense of wonder. I became capable of looking out beyond the prison of my own skull. I started showing an interest in other people and activities. I became aware of alternatives. And the first step to finding a way out of the darkness is to understand that there is a way to the light. My stories became that light. Or perhaps it is better to say they became the roadmap towards that light.
Now don’t get me wrong. The stories were only the beginning. The point is that they changed my perspective. They helped me want to get better by showing me there was another person I could be. I could be those people in my stories. Some of them were brave. Some were smart. Some of them a lot more like me.
And once I had that hope, I found that I was able to take some of the hard steps that I needed to get out of the darkness. It made me want to climb that steep hill. It made me get back up again when I got knocked down. Be rest assured that I got knocked down a lot.
I’ve found my way out of darkness. I’ve built up emotional resilience. I moved out of that apartment. I’m no longer stacking shelves. My life isn’t perfect, but it is better. I’m no longer depressed. And the stories? I still write them. I’d like to be an author one day. I know that I still have a long way to go. But what matters is that I’ve come a far longer way since that first story about a mountain walk. I’ve climbed a mountain on my own.
Did Susan pick that topic just like that or did she see the parallel? Did she realise that depression is a lot like a mountain walk. There are so many peaks and dales, that often it’s a hard slog to just walk a few miles.
Susan and I parted ways when I got better and I never managed to ask her before we did. Still, I’d like to think she did. I’d like to believe she understood how a story about a mountain walk would offer me the strength to climb out of my depression. Because that just makes it a far better story, don’t you think?